Legendary Classical Guitarist Andrés Segovia Plays Timeless Pieces by J.S. Bach

“Elec­tric gui­tars are an abom­i­na­tion,” the great Span­ish clas­si­cal gui­tarist Andrés Segovia report­ed­ly said, “Who­ev­er heard of an elec­tric vio­lin, elec­tric cel­lo or, for that mat­ter, an elec­tric singer?” We’ve now heard all those things, more or less, and civ­i­liza­tion has not yet col­lapsed around our ears. Segovia, it’s said (by his most accom­plished stu­dent, no less) was a bit of a snob. Or put anoth­er way, he was a purist. And while that qual­i­ty may have made him a dif­fi­cult per­son at times, and a very exact­ing teacher, it also gave him such devo­tion to his instru­ment, and the clas­si­cal music he inter­pret­ed with it, that we will always think of the name Segovia when we think of clas­si­cal gui­tar.

Segovia’s “mere name,” writes Joseph Steven­son, “was enough to sell out hous­es world­wide.” A prodi­gy whose tech­nique was “supe­ri­or to that which was being taught at the time,” Segovia made his debut at the age of 15. Just a few years lat­er, he played Madrid, the Paris Con­ser­va­to­ry, and Barcelona, then, in 1919 made a “wild­ly suc­cess­ful” tour of South Amer­i­ca. When he returned, the com­pos­er Albert Rous­sel wrote a piece specif­i­cal­ly for him, which he per­formed in Paris, “the first of many works,” Steven­son writes, “writ­ten for him by dis­tin­guished com­posers…. There were clas­si­cal gui­tarists before him, and dis­tin­guished ones even when he appeared, but it was not an instru­ment that was regard­ed as a seri­ous vehi­cle for clas­si­cal music. Segovia per­son­al­ly changed that.”

Being a pio­neer­ing instru­men­tal­ist in the clas­si­cal world, Segovia was oblig­ed to tran­scribe the music of his favorite com­posers for the gui­tar, includ­ing works by Haydn, Mozart, Chopin, Han­del, and, as we fea­ture here today, J.S. Bach. At the top of the post, see him play the Pre­lude to Bach’s Suite in G Major, writ­ten for the cel­lo. Below it, he plays Bach’s Gavotte, also writ­ten for cel­lo. Just above, hear the Suite in E Minor, writ­ten for the lute, and below, the Par­ti­ta in E Major, penned for the vio­lin.

Segovia’s con­tri­bu­tion to clas­si­cal music is ines­timable, and though he may have looked down on pop­u­lar musi­cians with elec­tric gui­tars, many have adored him. Ringo Starr is a big fan (Segovia inspired him to pick up clas­si­cal gui­tar). Punk front­man Ian Drury namechecked the clas­si­cal mas­ter in a song. And Segovia has more in com­mon with pop musi­cians than he would have ever liked to admit—taking up gui­tar against both his par­ents’ strong objec­tions and becom­ing a self-taught super­star at an ear­ly age. He may be firm­ly ensconced in the clas­si­cal world musi­cal­ly, but as far as his fame and rep­u­ta­tion goes, Segovia was a rock star.

You can lis­ten to Segovi­a’s com­plete Bach record­ings over at Spo­ti­fy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

All of Bach is Putting Bach’s Com­plete Works Online: 100 Done, 980 to Come

Down­load the Com­plete Organ Works of J.S. Bach for Free

The Sto­ry of the Gui­tar: The Com­plete Three-Part Doc­u­men­tary

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Larry says:

    Purist nev­er have the skill or tone as those who are will­ing to use the tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to us to make the music sound bet­ter.

    If Bach had access to steel string gui­tars, amps and effects he would have def­i­nite­ly used them and would have been a more amaz­ing com­pos­er than he was already.

    Most times the “so called purist” is only mak­ing excus­es for lack of effort to try some­thing new.

    Reminds me of my grand­fa­ther. (NEVER HAD A PHONE AND NEVER WILL!)

    So if he wants to talk he dri­ves there.

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