When Andr'es Segovia emerged as an important classical guitarist, he liberated an instrument that had become the province of his country's flamenco folk idiom. The celebrated Spanish instrumentalist, who died Wednesday at 94, captured and held the public's imagination and adulation to the very end of his career. His last announced Carnegie Hall recital this past season (which he had to cancel) was sold out - stage seats and all - just as quickly as his every announced recital.
Segovia, who claimed to be self-taught, gave his first public recital at age 14. Between that debut and his first Paris engagement in 1924, he performed in Spain and in South America. But it was the Paris debut that caused the musical world to sit up and take notice, and his various American dates clinched his reputation.
By staking his claim as a musician worth encountering, often playing baroque music on the instrument (or a cousin of that instrument) for which it was first written, he became a pioneer in the original-instruments field. And he was acclaimed because his musicmaking was so remarkable, so engrossing; it was clear that he was not indulging in some careermaking fad but had a mission, which he took very seriously indeed.
Among those who composed works for him were Albert Roussel, Joaqu'in Turina, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Manuel Ponce.
Throughout his long career, he aspired to several goals: to bring the guitar to the concert halls as a respected classical instrument; to bring his music and his intrument to the entire world; to enlarge the repertory for the classical guitar; to put the guitar in the music schools.
Segovia's remarkable legacy includes a large quantity of arrangements, an autobiography, and important recordings from his prime years as a solo virtuoso.