In the world of art, rarely has one person been able to leave as large a legacy as Andres Segovia.  As any guitarist knows, countless compositions, arrangements, recordings, students, and enthralled audiences are testament to this giant’s lifetime of work.  Few would disagree that one of the most far-reaching results of his influence has been the establishment of guitar programs in hundreds of colleges throughout the world.  Major conservatories, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and even high and middle schools, now offer excellent instruction in one of the Western world’s oldest instruments – our guitar.  The schools have done a wonderful job of training musicians with fine techniques and excellent musicianship skills.  These guitarists generally have chamber music experience, and are comfortable with music from almost any period. 

Classical versus popular music differs on one major issue.  Performing popular music certainly requires skill and talent, but covets personality more than technique; in classical music it is the opposite.  How long do you need to hear Mick Jagger’s craggy singing before you know who it is?  I doubt that anyone would argue that Mr. Jagger’s singing technique compares to a classically trained voice.  Segovia was one of the rare classical performers who successfully combined both personality and technique at the highest level.  Keep in mind that during much of Segovia’s career, the general attitude was that the composer’s work was to serve performer’s expression as opposed to now, where the composer’s wishes are considered almost sacrosanct.  Segovia felt that he had the final say in how a piece should sound, and that it was his right to publish works written for him with changes that he made, albeit usually with the composer’s permission. 

Like many guitarists of my generation, as a youth I was inspired by the recordings of Andres Segovia.  My first Long Playing disc of his was “Maestro,” and I was mesmerized by his performance of Milan’s Pavan, the Andante Largo by Sor, and the Zambra Granadina by Albeniz.  But, it was a few years before I began to fully understand the mania surrounding the legend.   

The Arturo Valdez Guitar Shoppe in Hollywood was the first place where I met other classical guitar aficionados. When in high school, I went there to buy some strings and met an elderly gentleman who was friends with the proprietor.  This fellow had a cardboard box filled with music that he was selling as, due to age, he no longer played guitar.  At that time, my familiarity with the classical guitar repertoire was restricted to the likes of Bach, Sor, Villa-Lobos, and Albeniz.  I selected a number of works that I paid 25 cents apiece for.  In talking to this fellow, Segovia’s name came up.  His final comment stunned me with the virulent delivery, “Only a second-rate musician would ever change a Segovia fingering!”   The words “second-rate” were said with emphasis that I felt was a personal challenge.  I left without comment.   

In college at Cal Arts I was exposed to another sentiment regarding Segovia.  The general consensus was that Segovia’s playing was mannered, with exaggerated rhythms and musical gestures.  Still a remarkable performer in his eighties at that time, his early recordings were not generally known or available as reissues.  To build self-reliance, we were encouraged to “white out” Segovia’s or any other editor’s fingerings so that we might do our own, and it was generally suggested that we listen to performers of instruments other than guitar to help our sense of musicianship and interpretation.  I performed Bach’s Chaccone without even once looking at Segovia’s edition or listening to his groundbreaking recording, instead, drawing inspiration from recordings by violinists Henryk Szerying and Nathan Milstein. 

A few years later, one of my Pomona College students played in a summer master class for a prominent Segovia disciple.  During a lesson, the student made the tactical error of asking whether the dynamics in the Segovia edition of the Ponce Preludes were by the composer or Segovia (the Tecla edition had not been published yet).  This innocent and reasonable question was met with a barrage of angry comments including “who are you to question anything in this edition?!”   

A number of years ago, I made the foolish mistake of mentioning to a friend that I thought that I could identify performers of guitar recordings by their tone and style of playing.  The next time we got together, he played a half dozen solo guitar records on his stereo and asked me to tell him who was playing.  Needless to say, I didn’t much care for the taste of that humble pie.  When I initially made the comment, I was thinking of Bream, Williams, and of course, Segovia.  Who amongst us couldn’t immediately discern Bream’s brilliant tone and excessive room ambience, Williams’ power and control, and Segovia’s characteristically colorful playing? 

I must admit to making an about face regarding Segovia’s fingerings and recordings.  Of late, when one of my students considers learning a work that is available either with Segovia’s or other editor’s fingerings, I have leaned towards the great Spaniard with the suggestion that the student appreciate the manner in which Segovia exploited the sonorities of the guitar, as well as his general creative approach.  Much like the Busoni/Bach Chaccone, Segovia’s editions can be considered insightful to the romantic style of the late 19th and early twentieth century. 

Nowadays, fine performers tend to make great effort to understand and honor the composer and the stylistic concerns of the period.  Some, like Pavel Steidl and David Starobin, perform on modern and historical instruments.  When I hear the new generations of guitarists, I feel that we have done well to bridge the gap between the levels of playing of other instrumentalists compared to guitarists.  Nowadays, in order to develop a career, guitarists need to be well-rounded musicians, with supple techniques, good musicianship, and yes, personality in their performances.  The days of marveling over the guitarist who plays difficult music and hits all the notes, but without much else, is long gone.