Book Unveils Decade of Triumph, Tragedy in Life of Andres Segovia

Don Andres and Paquita book cover(Photo: Amadeus press)
Don Andres and Paquita book cover(Photo: Amadeus press)

Guitarist Andrés Segovia lived in Montevideo for slightly more than a decade in the middle of his long life. But even though he moved away from the beautiful Uruguayan city, he never left it behind.

That’s the tragic gist of Alfredo Escande’s book Don Andrés and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo, now available in a new English translation by Charles Postlewate and Marisa Herrera Postlewate (Amadeus Press, $34.99). The study is a fascinating look at the period that saw Segovia’s international concert career take flight and his personal life first triumph, then tumble. It was as much the losses Segovia endured in his Montevideo period as the intense successes and joys that, Escande claims, formed the native Spaniard’s emotional bonds to Montevideo, a city half a world away from home but always beckoning, Kansas-like, as only home can.

It is a mystery, then, that before Escande’s self-published book came out in 2009 in Spanish as Don Andrés y Paquita, the Montevideo portion of Segovia’s biography had generally been glossed over in media stories and academic writings alike. Or is it a mystery? While writing his memoirs in the early 1970s, Segovia himself became paralyzed as he faced the prospect of writing about his Montevideo years. Escande quotes Segovia’s stepdaughter María Rosa Puig, who visited the aging Segovia in Spain while he was writing his memoirs:

When he got to the period where he had to write about Mama and Montevideo, something happened to him, and it was difficult for him to continue. In fact, I don’t think he ever wrote it.

That chapter of Segovia’s life story, between 1937 and 1948,  saw the artistic and personal coming of age of both Segovia and his then new bride, the Spanish concert pianist Paquita Madriguera, who had been a child prodigy and a protégé of Enrique Granados. The couple found refuge from the Spanish Civil War in Uruguay, the birthplace of Madriguera’s three daughters from her first marriage to Arturo Puig. After fleeing Franco’s Spain, Madriguera and Segovia built a life together in Montevideo with Madriguera’s daughters. Segovia developed during his Montevideo years a closeness with his stepdaughters that would endure throughout their lives. Madriguera gave birth to Segovia’s only daughter, Beatriz, in Montevideo.

Montevideo also became the base of operations for Segovia’s rising international career, and was the place where Segovia premiered guitar concerti by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Manuel Ponce and other composers. It was also in Montevideo during these years that Paquita Madriguera reclaimed her career as a performing pianist, coming back from a nearly 15-year hiatus from the brilliant international concert career she had enjoyed as a teenager, but which she set aside in favor of family life when she married Arturo Puig.

But many of Segovia’s personal triumphs in Montevideo also saw their undoing there. Escande’s narrative suggests that Beatriz’s development was emotionally hampered as Segovia’s and Madriguera’s respective careers took them increasingly away from home. Segovia’s affair with the Brazilian singer Olga Praguer Coelho would eventually cause Madriguera to divorce him, further fracturing young Beatriz’s family life.

As his stepdaughters settled into their own adult lives and he into his life unmarried to Madriguera, Segovia devoted more of his energies to his concert tours; Escande’s narrative suggests that Beatriz was more or less left behind by her father, who was present now and then and in letters. Segovia did not interrupt a concert tour to visit Beatriz while she was recuperating from her first suicide attempt. Segovia did travel to Montevideo when he learned that Beatriz had ended her life at age 29.

The ex-wife and daughter buried next to each other in Montevideo would haunt Segovia for the rest of his life. These and other family ties, along with Segovia’s bittersweet memories of his marriage with Madriguera and the professional successes of his Montevideo years, Escande claims, tethered Segovia emotionally to the Uruguayan capital even after he had returned to Spain, married for the third time and become yet again a father.

The claim seems reasonable. Dorothy Gale’s famous journey reminds us of the special magic of home, be it ever so humble. Don Andrés and Paquita reveals that Segovia’s Montevideo years saw profound drama that certainly could have seeped into the marrow of the Spaniard’s bones. But the shadow side of home, as Thomas Wolfe pointed out, is that once you leave it, you can’t go back. Escande shows us that, for Andrés Segovia and his adopted home of Montevideo, this was all too true.