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Don Andres and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo

Don Andres and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo
By Alfredo Escande
Amadeus Press; 351 pages
A review by R. C. Speck

Biographer Alfredo Escande begins his intriguing biography of Classical guitarist Andrés Segovia with a question. What happened in Montevideo, Uruguay? We know Segovia lived there from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s with his pianist wife, the former child prodigy Paquita Madriguera. We also know they had their daughter Beatriz in Montevideo. But when Segovia died in 1987, few seemed willing to write about this obscure yet crucial period of his life. Escande corrects this glaring omission in Don Andres and Paquita: the Life of Segovia in Montevideo.

Relying much on primary sources such as newspaper reviews and interviews, letters to friends, and eyewitness accounts from Madriguera’s surviving daughters, Escande not only tells the tragic love story of two remarkable Spanish musicians but also provides a vivid account of the cultural life and politics of South America during the mid–twentieth century.

Included is the gripping episode of how Segovia, Madriguera, and her three young daughters escaped Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Because of Segovia’s steadfast support for the Franco regime and his opposition to the Leftist Republican forces (who threatened to murder Madriguera), many opportunities in Europe and the United States remained closed to him for years.

In Montevideo, Segovia cemented his reputation as a world renowned guitarist while fostering fruitful relationships and collaborations with other great artists such as Spanish guitarist Miguel Llobet, Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, Lithuanian-born American violinist Jascha Heifetz, and others. Noted also was Segovia’s rather chilly relationship with that other great Spanish musician, Pablo Casals, who unlike Segovia was a staunch opponent of Franco. Perhaps most importantly, Segovia continued to expand the guitar repertoire through his transcriptions of works by composers such as Bach, Handel, and Haydn.

In the midst of this South American cultural renaissance, the stage for the sad unraveling of the relationship between Segovia and Madriguera was set. After World War II, as Segovia’s fame was reaching its height, doors began to open for him that before were closed. He was feted in New York City as a superstar. There he met Brazilian singer Olga Coelho, and their affair would ultimately ruin what he and Madriguera had worked so hard to build in Montevideo. From there, the story only grows more tragic, especially when considering the sad fate of their daughter Beatriz.

Segovia traveled to nearly every corner of the globe during his long career and became perhaps the most celebrated Classical guitarist of all time. Fittingly, his emotional life was itinerant as well, one that left many fractured relationships and much pain in its wake. Nowhere is this story more poignant than his tumultuous time with Paquita, the brilliant, stubborn woman he left behind in Montevideo.

This book review appeared in the winter 2012 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

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