Exactly eighty years ago, on 28 October 1939, the Concerto in D Major for Guitar and Orchestra, Opus 99 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco had its world premiere in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Written at the request of his friend Andres Segovia, the work was conceived in the shadow of Italy’s anti-semitic campaign, a painful time which ultimately led the composer to seek exile in the United States.
As Castelnuovo-Tedesco recalls in his autobiography, Una Vita di Musica
“In 1938, my world collapsed as events were set in motion by the “racial campaign”. I was preparing to leave Italy, in such torment no one can imagine! Full of anguish and worry, I composed nothing for six months, which was unusual for me who was usually so active. Segovia then made a tremendous gesture which I will never forget. At the very time when many colleagues were turning their backs on me, or at least carefully avoiding me, Segovia came to Florence to spend the Christmas holidays with me and to encourage me to hope for a better future. He told me I should not despair; I had talent and I could start a new life in America. All this comforted me greatly. I was so moved by this gesture of friendship that I promised that my next composition would be the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, which I had been promising for so long. Indeed, during that stay in Florence, I wrote the first movement in one sitting, and we played through it together. Segovia left soon after for South America, and a few months later, I departed for North America. In January 1939, I composed the other two movements, and before leaving Italy, I sent them to him. The premiere of the concerto took place in Montevideo in October 1939; and since then it has shot around the world, so to speak.”
Segovia performed the concerto on 28 October 1939 with the SODRE Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lamberto Baldi. In Don Andres and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo, Alfredo Escande writes: “Andres Segovia’s performance was a resounding success. A recording of the concert preserved in the historical archives of the Uruguayan state organization allows us to appreciate—in spite of some deterioration due to the conditions under which it was made and the passage of time—Segovia’s interpretive powers at that stage of his career….” The recording is available to listen to here.
During the war years, Segovia performed the concerto in major cities in Latin America, including Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Santiago de Chile.
Segovia and Castelnuovo-Tedesco were separated during the war, so the composer did not hear the entire concerto until 11 years later, when Segovia came to California to perform the work as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic [23-24 March 1950].
“When, I finally heard it performed, I was very satisfied, and, I must say, almost surprised by the perfect balance and excellent effect,” Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote.
With many thanks to John Saldivar and Alfredo Escande for their kind help with image research, and to Marcelo Kayath and Fabio Zanon of Guitar Coop for sharing the audio of the premiere.
In April 2020, the guitarist Ermanno Brignolo carefully restored the premiere recording mentioned in this article. Brignolo explains the work he did: “I kept my intervention as transparent as possible: I removed the background noise, resampled the original files (so it plays in D, not E flat), dampened the distorted frequencies, and boosted the overall volume without compromising the dynamic range.”
The restored file is available for download from the Forum italiana di chitarra classica (registration required), from the following link: