Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 36-year collaboration with the legendary guitarist Andrés Segovia resulted in 35 works featuring the guitar. The correspondence between these two artists provides an unprecedented source of information for performers and scholars. Beginning in 2014, for his PhD thesis at the University of Surrey, the guitarist Benjamin Bruant began a six-year journey that led him to eventually gather and translate into English (from the original French) Segovia’s letters to MCT as well as the extant letters by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, held in the Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Papers at the Library of Congress. Published in 2021, his doctoral thesis, From Commission to Publication: a Study of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Repertoire Informed by his Correspondence with Andrés Segovia, presents his annotated translations of decades of correspondence along with commentary on each of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s compositions discussed in the letters. Benjamin kindly agreed to tell us more about his project in this recent interview.
Interview with Benjamin Bruant by Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco—February 2023
Let’s go back to the beginning. Tell us about your objectives in exploring this correspondence.
At the beginning, there were no real objectives, mostly curiosity. Like many other guitarists studying the repertoire composed for Andrés Segovia, I encountered the problem of choosing which edition—or even note/chord—to play. Several versions of the same pieces are published, often different from the manuscript itself. I discovered the existence of the Library of Congress’ Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco special collection —therefore the correspondences —while doing background research on the repertoire I was learning for my Postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music. However, accessing the collection was restricted, and I had no idea if I would have ever been able to read them. It was only during my research at the International Guitar Research Center that, with the help of Carlos Andrés Segovia, Diana Castelnuovo Tedesco and my supervisor, Professor Stephen Goss, I gained access to the letters and could explore them.
What were the key things you learned about the relationship between Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Segovia? Were there any surprises for you?
Contrary to the letters between Manuel Ponce and Andres Segovia, the ones between Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Andrés Segovia include both sides of the correspondence, giving us a full picture of their collaboration. Segovia’s position in his work relationship with composers is revealed, and it goes against received knowledge. Many guitarists nowadays reject Segovia’s editing believing he had too much input on the scores, overruling the composer himself. However, the correspondences demonstrate a much more balanced collaboration. For example, when Castelnuovo—overwhelmed by commissions —offered Segovia a ‘free-hand’ to modify his score, he refused and continued to rely on Castelnuovo, even for minor changes. Undoubtedly, the correspondences will change the way Segovia’s editions are perceived.
How would you describe their respective personalities, and how do you think their individual characters impacted their friendship?
Both Castelnuovo and Segovia had strong personalities, and, as a consequence, the tone of the letters heats up on several occasions, but it never lasted, as those differences were always induced by third-party. The most prominent trait of their friendship is the admiration both men had for each other.
Segovia and Mario corresponded in French, which was the language they spoke in common, although apparently less than perfectly. As a French native speaker, what were some challenges you faced in translating their letters into the best possible English prose?
Most of the letters were written in French, except for the correspondences during wartime (to accelerate censor checks) and following Segovia’s eye operation (as Segovia was dictating to a lady who did not speak French). It is clear, as you read the letters, that both men are not native French, but their knowledge of this language made it an easy read. Translating them was more difficult—as English is my second language—but I hope to have done a good enough job to convey their meaning and make this work an enjoyable read.
After spending so much time with these two musical giants, did your impressions of them evolve, and if so, how? Do they seem more human to you?
I already had good knowledge about both men’s lives and work, but going into the number of details required for a PhD changed my view of both of them. On one side, I feel closer to Castelnuovo, knowing so much about his life, and on the other side, I have to admit feeling very impressed by Segovia’s life and incessant touring.
How can this correspondence help guitarists to understand Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s artistic intentions and thus inform future performances?
The letters include a lot of information relevant to guitarists, not just on artistic intention but even on great details about the repertoire. There is so much information about the guitar repertoire that I dedicated an entire chapter of my thesis to it (Chapter 2). In this chapter, I discuss, work by work, new relevant information and compare them with previous literature. Chapter 2 is for guitarists to find all the necessary knowledge about the pieces they play.
What aspect of this project gave you the most satisfaction?
Researching for manuscripts is very much like treasure hunting, only that a successful hunt usually brings a lot of work to the desk…
Do you intend to continue working on this material ? Is a book planned?
Maybe—I do believe a book would help musicians and researchers discover this material, but, as usual for this type of project, finding the time is the main issue.
Congratulations on the immense work you’ve done, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!
Benjamin Bruant’s doctoral thesis, From Commission to Publication: a Study of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Repertoire Informed by his Correspondence with Andrés Segovia is available to download at no cost here.
A note to Italian speakers: Segovia’s letters to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco were translated into Italian and annotated by Angelo Gilardino in a volume published by Edizioni Curci in 2018, Caro Mario: Lettere a Castelnuovo-Tedesco.