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The Beginning of a New Period for the Classical Guitar

 A new period in the history of the guitar, its image and its repertoire began from the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century when Segovia started to give recitals outside Spain and when he started to reform the program of the classical guitar asking non-guitarist composers to write for the instrument creating a valuable repertoire of high quality with solo works, guitar concertos and chamber music.

Segovia’s international concert career started in the 1920s playing in Uruguay and Argentina with the help of agents. The agents who were in contact with Segovia during his artistic career were: “Conciertos Daniel in Spain and Spanish-America, from 1913 to 1956; Ibbs & Tillett, from 1924 to the present, for England and the Commonwealth; and Hurok Concerts for the vast territories of the United States and Canada, from 1943 to this day.”[1] It would be impossible to mention all the recitals by Segovia showing his importance as a soloist but I should mention how active he was at the very beginning of his international career. During the 1920s Segovia with his agents’ help played in Cuba, Mexico, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Russia, Britain, Denmark, United Stades, Japan, and China. In the rest of his life he gave more than one hundred recitals a year in Europe, Japan, Latin America and North America. Furthermore, besides Segovia’s innumerable recitals during his guitarist career, his records had a great importance because they encouraged composers to take the guitar seriously dedicating their guitar works to Segovia who through his recordings could make their guitar compositions known and popular all over the world. Segovia’s first record was made on 2 May 1927 in London and the last on 24 June 1977 in Madrid.[2] From 1927 until 1947 Segovia recorded at 78 rpm and from 1947, after the invention of the long-playing (LP) records, he recorded at 33 rpm. During his artistic career Segovia succeded in recording around 30 LP albums and several 78 rpm records from which most compositions were re-recorded onto LP albums.[3]  


From the beginning of the 1920s a new period started for the guitar which still goes on today. It is true that Segovia’s contemporaries also gave recitals in their countries and abroad but Segovia was the guitarist who never stopped to give recitals until the end of his life. He was the first guitarist who dared to give recitals in big concert halls and he was the first guitarist who earned his living as a guitarist performer, a soloist. In the history of music nobody else has been able to achieve it and even today there are a very few guitarists who only work as guitar players.

At that time in central Europe the classical instruments as piano, violin, violoncello had already had their own early and contemporary repertoire and every European country had its virtuosos. The reasons for the late creation of a guitar repertoire by non-guitarist composers were related to the late development of the ‛Torres Guitar’ and in the years from 1870 till the end of the 1910s nobody was able to convince non-guitarist composers in Europe to write worthy compositions of the guitar capacities. In the 1920s the composers who started to write significant solo works for the classical guitar were asked by Segovia and all were Spaniards. Besides the ones asked by Segovia, very few central European composer wrote solo compositions for the classical guitar till the 1930s-1940s.[4] This fact also shows Segovia’s significance as he could reform the image of the classical guitar convincing non-guitarist composers to take the guitar seriously creating a repertoire worthy of its capabilities.

Unfortunately, the twentieth century composers who dedicated a great number of their works to the classical guitar thanks to Segovia’s demand were unknown at that time. However, it does not mean that Segovia did not ask famous composers to enrich the repertoire of the guitar. A letter written by Segovia to Ponce in 1923, at the beginning of Segovia’s international career, proves that the distinguished composers of Europe – “Ravel […] Volmar Andreas, Suter, Schoenberg, Weles, Grovlez, Turina, Moreno Torroba, Falla” - had promised guitar works to Segovia.[5] Among the above listed composers, the internationally well-known composers were (and are even today) are Ravel, Schoenberg and Falla. Actually, Ravel never fulfilled his promise and Falla did not complete a second work for the guitar after his Homenaje (1920). Nevertheless, Schoenberg included the guitar in his Serenade Op. 24 written in 1923 but Segovia never performed this composition because he disliked the dissonant compositional context of the central European avantgarde composers. Turina and Moreno Torroba were also well-known composers in Spain but they gained international fame through their guitar compositions which were and are the most frequently recorded and played at recitals. The other composers, Volmar Andreas, Suter, Weles, and Grovlez did not become famous either in their life or after their death.


Manuel Ponce, Federico Moreno Torroba, Turina Joaquín

We can wonder why Segovia never forced Ravel and Falla - who was a close friend of his - or any other composers as Stravinsky or Bartók, to compose significant works for his beloved instrument. There are several explanations why from the 1920s, from the beginning of his international career Segovia did not request first-class composers to write for the guitar. Firstly, I believe that it was not by chance that the composers who Segovia asked and forced to write for the guitar were of his age and at that time they were not famous and not first-class composers. Segovia’s invitation to the composers in their thirties in the 1920s - who had not yet achieved success as composers and whose compositional context did not follow that of Stravinsky, Bartók or Schoenberg - to enrich the guitar repertoire meant a possibility to become internationally known by an instrument which in those years became again popular and promised an extreme development in the concert life in the near future. Segovia probably selected the young and not well-known non-guitarist composers because they could be convinced to make changement in their works according to Segovia’s instructions, advice, corrections, and adaptations. We can not forget that before Segovia performed the works dedicated to him, he made several changes discussing them with the composer, then he put the fingering[6] and then he learnt them. As Segovia said, “[…] preparing the composition of a non-guitarist composer into a concert performance edition is to be viewed as a form of transcribing.”[7] Personally, I do not believe that Ravel, Falla, Bartók, and Stravinsky would have had time or they would have been willing to change their ideas to Segovia’s favour knowing that even composers as Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce and Tansman had disagreement with Segovia’s modifications. Otherwise, in the 1920s Ravel, Falla, Bartók, and Stravinsky were already famous composers and to write a solo work for the classical guitar, an instrument which started to become again popular, was not important for them. However, Stravinsky included the guitar only in compositions of chamber music, Four Russian Songs, Tango and Ebony Concerto, but Segovia never tried to perform and popularise them. Similarly, he also disregarded Schoenberg’s chamber work titled Serenade Op.24, his pupil Anton Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra Op.10, Drei Lieder Op.18 and Zwei Lieder Op.19, and Paul Hindemith’s Rondo for three guitars and Triosatz (unpublished) for three guitars. Segovia never tried to encourage or to ask the above mentioned first-class and the avantgarde composers to write for the guitar; quite to the contrary, he dissuaded them. A good example of Segovia’s reaction was when Stravinsky asked Segovia why he had never asked him for a piece for the guitar, the answer was: “Because I do not want to insult your music by not playing it.”[8]   

Secondly, I believe that Segovia never asked the first-class composers because he wanted to enrich the repertoire of the classical guitar with works being close to his conservative musical taste and aesthetical views. Segovia during his life was a romantic musician; presumably he was influenced by Tárrega who himself was a romantic mucisian[9] and had a great impact on the guitarists of the next generations in Spain. On the other hand, the effect of the Spanish Renaissance and nationalism at the end of the nineteenth century in which Segovia was born and growed up determined his romantic and conservative musical taste.


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Heitor Villa Lobos


The idea of asking a non-guitarist composer to write for the guitar first came to Segovia’s mind in Madrid in 1912 when, after his meeting with Fortea, he realised the mediocre quality of the guitar repertoire. He thought to ask works by well-known Spanish composers as Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla or by others.[10] Perhaps his hesitation was due to his imperfect technique and insufficient concert career at the age of nineteen therefore he could not persuade the composers to write works utilising complex technical possibilities of the classical guitar. The composers who were later asked by Segovia to enrich the repertoire of the guitar and whose contribution has a significant value for the recital programs even today were: Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982), Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), Manuel Maria Ponce (1882-1948), Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), and Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999). Segovia incited and provoked the above listed composers to start to compose for the classical guitar who, with the exception of Heitor Villa-Lobos and Joaquín Rodrigo, had not written for the guitar before. It is true that Villa-Lobos had already composed for the guitar before meeting Segovia but his most important guitar compositions are the twelfth studies and the concerto which are dedicated to Segovia. Nevertheless, Rodrigo’s first guitar work was not dedicated to Segovia, he could only start to write for the guitar because Segovia made the instrument popular in Spain and abroad seeing future in it. I would also like to mention that although Ponce and Castelnuovo-Tedesco were not Spaniards their guitar compositions have a Spanish character which explains why Segovia loved their music.


J.Rodrigo, A.Segovia, A.Tansman (1959)


I think that among the numerous composers who dedicated guitar works to Segovia only Moreno Torroba, Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Tansman were really preferred and repeatedly asked by Segovia. This can be proved looking at the number of works which they composed for the guitar, at Segovia’s recital programs and at his records where we can see that he mostly performed works of the above mentioned twentieth century composers. Segovia did not only play the guitar works dedicated to him by these young composers but he also recorded and he tried to publish them, which financially was very helpful for the young composers, especially for Ponce during his sojourn in Paris.

The compositions for the classical guitar by the composers Moreno Torroba, Turina, Ponce, Villa-Lobos, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Tansman and Rodrigo mean only a small part of their whole oeuvre which contains operas, ballets, oratorios, cantatas, orchestral works, music for piano, concertos for other instruments, chamber music, and film music. However, among their works being played in all over the world, the most frequently recorded and published are the compositions written for the guitar. I can say that Moreno Torroba, Turina, Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Rodrigo became internationally known through their guitar compositions thanks to Segovia and his later generations. Moreover, the most often performed, recorded and published works written by the above listed composers were and are their guitar works. For example, Tansman says in a letter written to Segovia on 18th March 1979 that in the last thirty years (from Arbos and Casals) none of his orchestral works executed in Spain and the only performer of his guitar works was Segovia.[11] I think that Segovia’s significance in the performing and popularising of the guitar works is worth a thorough investigation.

Vasilios Avraam


[1] Andrés Segovia, An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920, trans. W.F.O’Brien (London: Marion Boyars, 1976), 175.

[2] The recordings made by Segovia in London in 1927 were his first commercial recordings. It is worth mentioning that Segovia had already made recordings in 1924-1925 in Habana (Cuba). Graham Wade, “Segovia on Record,” Classical Guitar, vol.10, no. 7 (1992): 35. 

[3] See Segovia’s recordings and discography in Andreas Wiggen, Andres Segovia; Recordings and Discography, 28 April 2006, (7 September 2006). <http://my.dreamwiz.com/fischer/Segovia/Segovia%20discography.doc>.

[4] The central European composers who composed solo works for the guitar in the 1930s are, for example, the Swiss Frank Martin (Quatre Pièces Brèves in 1933) and the Austrian Alfred Uhl (Sonata Classica in 1938).

[5] Letter from Segovia to Ponce in 1923, quoted in Miguel Alcázar, ed., The Segovia-Ponce Letters, trans. Peter Segal (Colombus Ohio: Editions Orphée, 1989), 3.

[6] It is worth mentioning that the fingerings for the left hand which Segovia wrote for the published compositions have a goal of affect phrasing, articulation, tone-quality, and expressiveness. John W. Duarte, Andrés Segovia, As I Knew Him (Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay, 1998), 58.

[7] Andrés Segovia, “A Note on Transcriptions,” Guitar Review, 3 (1947): 53, quoted in Graham Wade & Gerard Garno, A New Look at Segovia: His Life, His Music, vol. two (Pacific: Mel Bay, 1997), 312.

[8] Duarte, 132, n. 11.

[9] Tárrega was the guitarist who introduced the romantic style of guitar playing using expressive vibrato, rubato, slurs, and glissando etc. Segovia continued this romantic style of performance during his whole life and he applied it to the performing of any music form the Renaissance to the twentieth century. 

[10] Segovia, An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920, 59.

[11] A letter from Segovia to Tansman on 17 December 1961 says that “my admiration always vigilante and my constant desire to play your works and publish them,”quoted in Louis Jambou, “Alexandre Tansman — Compositeur — et Andres Segovia — Interprète — ou un en deçà de l’Œuvre Musicale,” in Hommage au Compositeur Alexandre Tansman, ed. Pierre Guillot (Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2000), 231-254. The translation from the article of this edited book from French into English is mine.


read also: ANDRÉS SEGOVIA Twenty years after his passing (1987-2007)

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