What can we find in common between John Fahey, American acoustic guitarist, among the founders of the style called “American Primitive Guitar” and the noble Andres Segovia? Apparently nothing, or at least I thought so until I purchased the valuable reprint of one of the most beautiful Fahey’s discs “The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick “curated by Glenn Jones.
In the beautiful booklet that accompanies the disc, Glenn Jones (journalist, musicians, excellent acoustic guitar player and leader of the Cul de Sac band) advanced some parallels between the two guitarists:
“There was Segovia, of course, who, half a century before John Fahey, dreamed of elevating the guitar from its ‘debased, lowly origins’ and rehabilitating it as a solo concert instrument. That Segovia succeded beyond his wildest dreams is not debatable. He created an audience for classic guitar, and thought he composed little himself, he established much of the basic performance repertoire that’s come down to us today.”
I think it’s true that both Segovia and Fahey, even if we can’t venture the opinion that they both just rediscovered respectively classical guitar and acoustic guitar, had the undeniable merit and incontestable role to raise their instruments from the humble role that covered until then lead them to a celebrity and a major artistic importance on the international concert scene.
While Fahey was not alone, was not only in his role of dozers being surrounded by other folk guitarists that also in other areas had successfully started a review of the role of the acoustic guitar (see for example the English trio of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davey Graham and the of musical philology studies taken by Stephan Grossman) Segovia was for a long time a alone soldier, a lone rider in his work of “apostolate” of music.
The renaissance of the classical guitar started with the students of guitarist-composer Francisco Tarrega as y Eixea, the most famous one, Miguel Llobet, was part of a circle of large ambitions musiscians as Albeniz, Granados and Debussy. Segovia knew Llobet but was able to push him further technical innovation, also using the game of nail, as well as the fingertips, to pluck the strings. Segovia was acclaimed all over the world as a “virtuoso”, an artist able to make his instrument so important that some of the composers of his time decided to compose new music for guitar expecially for him.
“But Segovia was far away from Fahey’s mind, I’m sure when in 1959 John made his first record. What Segovia would have considered vulgar in the hands of folk and blues musicians, John found powerful, moving, emotional, strange.”
I think that Segovia was certainly far away from the tastes and ideas of John Fahey but I think also that for emotional capacity and undwerstanding about music, it is good to read what the music critic wrote in the New York Times the day after his concert debut at Town Hall in New York 8 January 1928. “Segovia belongs to that small group of musicians who, thanks to executive powers of a transcendent, thanks to imagination and intuition, are able to create their own art, which at times seems to transform the very nature of the medium. The instrument he plays is able to derive the range of colors of a half-dozen instruments.”
“Whereas Segovia was unsparing in his criticism of many of his young acolytes for loving the guitar too much, and music not enough, Fahey was unapologetic in his love of the instrument for its own sake.”
In addition to the amazing concertist he was, Segovia was a teacher of immense influence. His first pupil was, in 1954, Alirio Diaz at Accademia Chigiana of Siena. Many of his students later made careers of authentic virtuous and his example is worth to establish from the first half of the twentieth century new teaching classical guitar in all the great music Conservatori and Academies.
“And as Segovia was the fountainhead for aspiring classical guitarist, Fahey, likeways, became a model for a whole generation of guitarist in his time.”
I agree at 100% with this, Segovia by his mere presence was responsible for the appearance, during the twentieth century, of a school of new guitar players, that following in his footsteps, have given life to the full recognition of the stature technical and expressive instrument. If he had not existed we would not be here now.