Early Transcriptions of Isaac Albéniz’ Leyenda

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Matanya Ophee

In his on-line article titled “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About…ALBÉNIZ’S LEYENDA (Preludio-Asturias),”

Stanley Yates provides the following information:

. . . the first successful guitar arrangement of the preludio Leyenda no doubt belongs to Andrés Segovia, though he wasn’t the first guitarist to perform or arrange the piece. That distinction should probably go to the very prolific arranger Severino García Fortea. In his autobiography of the years 1893-1920, Segovia mentions that he was “transcribing Leyenda by Albéniz, which hereto had been played from the transcription made by that hack[!], Don Severino Garcia.” Although I have not been able to determine when Segovia first began to include the piece in his recital programs, we do know that he programmed the piece for a recital in Graz, Austria in October, 1924.

There is no doubt that Segovia’s arrangement was successful. This was the one which captured the imagination of guitarists of my generation, some 45 years ago. But was it the first successful transcription?

To answer this question, we have to agree first what is meant by the qualification “successful.” Segovia’s characterization of the work of Severino García Fortea may be accepted as part of his normal way of putting down those contemporaries of his of whom he did not have a favorable opinion. With the dubious distinction of belonging to a group of Segovianic targets such as Barrios, Sainz de la Maza and others, García Fortea was in good company. Obviously, Segovia did not think that the transcription by Severino García Fortea was “successful” and that is why he decided to make one of his own. I would also imagine that if we were to find this transcription today, some of us would agree with Segovia that it was not successful, while others may not rush to condemn it.

The problem though, is that I remember seeing a García Fortea transcription of Leyenda at the time I began studying the guitar, but I find it impossible to trace such an edition today in any publisher’s catalogue, library holdings etc. Either my research skills are not what they used to be, or my memory is playing tricks on me. So what was it Segovia was talking about?

He must have been talking about something that was common knowledge in the 1920-30s. Either there was in fact a printed edition of a Leyenda transcription by Severino García Fortea, or manuscript copies of such a transcription circulated among guitarists at the time. Most probably, there were many more such transcriptions circulating in manuscript copies. One such transcription came into my possession a couple of years ago. This transcription was made by Domingo Prat, in Barcelona, on November 2, 1920.

I acquired this manuscript, together with many other documents and memorabilia from the collection of Domingo Prat, directly from his daughter Blanca. The manuscript, it should be pointed out, is not in the hand of Domingo Prat himself, but it is a copy made by Blanca Prat, as she so told me, in 1942, two years before her father’s death and under his supervision.

The fact that this transcription was made in Barcelona in 1920, may beg the question if this was an original work or if it was not, perhaps, inspired by other similar transcriptions that were circulating at the time, such as the one by Severino García Fortea, referred to by Segovia. As it were, that transcription seems to have survived, albeit in a remote hand-written copy, made in 1935 by the Russian guitarist Miron Petrovich Papchenko. It is included in a large volume of similar manuscripts, containing practically the entire Segovia repertoire of that time. Comparing the copies to the original editions by Schott copied by Papchenko, it is possible to ascertain that he was a careful and assiduous copyist. While I do not know whether the source copied here was in fact a printed edition, as the rest of the copies in the volume, one may surmise that it is an accurate depiction of the Severino García Fortea transcription, as it was known in the 1930s.

In evaluating these transcriptions, and comparing them to other transcriptions available today in print, we must be cognizant of the fact that besides the available printed sources, we also have access to hundreds of recordings of this work, made by many well-known and not so well-known guitarists. These recordings often show elements that can be found in the printed sources, and many that are not. It would be fool-hardy to argue that any particular element, in any given transcription or recording, the new and the old, is in any way exceptional or revelatory. At the end of the day, it is the individual performance of a given artist that can give this old war-horse any possible meaning and relevance.

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