This Christmas I finally got started on my long-planned retirement project: rediscovering the music in my sixty year old vinyl record collection. I don’t know which is the oldest album but I’m pretty sure it would be Segovia’s transcription of the Bach Chaconne. I loved this recording beyond telling. It was my introduction to ‘classical’ music, especially to the classical guitar. I remember playing it almost daily in 1957, the year I went to college. Perhaps I was responding to the master’s quiet, utterly self-assured, rendering of every note, every inflection. During the playing, I felt sad, but then joyful after.
In my second year at university, I decided to learn Russian and applied to the Dean of the Music School who taught an evening course in the subject. ” Zdravstvuite, zdravstvuite” he greeted me as I arrived for the interview. After a fairly rigorous grilling, he suddenly asked my favourite music. Without hesitation I said, “Bach, the Chaconne, played by Andres Segovia.” To my amazement he seemed almost angry: “It’s disrespectful. It’s really quite wrong. The music wasn’t written for the guitar,” spitting out the word with disdain, “but for the lute, the violin . . . the piano.” I left thinking he was a terrible snob, but after several months of faithfully attending his Russian classes, I became quite fond of him. Furthermore, as I broadened my listening repertoire, I began to understand how the Dean’s musical sensibilities might find Segovia’s transcriptions a little problematic.
Now after all these years, I once again chanced upon the Segovia buried deep in my collection of jazz, folk, Broadway, blue grass, opera, symphonic, chamber music, and so on. (As you can see, I am no musical snob!) Curiously, though, apparently the guitar virtuoso John Williams has publicly criticized Segovia, his own teacher, “as a musical and social snob who stifled creativity among his students.”
If we must have snobbery among musicians, I suppose I will stand with Segovia . . . and with Bach. Without a single pang of shame, I have played this album almost once a day since Christmas.
Burning the Books
Beginning or End?
Small blessings #4: Just a touch of rose.