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Barrios Vs Segovia – Friends, Foes, Or Just Different?

Andrés Segovia has an unshakable status as the father of the modern classical guitar, he laid the foundation for everything that came later. Without him, this humble instrument can now only be classified as popular and folk music.

Despite this, many people criticize his attitude and even his playing technique, he is no longer untouchable for the new generation of guitarists.

One thing that many find remarkable about Segovia is his association with guitar composer Agustin Barrios Mangore, whose name is almost always present in the repertoire of classical guitarists today and is often considered one of the greatest composers of the instrument (the Chopin of guitars). guitar, quoting John Williams).

Even though Barrios is recognized today, during his lifetime he was relatively unknown in the world of classical guitar. He did not tour in Europe or the United States, he gave concerts in Latin America, with success, but the small market did not allow him to earn much money. He did not become a world figure, unlike Segovia, who filled prestigious theaters in the most important cities of the world.

Although Barrios came from a country relatively isolated from the music world, it cannot be said that he did not have the opportunity to explode his career. He spent a lot of time in one of the cultural centers of the world at the time: Buenos Aires. He did not take advantage of this favorable environment, devoting himself to concerts and making records of mostly popular tunes, and kept himself away from the growing classical guitar community in Buenos Aires. Llobet, Segovia and other important guitarists regularly traveled to this city to perform concerts with large and friendly audiences.

Barrios aimed more towards the popular music audience, for several reasons discussed elsewhere. Later, he got another great opportunity to further his career when he met Gino Marinuzzi, the world-famous conductor of Milan’s La Scala Opera, in Rio de Janeiro. He gave a private concert to the noted musician and some of his friends, and heartily congratulated them. If he had kept in touch with Marinuzzi, he would have been able to connect with European impresarios and arrange some concerts.

Another, and probably his best chance (though not much depended on it this time) was when he met Andres Segovia. Maestro Segovia, when they met, was not yet the authority of the guitar world that he would become in later years, but nevertheless he was in a much better position than Barrios, giving concerts in South America and Europe.

Segovia had heard of Barrios before they met in 1921. Miguel Herrera Klinger (Uruguayan biographer) stated that he overheard a conversation between Andrés Segovia, Regino Sáinz de la Maza and Domingo Prat about Barrios in a guitar shop in Buenos Aires. They were talking about the metal strings used by the Paraguayans. Sáinz de la Maza was the only one who did not reject the steel strings while Barrios played them. To what Segovia said: “Well, as for me, I couldn’t do anything about that wire fence”. This happened around 1912, when Barrios was not yet a mature guitarist and Segovia was just starting his career.

They finally met in 1921, in Buenos Aires. At that time, Segovia was gaining more and more recognition, he was in a much better position than Barrios, which determined the way they met: Barrios attended Segovia’s concert. After the concert, a friend of both of them introduced them. They chatted politely and Barrios promised to visit.

This visit took place a little later at Segovia’s home (it was Barrios who was to go after Segovia). Klinger said of this meeting: “Barrios played musical gems for the great Segovia, who was surprised… or better yet, he was floored. Almost 2 hours later, the Maestro congratulated him. He liked a certain piece very much. He indicated that he would play in his concerts. Barrios gave him an original copy with a dedication. The work that Segovia said he would like to program in his concerts, he never played. And logically: if he had played it, it would have possessed him with extraordinary abilities that would have lifted Barrios to unattainable heights, thereby undermining his own artistic authority.”

The work Klinger is talking about here is La Catedral, one of Barrios’ masterpieces. It is possible that Barrios was never able to give a copy to Segovia, as he did not have one, he had to ask a friend to send it to him from Uruguay. We do not know for sure whether the copy arrived in time before Segovia left Buenos Aires. But if Segovia had been honest, he would have helped Barrios organize concerts in Europe and the United States. Many years later, Barrios realized that Segovia was not his friend and said of him that he had a “deaf heart”. Barrios acknowledged that Segovia was an outstanding technician, but he did not consider himself “less of a technician” by any means. Barrios was proud of his identity as a composer, which included skills and talents beyond the “mere” mastery of physical virtuosity.

It is the generally accepted version that Segovia envied and feared that Barrios would replace him as a guitar expert and therefore ignored him. There were other reasons for the rejections that were not related to the competition. These are technical and musical reasons.

Segovia was renowned as a harsh critic, never hesitating to criticize important musical figures such as Narciso Yepes and his 10-string guitar, Paco de Lucía and Abel Carlevaro. He had a clear idea of ​​what a classical guitar should be, and he didn’t accept anyone who went in a different direction. Barrios was one of them. Barrios played with metal strings, which is a really good reason for Segovia to reject him. He may also have disliked Barrios’ music, as it sometimes had a Latin American folkloric feel to it. He despised everything that related the guitar to folk music.

Segovia famously quoted Barrios as “not a good composer for the guitar”. David Norton, the student who asked Segovia about Barrios in a master class, posted the following on the online forum:

Everyone here knows the quote: “I’ve heard Segovia say in public that ‘Barrios was not a good composer for the guitar.'” Richard Stover has been repeating this statement for years, like a mantra.

But that’s not the whole story. This post is it. You see, as fate would have it, I was the student who asked Segovia about Barrios that afternoon, and this excerpted quote is his answer to me.

This is the context. Segovia completed a master’s course at California State University – Northridge (CSUN). I think it was April 1981 or 1982. Unimportant. The class ended and I floated up front with 20-30 other people. The circumstances were such that Segovia answered some of the students’ questions. I found myself not 4 meters away from him, with Stover (my teacher at the time) right next to me.

I asked, “Maestro, what do you think of the Barrios’ music that has become so popular these days?” His wife asked me to repeat it because of course they weren’t really paying attention. I did, he translated.

Segovia paused, and it was clear that he was struggling for the right words. “Barrios …. was not …. did not write …. all small pieces (gesturing with hand, thumb and forefinger to indicate small) …. not like Ponce, who wrote large ones. No , compared to Ponce or Castelnuovo, Barrios is not a good composer for the guitar.”

Stover only really heard the last piece. He was several shades of mad at me for asking, “You SHOULD have asked HIM, in front of God and everyone!! And he just dismissed my whole life. Thank you so much!!.” And stomped. A week later, he apologized for overreacting, saying: “So what? He’s an old man, who cares what he thinks? People with any sense know Barrios better.”

And no one who wasn’t there that afternoon would ever have known about that conversation if Stover himself hadn’t spent the next few years repeating it over and over and then attacking it.

So there you have it, at least that’s how well I remember the incident 23-24 years ago. In context, a 90-year-old man who was obviously very exhausted from 3 hours of teaching spoke English (which has never been his strong point), and his statement is nowhere near as damning as the soundbite Stover. appeared over the years.

Do as you will.

Many years later, at the end of Barrios’s life, another meeting took place between the two masters. In March 1944, Segovia visited San Salvador to give a concert. The two masters met and talked for several hours in a hotel room in Segovia. Not a single word was uttered, as Barrios was in poor physical condition, and Segovia felt some pity for the “enemy”, as he was forgotten and poor in a relatively isolated country, and Segovia knew the fame and recognition his talent deserved. .

A polite and cordial meeting was held, where Segovia left Barrios a set of gut strings as a gift.

This story sheds light on Barrios’ opinion of his music. Segovia admired Barrios as a musician, but he did not want to popularize his music, but to show the world that the guitar can also be considered an instrument of art music. This could also be mixed, but I doubt it, with jealousy.

Segovia can be blamed for not showing Barrios to the world, but Barrios never did much to become what he was meant to be. He didn’t care. His music was for the people he knew. This can be seen in his biography below.

We cannot know for sure why Segovia rejected Barrios, we can only speculate. We know that both Barrios and Segovia missed a great opportunity to make classical guitar even better.

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