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Andrés Segovia Biography

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Andrés Torres Segovia, Marques de Salobreña (February 21, 1893 – June 3, 1987) was a Spanish classical guitarist born in Linares, Spain who is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern music scholars. Segovia claimed that he "rescued the guitar from the hands of flamenco gypsies," and built up a classical repertoire to give it a place in concert halls.

Segovia's introduction to the guitar was at the early age of four years old. His uncle would frequently sing songs to him while pretending to strum an imaginary guitar. This prompted Segovia to set out on a quest to elevate the guitar to the status of the piano and the violin. In particular, he wanted to have it played and studied in every country and university in the world, and pass on his love of the guitar to future generations. His first taste of the guitar was from a flamenco player, whose technique horrified him.

As a teenager, Segovia moved to the town of Granada, where he studied the guitar and soaked up the other-worldly atmosphere of the Alhambra Palace - a moorish relic overlooking the town which he regarded as his spiritual awakening.

Segovia's first public performance was in Spain at the age of sixteen, and a few years later he held his first professional concert in Madrid, playing guitar transcriptions by Francisco Tárrega and some works by Johann Sebastian Bach, which he had transcribed and arranged himself. Although he was discouraged by his family, and looked down on by many of Tárrega's pupils, he continued to diligently pursue his studies of the guitar throughout his life.

Segovia's technique differed from that of Tárrega and his followers, such as Emilio Pujol. Like the great guitarist, Miguel Llobet (who may have been his teacher for a short time) Segovia plucked the strings with a combination of his fingernails and fingertips, producing a sharper sound than that of his contemporaries. With this technique, it was possible to create a wider range of timbres than when using the fingertips or nails alone. Historically, classical guitarists have debated which of these techniques is the best approach. While most now play with a combination of the fingernails/tips, some still prefer the convenience and mellower sound of flesh alone. Some of these decisions are based on what types of performing venues the guitarist uses. Pupils of Tárrega tended to play in smaller halls and rooms, rather than the large concert halls to which Segovia aspired.

Many prominent musicians believed that Segovia's guitar would not be accepted by the classical music community because in their mind, the guitar could not be used to play classical music. However, Segovia's excellent technique and unique touch astounded his audiences. Consequently, the guitar was no longer seen as a strictly popular instrument, but as one suitable for playing classical music as well.

As Segovia progressed in his career and as he performed for bigger audiences, he found that existing guitars were not sufficient for playing large concert halls because they could not produce enough volume. This prompted Segovia to look into technological advances that would improve the guitar's natural amplification.

Working together with luthier, Hermann Hauser Sr., he helped design what is now known as the classical guitar, which featured better wood and nylon strings. The shape of the guitar was also changed to improve the acoustics. This new guitar could produce louder notes than previous guitar designs being used in Spain and other parts of the world, although still based on the basic design developed by Antonio Torres Jurado almost fifty years before Segovia was born.

After Segovia's debut tour in the USA in 1928, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos composed his now well known Twelve Etudes (Douze études) and dedicated them to the Maestro. This proved to be a lasting relationship as Villa-Lobos continued to write for Segovia. He also transcribed numerous classical pieces himself and revived the pieces transcribed by men like Tárrega. Many guitarists in the Americas, however, had already been playing these same works before Segovia arrived.

In 1935, he gave a premiere of Bach's "Chaconne", a difficult piece for any instrument. He moved to Montevideo performing many concerts in South America in the thirties and early forties. After the war, Segovia began to record more frequently and perform regular tours of Europe and the USA, a schedule he would maintain for the next thirty years of his life.

In recognition of Segovia's tremendous cultural contribution, he was elevated to the Spanish nobility in 1981, with the title Marques de Salobreña.

Andres Segovia continued performing into his old age, and lived in semi-retirement during his 70s and 80s on the Costa del Sol. Two landmark films were made of his life and work - one when he was 75 and the other, 84. They are available on DVD called "Andres Segovia - in Portrait".

He died in Madrid of a heart attack at the age of 94, having achieved his ambition to elevate the guitar from a gypsy dance instrument to a concert instrument. Segovia had many students throughout his career, including some famous guitarists such as John Williams, Eliot Fisk, Oscar Ghiglia, Charlie Byrd, Christopher Parkening, Michael Lorimer, and Alirio Diaz. Many other guitarists, such as Lily Afshar, were also influenced by Segovia's historic master classes. These students, along with many others, carry on Segovia's tradition of expanding the guitar's presence, repertoire, and recognition.
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