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Abel Carlevaro 1916 - 2001. Dignity in life is worth more than life itself 1 [1] Zeoli 2006, p9. Quick Summary. Abel Carlevaro (1916–2001) was a virtuoso performer, classical guitar composer and teacher born in Montevideo , Uruguay .

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abel carlevaro 1916 2001

Abel Carlevaro1916 - 2001

Dignity in life is worth more than life itself1

[1] Zeoli 2006, p9.

quick summary
Quick Summary
  • Abel Carlevaro (1916–2001) was a virtuoso performer, classical guitarcomposer and teacher born in Montevideo, Uruguay.
  • He established a new school of instrumental technique, incorporating a fresh approach to seating and playing the guitar, based on anatomical principles.
  • This important contribution to the evolution of the guitar is expounded in his didactic series (the "Cuadernos"), "Escuela de la GuitarraExposición de la Teoría Instrumental" (School of Guitar Exposition of Instrumental Theory) as well as in the "CarlevaroMasterclass" series.
  • Famous students include JadAzkoul (his teaching assistant (1982-2000), Eduardo Fernández. BaltazarBenítez, Alvaro Pierri, Roberto Aussel and from Spain, Juan Luis Torres and PompeyoPérezDíaz,
  • He had a successful career as a concert artist and gained the admiration of musicians such as Heitor Villa Lobos and Andrés Segovia. His worldwide performances were met with high acclaim by the public and critics alike.

Carlevaro also invented a new guitar (Concert-Guitar Model "Carlevaro"), - The upper part of the sound box (on which the guitarists arm rests) was straight, - the bottom (that rests on the guitarist's leg) is curved as usual. - The resulting soundboard resembled the shape of a grand piano. - Carlevaro said that this shape improved the vibration of the lower notes. - This new guitar also had the normal round sound hole closed, having instead a thin "slot" (a sound-slot instead of a sound-hole) all around the curvature of top: -The top is actually separated from the sides - the top is quasi-floating, and is held in place only by wooden pins from the sides. Thus the guitar consists of 2 quasi-disjoint parts (held together only by the wooden pins): a) the back and sides b) the top. - Today the Model "Carlevaro Guitar" is made by EberhardKreul (from Erlbach, Germany; where there are many great luthiers).

historical context
Historical Context
  • At the beginning of the 20th Century, Uruguay was often referred to as the “South American Switzerland.” A solid economy, plus a strong imperial English hand, left their mark in many of Uruguay's customs and way of life.
  • Top European immigrants at the turn of the 19th Century gave Montevideo and Uruguay in general, a character that is simply non-existent in neighboring Argentina or Brazil.
  • The illiteracy level in Uruguay is almost zero.
  • From 1933 until around 1950, the River Plate region underwent a period of prosperity unknown in the Southern hemisphere outside Australia.
  • It was during this golden era that Andrés Segovia arrived in Montevideo. When Segovia started to teach Carlevaro, the Uruguayan guitarist was already an outstanding guitar player. While people and artists in general were suffering the consequences of a war-torn Europe, South America was offering the ideal surroundings for growth and expansion and prosperity. The guitar world saw Agustin Barrios Mangoré and Abel Carlevaro shaping the instrument and its repertoire, and composers like Villa-Lobos and Ponce were adding to the immense palette of talents that were giving a great and much needed push to the guitar.
  • Consequently, Segovia joined in and spent 10 very prolific years in Uruguay.
  • The flirtation with military dictatorships ended this golden era. The region is still paying dearly for this. 
early years
Early Years
  • Montevideo – capital of Uruguay
  • Amateur Musical family
    • Father a doctor of medicine; Mother’s piano; siblings; uncle Hector; aunt Celina; lots of gramophone records
  • First teacher – Pedro Vittone
  • Registered in Faculty of Agronomy initially
  • Received parental support when he decided to switch to music
  • Next teachers at age about ~22
    • José TomásMujica – Basque organist – taught traditional harmony
    • Pablo Komlos – arrived from Hungary at start of WW2 – instrumentation and orchestration
    • Popular musicians also had a great influence including unfettered experimentation and a sense of evolution e.g. Alberto Galloti (“Bachicha”) – an homage in Duo ConcertanteArenguay (2nd movement)
      • “without formal barriers to the imagination”
  • Days working on the fingering of a single measure
    • Fugue from J.S. Bach’s first sonata for solo violin
  • First public recital whilst still at the Faculty of Agronomy
    • Made some minor mistakes but also felt he did not connect with the audience
    • So he decided to convert his payment for the concert to a donation to the local library.
segovia 1893 linares granada 1987 madrid
Segovia1893 : Linares, Granada – 1987 : Madrid
  • 23 years older than Carlevaro
  • Though the 1930's were a period of triumph for Segovia and the guitar, there were also tragic experiences in his life, including the death of a young son in 1937. Having left Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he spent World War II (and its aftermath) in Montevideo and, later, the USA. After the war, he returned to perform once again in Europe. He arrived in Britain in 1949 to make his first long-playing albums.
  • Meeting with Segovia in Parque Hotel in Montevideo organized by Uncle Hector – played Bach’s Chaconne.
  • As a result – Segovia gave Carlevaro lessons periodically
  • Even then – AC pursued twin track
    • Listening carefully to advice
    • Pursuing his own investigations and solutions
  • Opportunity to work with compositions for Segovia from composers such as Torroba, Turina, Ponce, Castelnuova-Tedesco, from the original scores.
  • Listening to Segovia practice and play in his own home
  • A very cordial relationship – Segovia a lively raconteur, and opened many doors for AC.
  • When Carlevaro’s international career was becoming established, Segovia seemed to distance himself from Carlevaro – much to the consternation of the former. This lasted many years.
  • The relationship was restored later when Segovia returned to Montevideo on the death of his daughter Beatriz.
villa lobos 1887 1959
Villa-Lobos1887 –1959
  • " Villa-Lobos has become the best-known and most significant Latin American composer to date". [Wright 1992]
  • Spent many years touring Brazil collecting folk music and also investing in music education
  • 29 years senior to Carlevaro
  • Dr Curt Lange – director of Inter-American Institute of Musicology in Montevideo – arranged for many introductions e.g. Aaron Copland, Leopold Stokowsky
    • 1940 Villa-Lobos (aged 53) was invited to present some orchestral works; AC played a program which included Chôro No 1; after the show VL invited AC to study with him in Brazil; AC accepted immediately
    • Curt Lange arranged some concerts for AC which made the visit financially possible
    • First major lesson – free oneself for academic constraints where they interfere with one’s own investigations
    • First hearing of VL’s guitar 12 studies was played on piano (by TomásTeran), prefaced by background discussion from VL
    • AC was allowed to keep the manuscripts of VL’s compositions that he (AC) had been studying at his time with the composer
    • AC stressed the effect of his visit on his sense of musicianship.
agust n barrios 1885 1944
Agustín Barrios 1885 - 1944
  • Native of Paraguay
  • Largely self taught – all output entirely the result of his own efforts
  • 31 years senior to Carlevaro
  • In 1910, left his homeland for 1 week to Corientes, Argentina – but did not return for 10 years.
  • His genius was recognized and supported by Don MartínBorda y Pagola in Montevideo. It was he who constantly pressed AB to write his music down for posterity
  • His works were largely late-Romantic in character, despite his having lived well into the twentieth century. Many of them are also adaptations of, or are influenced by, South American and Central American folk music. Very many of them are of a virtuosic nature.
  • Nomadic and Bohemian – at death, “he leaves no property”
  • AC never met Barrios, but he was introduced to his work and life by Don Martín. It was through hearing Don Martin play the music of Barrios, that AC conceived the idea of composing himself – aged 15.
  • On the death of Don Martin, AC was given a number letters from Barrios, as the most appropriate custodian.
  • A professional musician needs to travel and teach
  • Whilst these are demanding, they expand horizons
  • Three years in Europe in 1950’s
  • Paris – he considered the Mecca of all artists
    • Maurice Ohana – Anglo-Frenchcomposer of Sephardic Jewish origin
    • pianist and host, and composer of pieces dedicated to AC
  • Granada – Falla, Lorca, Alhambra
    • Virtually kidnapped to stay in the hotel owned by Pepe Cuellar – also a gifted flamenco player
    • Very warmly welcomed here – where flamenco had a deep influence on him
  • Journey home aboard the ship “Cabo de Buena Esperanza”
    • A time when his musical experiences abroad coalesced
    • Encapsulated by a Borodin quartet he heard performed on board.
later compositions
Later Compositions
  • Avant-garde style – to my mind, a kind of “Shostakovich meets Turina at the home of Lindsey-Clark”
  • These days, a composer needs to establish his own set of rules, and they need time to be accepted and bed down
  • (My own view is that this demands quite a long-standing commitment from listeners to particular composers).
  • Blend rich history of music with formal rules, together with your own personality, artistry and creativity
  • “Each artist must impose on himself a strict compromise with this own times”
  • “We can perfectly well look to the past without losing our footing in the present day”
  • CD - PreludiosAmericanos (5) Tamboriles (Uruguayan drums)
  • The teacher often learns as much as the student – because of the need think and to reformulate existing knowledge
  • Method should be - Natural, self-regulating, within a formal framework
  • Although long hours of study and labour are required, avoid stagnating routine, thinking as well as practising, total awareness of muscle movements and arm and finger positions
  • Alberto Ginastera invited AC at relatively short notice to compose a special piece for a music festival at Villa Gesell (Argentina)
  • Created the Cronomias Sonata – a concept related to “time”
  • Ginastera encouraged AC to write down his “instrumental theory” which he was teaching in the classes at the Villa
  • Ginastera wanted to attend the classes, but AC said they would be a distraction to teacher and student so he agreed not to attend
  • Instead, he listened from an adjacent room with the door slightly ajar – this confirmed the importance Ginastera attached to recording the theory – however, I could not locate it – at least in English.
  • Ipod – play some of Cronomios
  • After studying a Bach Chaconne with AC for 3 hours, with 2 years’ prior investment, one student was left in tears “for all the previous wasted years of effort”.
  • Recommends Manual de Falla’s “Homenaje a Debussy”
    • “a work of outstanding value which merits detailed study not only due to its musical quality, but also its mechanical assets which are so intimately related with the natural possibilities of the guitar” Zeoli p76
    • Apparently no technical difficulties
    • Play sample from iPod
notes on body mechanics
Notes on Body Mechanics
  • Posture is very important - Position feet so
    • right shoulder does not have to reach forward
    • Guitar soundboard is facing nearly forward
  • Points of contact of guitar with body must provide stability and access
  • Left elbow against body all the time – like a violinist
    • Longitudinal and transversal access
    • Movement of the wrist and at higher positions, the arm as well
  • To avoid string noise whilst changing position, use arm to lift finger off string
  • When changing position, get arm and wrist in position first, then finger after that.
  • See ch 3 of video
  • His whole school is based on allowing the mind to process every movement on the fretboard in the brain before the actual movement is executed. 
  • Carlevaro stressed that guitar players could rely on more than a set of muscles to achieve a given task and that it was the artist's responsibility to use the most apt set of muscles for any given job.
  • This is the theory behind the concept of “fijación” a concept which considers the “fixing” of certain larger or smaller muscle groups, in order to achieve specific types of sounds - timbre.
  • Carlevaro found the way to eliminate left hand squeaking on the guitar caused by the left hand fingers on the fret board
  • he emphasized that you learn technique through the repertory and not the other way around. In other words, you chose the repertoire according to your personal musical taste, when a given challenge appears, you make your own exercise. Technique is a creative process.
  • Socratic method – questions leading student to answers
  • known quite a few guitarists who had to abandon their careers due to serious injuries that originated in a faulty sitting position
  • Ipod - Microstudies
performance tips
Performance Tips
  • Spotlight from the right side
    • Illuminates the fretboard
    • Does not shine in the eyes whilst looking at the fretboard
  • Bring a number of wooden “chocks” to level the chair in case the stage is not level – often it dips towards the audience
  • Do not use chairs with a rim – they cut off circulation
    • On one occasion this caused extended applause, since the maestro was not able to walk off the stage.
  • Abel Carlevaro, My Guitar & My World, Abel Carlevaro, (trans) Patrick Zeoli, 2006 ChanterelleVerlag.
    • Based on a series of talks by Carlevaro to friends in Montevideo 1988-1990.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abel_Carlevaro
  • Wright, Simon. 1992. Villa-Lobos. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315475-7
  • CD: “Carlevaro Plays Carlevaro”, Chanterelle, 1986 & 2002
  • DVD-ECH 767: A Guitar Lesson with Abel Carlevaro, 2005
  • http://www.mangore.com – site of RenatoBelluci – a student of Carlevaro with most web-presence
  • To purchase: http://www.guitarnotes.co.uk/Information/1/Home