A Great Spanish Guitar Virtuoso and the Danish Odeon Recordings
by Erling Møldrup
This is an extraordinary story about an almost forgotten Spanish guitarist and composer from the guitar pioneer days around World War II. His name was Angel Ferrera Iglesias. Today he is quite unknown to the general guitar audiences as well as most guitar historians.
A study of Iglesias’ concert programs shows an impressive, truly great worldwide career. He was an important figure in the history of the guitar, and his life story and the remarkable re-discovered recordings made in Denmark in 1943 and 1953 deserve complete and enthusiastic attention from today’s guitarists, music lovers and historians alike.
The early years
Angel Ferrera Iglesias was born in Badajoz in 1917. His father was a musician in a military band and most likely conveyed his love for music to the young boy. Iglesias received his first guitar lessons when he was 10 years old and, later, after he was admitted to Madrid’s Academy of Music, he studied with Quintin Esquembre, who in turn had studied with Francisco Tárrega. Esquembre was both a fine guitarist and a brilliant teacher, but because of uncontrollable stage-fright as a guitarist he took a position as cellist in the National Orchestra of Madrid.
Among Iglesias’ fellow students at the Academy was another remarkable guitarist, Vicente Gomez. Esquembre realized quite early on that he had two uniquely talented students and thereby not only arranged that they played together but composed a large output of duets for them. In 1935 the young virtuosi began touring Spain and Germany as soloists and as a duo for which they received tremendous recognition. This lasted for several years before they went their separate ways: Iglesias continued touring mostly in Europe as a soloist and with his partner, Nati Morales; Gomez went to South America and to the United States where he built the foundations of his world-fame, not only as a touring soloist but as a guitarist in several Hollywood films. In his book The Guitar and Mandolin P.J. Bone writes, “Vicente Gomez is said to be the only guitarist who can master both flamenco and classical guitar.” Another one was Angel Iglesias, formerly known as Angel Ferrera.
His career took him to the greatest and most prestigious concert halls and theaters in London, Berlin, Hamburg, Gothenburg, Prague (150 solo concerts in Czechoslovakia alone!), Paris, Brussels, Madrid, Amsterdam, Rome, Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Zurich, Geneva, Luxembourg, Dublin, Bern, Tunisia, Tangier, Casablanca, Istanbul, Ankara, Athens, Sofia, Budapest, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen….the list goes on and on. Everywhere the critics bubbled over with enthusiasm. Here are but a few examples of what they wrote:
“Angel Iglesias is one whose guitar playing is out of the ordinary….Fingers of almost orchestral worth puzzled the uninitiated in both melody and accompaniment in árrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and even more surprising was the left hand plucking in a Falsetas composed by himself.” The Sun News-Pictorial, Sydney.
“…et le guitariste Angel Iglesias est absolument sensationnel… ” Noir et Blanc, Paris.
“…un prodigioso suonatore di chitarre capace di virtuosismi che ricordano l’arte del grande Segovia… ” Paesa Sera, Rome.
“Seine Hände rasen über die Saiten deren tiefe Tone durchs Mikrofon verstärkt fast wie Glocken Dröhnen. Von rauschende Gitarrensaiten donnern säuseln zirpen und zittern bundte Klangekaskaden. Die Zweite Rhapsodie von Liszt. Die echte Atmosphäre gewinnt dieses Gitarrenklang vollends beim Spiel volkstümliche Spanische Tänzer…” Abendausgabe, Berlin.
“Angel Iglesias can make his guitar do anything but climb trees.” New York Times, New York.
The Danish Period—1943 and 1953
Iglesias stayed in Denmark while playing engagements at various restaurants and vaudeville theaters, during which time he made close friends and contacts with Danish guitarists and guitar-enthusiasts. The environment was fertile and blooming. According to Arne Schlünsen, one of the luthiers at guitar-builder Johannes Møller’s legendary workshop, Iglesias was a guest in the shop almost every day during his first stay in Copenhagen in 1943. Several of his admirers from this period were instrumental in arranging the one and only solo concert that Iglesias played in Denmark; a great success in the Odd Fellow Palace’s concert hall. One of the pieces he played, to the audience’s astonishment, was Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody nr. 2—no grand piano, only the 6-stringed guitar! (It seems as though Kazuhito Yamashita, who recorded the same piece in 1983, wasn’t the first to have the rather impossible—but entertaining—idea). In spite of the fact that Iglesias only gave the one solo concert, he could be heard daily in the vaudeville theaters in Copenhagen, where he accompanied the beautiful Spanish dancer, Nati Morales. He had his own solo segments in these shows which were extremely popular and highly admired. One can still meet people today who remember the name Angel Iglesias together with the top jazz and vaudeville stars of the time.
Iglesias and Morales came to Denmark for the first time in January 1943 as “refugees” from Franco’s fascist Spain. They were engaged to perform at the National Scala Theater from Jan. 8th—31st. A reporter from the Copenhagen daily, Berlingske Tidende, who was on the spot of their arrival, was terribly astonished over the mountain of suitcases and handbags that they had brought, but quickly understood why when he was informed that they were in the middle of a tour which had up until that point lasted 8 years!
The Copenhagen audiences had rarely seen or heard anything like these Spanish world-famed artists! The papers were full of enthusiasm about the young couple’s fascinating show; their virtuosic dancing and playing, their intriguing good looks and the radiant, gorgeous, colorful costumes that Nati Morales wore. It is easy to picture…in the middle of the dark, solemn period of the German occupation their appearance on the Danish scene was a breath of fresh air from an exotic, fairy-tale-like world. It was during this visit that Iglesias recorded the first four records and also taught one of the Danish guitar pioneers of the time, Jytte Gorki Schmidt. During similar tours throughout Sweden, Iglesias taught the Swedish guitar pioneer, Roland Bengtsson.
In February 1943, after their nearly one-month-long engagement at the National Scala, the Iglesias/Morales duo went on a short tour to the provinces, which brought them to, among other places, a 14-day engagement at the most fashionable restaurant in Århus, Århus-hallen. The audiences in the provinces were equally as enthusiastic as in Copenhagen, and Iglesias was crowned by a reporter of the leading local daily as “the best guitarist in the world” In March of the same year the duo returned to Copenhagen to continue their successful show at the restaurant Lorry. From 1946 to 1948 the pair toured all over Scandinavia and were often in Denmark, which held a special place in their hearts. Their son, Miguel Angel Ferrera, was born in Alborg on August 4, 1947. Today he lives in Barcelona and has been instrumental in collecting information about his father.
In the early summer of 1953, Iglesias returned once again to Denmark—this time alone. He was engaged throughout the month of June together with the 65-member ballet company, Teresa con Luisillo to perform at the Folketeatret. The show was a tremendous success in Copenhagen—so great that it ran long beyond the scheduled time. Iglesias’ name didn’t have first billing, but the phenomenal guitar equillibrist had his own solo segments within the show. On June 5, 1953, in the Århus Stiftstidende, music critic Børge Friis wrote, “was a fantastic solo performance by the famous guitar virtuoso Angel Iglesias whose recordings we have known of for quite some time. One does not encounter playing like this elsewhere: Iglesias is simply the master of this special virtuosic technique and the unusual beating on the instrument’s body.”
Iglesias played with nails in the same way as Segovia, Llobet and Barrios did, (and nearly every guitarist today), but there were still some guitarists of the time who played with their fingertips—a technique carried over from the Baroque and Classical periods. Another great Spanish virtuoso who toured Denmark in periods, Francisco Alfonso, (whose father studied with Tárrega) used only his fingertips. The differences of their tone quality was described by people who had heard them both:
“Alfonso’s tone was unusually beautiful, round and soft while Iglesias’ was harder and somewhat sharp.”
Angel Iglesias continued to perform throughout his whole life, however “in a decreasing way according to age and a deteriorated health” as told by his son. When he wasn’t touring he taught. After World War II Iglesias was offered a professorship at the Academy of Music in Geneva, Switzerland “after Segovia had left”, which he declined for unknown reasons. Another Spaniard, José de Azpiazu, took the job.
About his newly re-discovered recordings
Before the LP there weren’t many guitarists who had the chance—or for that matter the stamina or ability—to undertake a gramophone recording. There was no cutting and splicing, and retakes were expensive both in studio time and materials. The conditions were tough: an entire recording—in one take—directly onto the wax plate, complete with (but preferably without) surrounding noises and mistakes. In addition, there were very few record companies that foresaw the marketing possibilities for music for the classical Spanish guitar, which was still considered an exotic and peripheral instrument. These conditions are most likely the reason that we have so relatively few historical guitar recordings from the first half of the 20th century.
The rare and exceptional recordings by Iglesias took place during two periods where he was staying in Denmark: in 1943 and 1953. There are eight 78’ wax records, four from each period. Three of the works from 1943 were recorded again in 1953; the versions are clearly distinguishable. These Odeon recordings have only barely been mentioned in existing literature for the guitar, but they are tremendously important both artistically and historically. Iglesias’ artistry is comparable with contemporary and earlier recordings by, for example, Segovia, Llobet and Barrios. These may seem to be great words about a 26-year old Spaniard whose name is completely unknown to most guitarists today, but the truth is in the listening!
Perhaps Angel Iglesias has been overlooked by guitar historians because he didn’t move in the classical guitar circles where Segovia and his followers wrote the script. There wasn’t much veneration for what Segovia coined “noisy flamenco-guitar” or, for that matter, for the restaurant and vaudeville theater circles that Iglesias did move in. Iglesias’ “career choice” was a logical one highly determined by financial considerations: fees for a classical guitarist were modest while engagements for an entertainer of his stature at top European theaters and restaurants provided a steady and handsome income. Only maestro Andrés Segovia and maybe a very few others had received international recognition as classical guitarists. Because Iglesias played flamenco just as passionately as classical, he was mainly considered a flamenco player. Today, in historical retrospect, we can ask ourselves why? He was a brilliant flamenco-guitarist, but his classical recordings are fascinating to listen to and study—especially if one is interested in the performance practices of the Spanish Romantic period. All of the Spanish composers of the time, Tárrega, Malats, Granados, Falla, etc. had their roots in flamenco and folk music. Iglesias was a direct link to the great Spanish guitar traditions of Sor, Aguado and Tárrega. Today we can see that he, apparently undiscovered within the international guitar world, brought another dimension to the cultivated classical playing style. But was this a new dimension, or was it in fact a continuation of playing traditions that go way back; exaggerated agogic, intense physically encumbering rhythms, glissando effects and a strong, muscular vibrato? lglesias’ impassioned interpretations were probably considered naive and shameless among some guitar enthusiasts of the time. He dared to fearlessly use extreme and exaggerated tempi which makes his phrasing seem intuitive and of the moment—like a jazz musician’s improvisations.
Angel Ferrera Iglesias died in 1977 in Spain, at the age of 60. He was an important figure in the history of the guitar.
Copyright © 1997 by Erling Møldrup. All Rights Reserved.