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Andres Segovia

Andres Segovia
Andres Segovia

Andres Segovia, Marques de Salobrena (February 21, 1893 - June 3, 1987) was a Spanish classical guitarist born in Linares, Spain who is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern scholars. Segovia claimed that he rescued the guitar from the hands of flamenco gypsies, and built up a classical repertoire to give it a place in concert halls.

Segovia's introduction to the guitar was at the early age of four years old. His uncle would frequently sing songs to him while pretending to strum an imaginary guitar. This prompted Segovia to set out on a quest to elevate the guitar to the status of the piano and the violin. In particular, he wanted to have it played and studied in every country and university in the world, and pass on his love of the guitar to future generations. His first taste of the guitar was from a flamenco player, whose technique horrified him.

As a teenager, Segovia moved to the town of Granada, where he studied the guitar and soaked up the other-worldly atmosphere of the Alhambra Palace - a moorish relic overlooking the town which he regarded as his spiritual awakening.

Segovia's first public performance was in Spain at the age of sixteen, and a few years later he held his first professional concert in Madrid, playing guitar transcriptions by Francisco Tarrega and some works by Johann Sebastian Bach, which he had transcribed himself. Although he was discouraged by his family, and looked down on by many of Tarrega's pupils, he continued to diligently pursue his studies of the guitar throughout his life.

Segovia's technique differed from that of Tarrega and his followers, such as Miguel Llobet. He plucked the strings with a combination of his fingernails and fingertips, producing a sharper sound than that of his contemporaries, Llobet was known to have used this same technique long before Segovia. With this technique (apoyando or the rest stroke), invented by Tarrega, it was possible to create a wider range of timbres than when using the fingertips or nails alone. Classical guitarists have long debated which is the best approach, and while most now play with a combination of the fingernails/tips, some still prefer the convenience and mellower sound of flesh alone. The great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia recently said that, if classical guitarists spent less time worrying about technique, their technique would be better.

Many prominent musicians believed that Segovia's guitar would not be accepted by the classical music community because in their mind, the guitar could not be used to play classical music. However, Segovia's excellent technique and unique touch astounded his audiences. Consequently, the guitar was no longer seen as a strictly popular instrument, but as one suitable for playing classical music as well.

As Segovia progressed in his career and as he performed for bigger audiences, he found that existing guitars were not sufficient for playing large concert halls because they could not produce enough volume. This prompted Segovia to look into technological advances that would improve the guitar's natural amplification.

Working together with luthiers, he helped design what is now known as the classical guitar, which featured better wood and nylon strings. The shape of the guitar was also changed to improve the acoustics. This new guitar could produce louder notes than previous guitar designs being used in Spain and in other parts of the world. This basic design was developed by Torres 50 years before Segovia was born.

After a tour in the United States of America in 1928, he soon became known as 'The Guitar Player' and composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos started writing guitar pieces for him. He also transcribed numerous classical pieces himself and revived the pieces transcribed by men like Tárrega. Many guitarists in the Americas, however, had already been playing these same works before Segovia arrived.

Segovia had many students throughout his career, including some famous guitarists such as Abel Carlevaro, Ben Bolt, Christopher Parkening, Phillip de Fremery, John Williams, Eliot Fisk, Oscar Ghiglia, and Esteban. These students, along with many others, carry on Segovia's tradition of expanding the guitar's presence, repertoire, and recognition.

In recognition of Segovia's tremendous cultural contribution, he was elevated to the Spanish nobility in 1981, with the title Marques de Salobrena.

Andres Segovia continued performing into his old age, and lived in semi-retirement during his 70s and 80s on the Costa del Sol. Two landmark films were made of his life and work - one when he was 75 and the other, 84. They are available on DVD called "Andres Segovia - in Portrait".

He died in Madrid of a heart attack at the age of 94, having achieved his ambition to elevate the guitar from a gypsy dance instrument to a concert instrument, regarded as highly as the piano or the violin.

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