Feb 212014


Today is the birthday of Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña, usually known simply as Segovia, a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares in Andalusia. He is often considered the father of modern classical guitar although that title should probably go to Francisco Tárrega. Nonetheless his influence was profound in re-establishing the importance of the guitar as a classical instrument, in advancing technique, and in spreading the popularity of classical guitar through performance and teaching. Practically all professional classical guitarists today are students of Segovia, or students of his students. Segovia’s contribution to the modern repertoire included not only commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical and baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances, his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive phrasing and style.

Segovia was born in Linares, in the province of Jaén in Andalusia. He was sent at a very young age to live with his uncle Eduardo and his wife Maria. Eduardo arranged for Segovia’s first music lessons with a violin teacher after recognizing that Segovia had an aptitude for music. This proved to be an unhappy introduction to music for the young Segovia because of the teacher’s strict methods, and Eduardo stopped the lessons. His uncle decided to move to Granada to allow Segovia to obtain a better education, and after arriving in Granada Segovia recommenced his musical studies, largely on his own. Segovia was aware of flamenco during his formative years as a beginning guitarist, but did not have a desire to learn the style. Instead he was more drawn to classical guitar that was undergoing a revival, especially under Francisco Tárrega. Tárrega agreed to give the self-taught Segovia some lessons but died before they could meet. Instead he continued to develop his own style without teachers.

Francisco Tárrega

Francisco Tárrega

Segovia’s first public performance was in Granada at the age of 16 in 1909. A few years later he played his first professional concert in Madrid which included works by Tárrega and his own guitar transcriptions of J.S. Bach. Despite the discouragement of his family, who wanted him to become a lawyer, and criticism by some of Tárrega’s pupils for his idiosyncratic technique, he continued to develop his own style.

He played again in Madrid in 1912, at the Paris Conservatory in 1915, in Barcelona in 1916, and made a successful tour of South America in 1919. Segovia’s arrival on the international stage coincided with a time when the guitar’s fortunes as a concert instrument were being revived, largely through the efforts of Miguel Llobet. It was in this changing milieu that Segovia, whose personal drive and artistry coupled with new technological advances such as recording, radio, and air travel, succeeded in making classical guitar much more widely popular.

Here is Segovia playing Asturias (Leyenda), a work written by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, and which is probably one of Segovia’s most widely known pieces. It was originally written for the piano, and set in the key of G minor. It was first published in Barcelona in 1892 as the prelude of a three-movement set entitled Chants d’Espagne. Despite the name (given to it by a German publisher) this piece is not considered suggestive of the folk music of the northern Spanish region of Asturias, but rather of Andalusian flamenco traditions. The original piano score clearly mimics guitar style.  During the piece you hear passages suggestive of the bulería, malagueña and copla from the flamenco repertoire. I’ve put the original piano version after the recipe if you are interested.

Because the piano piece was so evocative of guitar it was an obvious move to transcribe it for guitar.  It was transcribed several times, shifting it to E minor. This is Segovia’s transcription.

Andalusian cuisine is not especially well known outside of Spain, although gazpacho (in rather limited varieties) can be found widely.  Olive oil features heavily in the cuisine because the provinces of Jaén (where Segovia was born), Córdoba, Seville, and Granada are major producers.  Typically olive oil is used in all frying including deep frying giving the dishes a distinctive savor.  Here’s my recipe for puntillitas – baby squid deep fried.  As ever, I’ll give you the general idea and you can play with quantities. This method is typically Andalusian, and you can use it for any small fish.  It is simplicity itself.



You really should use baby squid for this rather than adults, but you can make a version with larger squid (you just have to cut them into small pieces).  To begin let me explain how to clean squid.  Typically when you buy baby squid they are uncleaned.  Big or small, I always clean my own squid; it saves a lot of money.

Pull off the head and tentacles; they will separate easily and most of the innards will come out too. Cut off the tentacles and discard the eyes and innards. Squeeze firmly on the base of the tentacles and the beak should pop out. Discard it.  Reach into the body with a finger and you will locate a long cartilage (thin and clear).  Discard it.  The body is covered in a mottled membrane which is edible, but most people prefer to remove it.  It easily peels away. Wash the bodies and tentacles well, giving each body a squeeze to make sure everything is out. If you are using large squid cut the tentacles and bodies into small bite-sized pieces.

Pat the squid pieces dry well with paper towels.

Place the squid in a plastic bag with enough flour to coat them.  Do not worry about using too much; the excess will remain in the bag.  Close the bag tightly and vigorously shake it until you can see that all the pieces have a good coating of flour.  Reserve them on a plate.

Heat olive oil in a deep fryer or in a heavy skillet (deep enough for deep frying) to 350°F/175°C.  Fry the pieces in batches until they are golden brown.  Use a slotted spoon to toss them to ensure they are evenly browned.  Drain on wire racks.  You will notice that with this method of cooking the pieces are not evenly coated as with a batter.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

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