Born Andres Segovia Torres, February 21, 1893, in Linares, Jaen, Andalusia, Spain; died of a heart attack June 2, 1987, in Madrid, Spain; father was an attorney; married first wife (divorced, 1962); married Amelia Corral Sancho; children: (first marriage) Beatrice, Andres; (with Sancho) Carlos. Made debut in Granada, Spain, 1909; made debuts in Paris, France, Berlin, Germany, and London, England, 1924; made American debut, 1928. Taught guitar at schools and universities throughout the world, including the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the Academia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, Italy. Member: Royal Music Academy of Stockholm, Sweden; Academy of St. Cecilia, Rome; Academia Filarmonica of Bologna, Italy; Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid; Fine Arts Santa Isabel of Hungria, Seville, Spain; Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Nuestra Senora de las Angustias, Granada, Spain.

Andres Segovia, the most celebrated classical guitarist the world has ever known, is unquestionably acknowledged as the founding father of the modern classical guitar movement. Through his performances on concert stages worldwide, arranging and commissioning of new works for guitar, and teaching activities, Segovia gave the guitar new stature. He changed the guitar from an instrument of popular entertainment into a vehicle of serious classical music, thus inscribing his name in the annals of music history.

Segovia was born February 21, 1893, in Linares, Jaen, in the region of Spain known as Andalusia. Because his father, a lawyer, found it difficult to support his large family, Segovia was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Granada at age ten. It was the uncle who introduced Segovia to music, and the boy studied piano and violin at the Granada Musical Institute. While he was little interested in these instruments, he was attracted to the guitar upon hearing it played at a friend's home.

Because the guitar--used to accompany folk songs and dances in taverns--was not a well-respected instrument, Segovia had to learn to play on his own. Thus, he was largely self-taught, applying what he had learned of classical music theory and history in general to the guitar in particular. As a result he developed his own technique, which is characterized by a beautiful sonority, supreme expressivity, and the eliminating of extraneous sound and movement.

In 1909 at age 16, Segovia made his public debut at the Centro Artistica in Granada. His recital was so well received that he began to perform throughout Spain, and in 1916 he made a successful tour of Latin America. From this early in his career, Segovia aspired to elevate the guitar from the noisy and disreputable realm of folkloric amusements, where it was held in contempt by serious composers of classical music. Throughout his career Segovia never lost sight of this goal, which he knew could only be realized by distinguished performances of serious pieces. Since the repertoire was extremely limited, Segovia looked to the works of the great composers for pieces suitable for transcription, and during his lifetime he produced dozens of transcriptions and editions of works.

Segovia's 1924 debut in Paris, France, was attended by many distinguished dignitaries of the music world and gave direct impetus to the composing of new guitar works by major composers of the era, such as Manuel de Falla and Manuel Ponce. Many composers did not know enough about the guitar's capabilities or limitations to compose works for it without Segovia's direct assistance. New pieces heard in concert inspired the writing of others, gradually building the body of literature for classical guitar.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Segovia's popularity rose with his repertoire, with country after country being captivated by his performances. While at first many thought that the guitar would not be able to be heard in a large concert hall, Segovia proved otherwise, demanding and getting complete silence from sell-out crowds of often more than a thousand. "The real music lover wants to hear the small instrument speaking straight to the heart of the people," he once said.

When civil war erupted in Spain in 1936, Segovia was forced to leave the country. He resettled in Montevideo, Uruguay, from where he made tours of South America. He later resided in New York City for many years, before returning to southern Spain.

Segovia began recording works as early as 1925, eventually recording the majority of notable works for guitar, including pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Manuel Ponce, Federico Moreno Torroba, and Heitor Villa-Lobos, among others. In his book Segovia, Graham Wade provides an extensive discography of Segovia's more than forty long-playing albums.

To perpetuate the playing of the guitar as he created it, Segovia aspired to provide a unifying medium for those interested in the guitar. He did so through his contributions to the international musicological journal, Guitar Review, in which he published many technical articles and in which his autobiography first appeared in serial form. He also tried to influence the authorities at conservatories, academies, and universities to include the guitar in their instruction programs on the same basis as the violin, piano, cello, and other instruments. By the late 1980s more than 1,600 schools of music in the United States offered guitar in their curricula.

While Segovia worked regularly at various universities, taught many master classes, and gave numerous private lessons, he never systematized his technique in guitar method. Views on such matters can be found in the numerous prefaces to editions of music or have been detailed by others, such as Vladimir Bobri's Segovia Technique or Charles Duncan's The Art of Classical Guitar Playing.

A man of regular habits, Segovia practiced five hours daily in 1.25 hour increments, emphasizing with students the need to practice scales to maintain sound technique. Among his most notable students are John Williams, Christopher Parkening, Oscar Ghiglia, Julian Bream, and Michael Lorimer. Segovia was a purist and moderate in all aspects of his life. It is not surprising, therefore, that he disliked the use of amplification, because it distorts the true sound of the guitar, and he once denounced rock 'n roll as a "strange, terrible and dangerous disease." Segovia always scrupulously avoided any exhibitionism or sensationalism in his performing.

Segovia enjoyed an illustrious career that spanned seventy-eight years. In his nineties he continued to teach, maintain his regular practice regimen, and perform sixty concerts annually. In June of 1987 the maestro of the guitar succumbed to heart problems.

by Jeanne M. Lesinski

Andres Segovia's Career

Andres Segovia's Awards

Grammy Award, 1958, for Segovia: Golden Jubilee; received grand crosses, gold medals, prizes, and honorary citizenships from numerous cities, regions, and countries throughout the world; received honorary doctorates from numerous universities, including Oxford University, Autonomous University of Madrid, University of Granada, University of New Orleans, University of Florida, and University of North Carolina.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 5 years ago

To fully understand the guitar of Andres Segovia, one must also understand the man. Truely, he came from an era of different interpretatons of lifes values.Good manners, grace and charm were held in the highest of regard. Is it any wonder then, his playing reflects the beauty of those wonderful sentiments, and that perhaps only those of us who pray for their resurrection.

over 7 years ago

Dear Mr. Pakter, I had been searching the web for anything that I could find to help me settle in my own mind the place Segovia holds in the world of classsical guitar. This search was engendered by the very sorts negative commentary you refer to in your closing remarks. Thank you for your beautiful statement, which seems to me the perfect summation of the careeer of this towering figure.

about 8 years ago

The brief Andres Segovia biography by Jeanne M. Lesinski, gives a splendid overview of what the life of Andres Segovia represented for the world of music and in particular- the Classical Guitar. This short introduction should serve to end the silly, fruitless and neverending debate regarding the place of Segovia in the world of the guitar and what Segovia contributed to that luminous world. He not only rescued the Classical guitar from oblivion but proved over and over that he was the greatest and most sublime player of this instrument. Reading a list of his greatest students, the giants of the Twentieth Century, one observes over and over that they all agreed that Segovia towered over everyone who ever picked up a guitar. Andres Segovia exists in the realm of Michelangelo in Art, Newton and Einstein in Science and Mozart in Music. In short he exists on a plain that seems to defy the limits of human potentiality and places one on a level of talent and skill that seems reserved for the Gods of Ancient Mythology. The Christopher Nupen films "Andres Segovia - In Portrait" and "Song of the Guitar" were released on DVD by Opus Arte in 2005. This DVD is to be treasured by all admirers of Andres Segovia, worldwide. To own these films is to possess a rare treasure. David Pakter www.OldMasterPortraits.com