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Andres Segovia – The Man Who Helped Put Spanish Guitar On the Classical Stage

Posted by The MindMusicMentor on December 14, 2009

The man who helped put the Spanish Guitar on the

Classical Stage all around the world

Before Segovia, there was hardly any classical music that had been written specifically for the Guitar; in his own words Andres was on a mission right from the beginning, and had to “rescue the guitar twice”

1) From the noisy hands of the Flamenco Players

2) From the very poor repertoire of classical music that was available for the Guitar

Early Years

At age 6, a young Andres began to learn Flamenco; at age 5 he was given a guitar that had been played by Paco De Lucena, described as the greatest Flamenco player of the époque; however Segovia’s true calling was classical music and because of his later success and popularity, he had many different composers that wrote pieces of classical music to be performed specifically on the Guitar.

First Concert at 16

Segovia’s first public concert was in Spain at the age of 16; he would become a full time professional player a few years later, with his first professional concert held in Madrid where he performed works by Francisco Tarrega and also works by J S Bach which he transcribed and arranged for his instrument.

Self Taught?

There is some discrepancy whether Segovia was completely self-taught; some believe that he did have lessons with Tarrega, and that Tarrega and some of his other students were dismissive of Andres Segovia because of some of the techniques he used. Another teacher that is mentioned for Segovia is Miguel Llobet – it is quite possible that around to his early twenties, Andres Segovia did receive some form of instruction as his style of playing does resemble both Tarrega and Llobet to an extent.


But in terms of playing, Segovia did come up with at least one key innovation.

Rather than rely completely on using his right hand finger nails to play, he would also use his finger tips to pluck the strings. This would provide Andres the opportunity to get more variety of sounds from the guitar, more “timbre”, more “colour”.

Segovia on Film…

In 1966, producer Christopher Nupen attempted to make a film documentary and invited Andres Segovia to BBC studios in London for filming; however Segovia was not too comfortable with the comings and goings of a 1960s film studio.

I do not play for machines…

After filming, the producer Christopher invited Segovia into the basement to watch the playback… as they approached the room, all they could hear was the whizzing and whirring of large clunky machines that were the norm in a mid 1960s film studio.

With a look of absolute horror, Segovia took the producer by the hand and said.. “ I do not play for machines”

An abomination…

While Segovia was responsible for several innovations, using fingertips as well as nails to play, the use of Nylon strings rather than gut strings after the second

world war… one thing that he absolutely detested, perhaps even more than the noisy hands of Professional Flamenco Players, was the Electric Guitar.

An abomination is what Segovia called it, in his mind Guitars and Electricity simply did not mix.

Infact even in his own concerts he refused to use any form of amplification on

his instrument, instead relying on natural acoustics to project the sound that he made out to his audiences. As a result of his gaining popularity, Segovia almost single handedly got modern classical composers to write pieces for the

Classical Guitar, the repertoire that he had looked for but could not find when he had started out, was now emerging.

At the start of the 1900s, Classical Guitar had been in decline, but partly due to the efforts of Llobet, and then Segovia with his personality, technique, artistry and willingness to tour the world did this begin to change, was key in helping put the Guitar firmly back on the Classical Music map as a centre stage instrument.


There is some controversy on Andres Segovia as a teacher; while he himself saw this as an important way of ensuring the continuing the interest and passion for Classical guitar, not all his students perceived him as a great teacher.

John Williams, one of the UK’s foremost classical guitarists who had lessons from Segovia thought he was too authoritarian, ruled his lessons by fear, and that he (Andres) was only happy if his students imitated him.

However other students, like David Russell, recall Segovia as being warm hearted and encouraging saying “Cmon Kid just play something for me” –which was very encouraging.

Even John Williams concedes that Segovia was always a great inspiration for a young Classical Guitar student, but just not necessarily a great teacher.

Looking back on Segovia

Andres Segovia’s musical hey day lasted until around the mid to late 1950s; by the time of the late 1960s he was no longer touring the world.

Some modern classical guitarists now look back on Segovia with, perhaps unfairly, a too critical eye – for example some of his techniques, where they claimed he would always hesitate during the difficult parts – (Segovia called this “Rubato”…. expressiveness); another big criticism is that Segovia always

insisted on playing classical pieces with the modern 20
All in all, these criticisms, although some may be founded are a little unfair – at the end of the day, Classical Guitar is where it is and Andres Segovia played an important role in re-establishing and popularising the Guitar as a solo Classical instrument on stages around the world.

th   century Classical Guitar, rather than more authentic instruments that the pieces were actually written for, such as the Lute which JS Bach had in mind for some compositions.During his long life, it seems Segovia did achieve his aim, and while perhaps old fashioned today… if you ask the public today to name a classical guitarist, then

Segovia’s is still a name that springs to mind, even twenty years after his death.




Estudio Em 1 Villa Lobos video :-


The Song of the Guitar …. recorded at Andres Segovia’s home in Andalucia, Spain :-




Til Next Time



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