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April 5, 2002

Saving Segovia: Phillip de Fremery's New Transcriptions Preserve the Maestro's Legacy


Hans J. Massaquoi

When MHC guitar instructor Phillip de Fremery played Mussorgsky's "The Old Castle" for renowned classical guitarist Andrés Segovia in 1966, he flattered his teacher by the purest form of imitation. The young guitarist had written the piece down, complete with the maestro's fingerings, by listening to it on Decca's Golden Jubilee, Segovia's landmark three-record set released in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of his first concert. "Where did you get that?" asked Segovia, surprised and pleased. Almost thirty years later, Segovia's widow, Emilia Segovia, the Marquesa de Salobreña, remembered de Fremery's skill and commissioned him to listen to and create manuscripts of fifty-six of Segovia's recordings, from Bach to Mendelssohn. The result of de Fremery's five-year labor, Andrés Segovia, Transcripciones, was released in four languages in November by publisher Edizioni Musicali Bèrben, Ancona, Italy. Since they are taken directly from recordings, the pieces form the first worldwide publication of Segovia's actual performance editions.

Drawn from all periods of Segovia's recording career, the transcriptions represent "the vast panorama of one of the world's most illustrious recording careers," writes de Fremery in the book's foreword, pointing to specific examples of Segovia's expert judgment in style, phrasing, and choice of octave, and inviting listeners, teachers, and musicians to pursue and experience dozens more. He writes, "Those who through their unconditional love of the guitar do make a practice of returning to his example will always find themselves energized with renewed spirit and hope."


Emilia Segovia (center), was impressed by the musical skill of Phillip de Fremery (left) when he took guitar master classes with her husband Andrés Segovia (right) during the 1960s. Three decades later, she commissioned de Fremery to create manuscripts of fifty-six of Segovia’s recordings, now compiled as Andrés Segovia, Transcripciones.

Spanish-born Andrés Segovia (1893–1987) is considered by many to be the father of modern classical guitar. He elevated the instrument to the concert stage, widely expanded its repertoire, and won many admirers and students. Among them is de Fremery, who took master classes with Segovia and earned this praise: "Phillip de Fremery . . . has shown much love for the guitar and has the good sound. I am sure that, in time, he will be a fine performing guitarist of the future, and a credit to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he received his first training." Upon his graduation in 1970, de Fremery indeed became well known for his performances on radio and television and in various recital halls in the United States and Canada. He began teaching at Mount Holyoke in 1973.

"Segovia suffered for the guitar in a way that few of us can now imagine," writes de Fremery, describing Segovia's incessant efforts to redefine tempi, articulation, and key and, despite international acclaim, to constantly move beyond the trends he himself had invented. "We may safely say that a great amount of personal anguish was necessarily borne simply because his beloved instrument was universally dismissed as being devoid of serious potential," he writes. "What is less obvious, yet in truth far more problematic and demanding, is the comparatively uncharted rigor of his daily quest for truth in expression; the dues, if you will, that he could never consider fully paid." The transcriptions, says de Fremery, yield an opportunity to observe the ever-evolving Segovia, who refused to adhere to a set of preferences in "paint by number" fashion. Writes de Fremery, "One of the priceless blessings of his artistic nature was the firm knowledge that since he wished to be deeply loved as a performer he was going to have to earn it—day in, year out."

Although Segovia constantly reworked his performance versions, he saw no practical reason to write them down. In his introduction to Transcripciones, Angelo Gilardino, artistic director of the Andrés Segovia Foundation of Linares, Spain, explains that Segovia published just a few pieces and committed the majority to memory, not to paper. "The rift between the original source and the text as elaborated by him is always quite remarkable, no matter what," writes Gilardino. Remarkable, too, is the "truly portentous musical ear" that allowed de Fremery to take on the "daunting task of transcribing every single note straight from recordings which, at times, were far less than crystal-clear." This painstaking work, says Gilardino, is a major step toward preventing a sizable part of Segovia's art from vanishing for good.

Classical guitar lovers may hear de Fremery in solo recital on Sunday, April 7, at 2 pm as part of the recital series in Springfield's Saint Michael's Cathedral. The program will concentrate on Spanish music but will also include "The Old Castle," which now for the first time is published in Segovia's transcription in the new Bèrben collection.

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