21 February 2023 marks the 130th birthday of Andrés Segovia. In celebration of this milestone and the friendship and artistic collaboration between Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Segovia, we would like to share some extracts from the essay Mario wrote for Segovia’s 3-LP box set, Segovia: The Golden Jubilee, released in November 1958 to honor the guitarist’s fifty year career. Mario’s essay recognizes Segovia’s unique artistry and chronicles their artistic relationship, as well as highlighting some of the dozens of works Segovia commissioned from other composers. The boxed set was met with critical success. Not only did reviewers praise the quality of the recording and the addition of newly recorded compositions to Segovia’s discography, but they also drew attention to the important contributions presented in the booklet. The Golden Jubilee boxed set was awarded a Grammy Award in 1959.
Excerpts from “The Guitar, that beautiful and mysterious instrument” by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (written June 1958):
It was not until the advent of Andrés Segovia that the guitar became known throughout the world as a concert instrument, and was accepted and recognized, in parity with all others, as a legitimate medium of highest beauty and musical expression. To the millions who, during the fifty years of his career, have heard him on the concert stage; to the many more millions who now, through his beautiful recordings, are able to enjoy his playing of almost his entire repertoire, it seems useless to explain and to re-tell the magic of his sound, the infallibility of his technique, the perfection of his style. He is really a unique artist, who, while preserving in his interpretations the purity and freshness of a native and folk like vein, has brought them to a higher level of sensitivity and of aristocratic art.
Segovia has almost entirely renovated and created the guitar literature, both by his own transcriptions and by encouraging contemporary composers to write for his instrument….Since I am one of those who had the good fortune to work with Segovia, I believe I am entitled to say something about the way our collaboration developed during more than twenty-five years of mutual friendship. It started in 1932, when we met at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Venice. He asked me if I would be willing to write something for him. I answered that I would be extremely happy…. as models, to show me the technical limitations of the instrument, he sent two sets of variations, the Variations on a Theme of Mozart by Sor and the Variations on the ‘Folia de España’ by Ponce. I then sat down and tried a set of variations myself, which I called Variations à travers les siècles – Variations Through the Centuries. My set started with a Bach-like chaconne, then progressed through three variations until they became a Romantic valse, and to end, a final modern touch, with a fox-trot! He was so satisfied that the next year he asked me for a new and larger work, writing, “…you know that your old countryman Boccherini was a great admirer of the guitar. Why don’t you write a four movement sonata as an homage to Boccherini?” And I wrote a sonata. The following year he came back again: “You know,” he said, “Paganini was also a great admirer of the guitar! Why don’t you now write an homage to Paganini?” And so I wrote the Capriccio Diabolico, which, twenty days later, he was playing in London.
Finally came his most ambitious request; he wanted a concerto for guitar and orchestra! Having been one of the most successful recitalists of all times, his greatest desire was the opportunity to play with orchestra, but no concerti existed! This time, I must confess, I was afraid! I had never heard the guitar with other instruments, and the problems of both quantity and quality of sound perplexed me. For some years, I delayed the task. But, during the Christmas of 1938, Segovia came to see me in Florence, just before I immigrated to America. During that time, I wrote the first movement of my Concerto, under his supervision, and then I later sent him the other two movements.
My Concerto in D for guitar and orchestra premiered in Montevideo in 1939, but it was not until many years later that I first heard it, the Second World War having separated us. I believe it was the unusual success of this Concerto, which Segovia has now played all over the world, which encouraged so many composers to renew their attempts.
Soon after conducting my Concerto in Mexico, the late Manuel Ponce, who had already contributed so many exquisite pages to the guitar, completed his charming Concierto del Sur; later Heitor Villa-Lobos gave us, with his exceptional fertility, the many beautiful Études and the Concerto-Fantasia; then Alexandre Tansman, the Polish composer residing in Paris, the noble and interesting Cavatina, and finally Joaquín Rodrigo, one of the most outstanding living Spanish composers, the Concierto de Aranjuez and the recent Fantasia para un gentilhombre. Today, the great composers who write for the guitar have become legion!
…We can well understand that the guitar was a favorite instrument for the Romantics, and that it accompanied their dreams. Who does not remember the beautiful lines by Shelley from “With a Guitar, to Jane”?
Ariel to Miranda – Take
This slave of Music, for the sake
of him, who is the slave of thee;
and teach it all the harmony.
I hope that the guitar might accompany the dreams of my contemporaries, as it has my own…
Photos: at left, photo of the Paganini Quartet with Castelnuovo-Tedesco (third from right) and Segovia (second from right) on the occasion of the premiere of the Guitar Quintet op. 143 in Los Angeles, 1951; at right, photo of the Quartetto Chigiano with Castelnuovo-Tedesco (second from right) and Segovia (far right) taking a bow after a performance in Siena, in 1952. (Both images courtesy of The Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Papers, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)