Friday, July 28, 2017

Narciso Yepes (1927 –1997)

No. 254 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

For a reason that I really can’t explain, we haven’t programmed a lot of guitar music on our Friday podcasts. This oversight is remedied today with this set of selections played brilliantly by Spain’s Narciso Yepes, who is considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century

Yepes’ father gave him his first guitar when he was four years old, and took the boy five miles on a donkey to and from lessons three days a week. Later his family moved to Valencia when the Spanish Civil War started in 1936. When he was 13, he was accepted to study at the Conservatorio de Valencia with the pianist and composer Vicente Asencio. Here he followed courses in harmony, composition, and performance.

According to Yepes, Asencio "was a pianist who loathed the guitar because a guitarist couldn't play scales very fast and very legato, as on a piano or a violin" Through practice and improvement in his technique, Yepes could match Asencio's piano scales on the guitar. Yepes is credited by many with developing the A-M-I technique of playing notes with the ring (Anular), middle (Medio), and index (Indice) fingers of the right hand.

In 1947 he made his Madrid début (performing Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with Ataúlfo Argenta conducting the Spanish National Orchestra). The overwhelming success of this performance brought him renown from critics and public alike. Soon afterwards, he began to tour, visiting Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and France.

In 1950, after performing in Paris, he spent a year studying interpretation under the violinist George Enescu, and the pianist Walter Gieseking. He also studied informally with Nadia Boulanger. This was followed by a long period in Italy where he profited from contact with artists of every kind.

In 1964, Yepes performed the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, premièring the ten-string guitar, which he invented in collaboration with the renowned guitar maker José Ramírez III. After 1964, Yepes used the ten-string guitar exclusively, touring all six inhabited continents, performing in recitals as well as with the world's leading orchestras, giving an average of 130 performances each year.

Apart from being a consummate musician, Yepes was also a significant scholar. His research into forgotten manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulted in the rediscovery of numerous works for guitar or lute. Among these, I programmed his Suite Española after the lute music of Gaspar Sanz.

In addition to the solo works by Sanz, I programmed a few guitar standards by fellow Spaniard Francisco de Asís Tárrega y Eixea known for such pieces as Recuerdos de la Alhambra. He is often called "the father of classical guitar" and is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote numerous orchestral, chamber, instrumental and vocal works influenced by both Brazilian folk music and by stylistic elements from the European classical tradition. His Etudes for guitar (1929) were dedicated to Andrés Segovia while his 5 Preludes (1940) were dedicated to Arminda Neves d’Almeida, a.k.a. "Mindinha", both are important works in the guitar repertory. I have programmed today Yepes in the preludes and in the concerto for guitar and small orchestra.

The theme to the  1952 film Forbidden Games (Orig. French Jeux interdits) by René Clément is a work "Romance" which Yepes claims to have written when he was a young boy. Despite Yepes's claims of composing it, the piece ("Romance") has often been attributed to other authors – "Estudio en Mi de Rubira", "Spanish Romance", "Romance de España", "Romance de Amor", "Romance of the Guitar", "Romanza" and "Romance d'Amour" among other names; the earliest known recording of the work dates from a cylinder from around 1900.

Yepes died after a nearly 50-year career in 1997, 20 years ago this past May.

I think you will love this music too.