Obituary: Narciso Yepes

Narciso Yepes was the leading Spanish guitarist of his generation, gaining a reputation second only to that of the great Andres Segovia. The surprising thing is that he was so little influenced by that international and omnipresent figure.

Born in Lorca in 1927, Yepes was given his first guitar by his father when he was four years old. Serious lessons began when he was six, and in 1940 he went to study at the Conservatoire of Music in Valencia. He learnt much from the pianist and composer Vicente Asencio, whose approach to music had a considerable influence on his guitar style.

In 1946 he was invited to Madrid, reports of his skill having reached the ears of Ataulfo Argenta, the conductor of the National Orchestra of Spain. The following year he made his solo debut, playing that mainstay of the guitar concerto repertory, Joaqun Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. His debut in Paris four years later was highly acclaimed, but it was not until 1952, as the composer and performer of the music to Rene Clement's film Jeux Interdits, that he reached a wider and more general audience.

Even then his name did not become familiar, and budding guitarists would ask in music shops for a piece called "Jeux Interdits", or "Forbidden Games", or sometimes "Juegos Prohibidos". The music that took their fancy was, in fact, a traditional piece called "Spanish Romance" or alternatively "Romance d'Amour", of which Yepes was the arranger rather than the composer. More film music followed, notably for La fille aux yeux d'or in 1961.

Nevertheless, his work as a touring concert performer took precedence over his composing. He toured South America in 1957, went to Japan in 1960, and made his first appearance in the United States in 1964.

A long-standing contract with Deutsche Grammophon produced many recordings ranging widely over the guitar repertory and including arrangements of Telemann and Scarlatti, the latter showing his art in all its crystalline quality.

Along with Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams and Pepe Romero, his recordings were bought by the general public - a considerable achievement given the painfully slow process by which classical guitarists generally attain prominence. Having reached that point, his recordings stayed there. Only recently, I heard his exquisitely crafted Scarlatti in a cafe in Krakow, and marvelled anew at what Yepes called the "Mediterranean clarity" of the music, in which the borrowed cadences of Spain - keenly felt by Yepes - make their distinctive contribution. Yepes believed, as most guitarists do, that the finger's direct contact with the strings imparts a special expressivity to harpsichord music.

Early in the 1960s Yepes became concerned enough with the limitations of his six-stringed instrument to look for alternatives. He designed an instrument with ten strings and commissioned its construction from the Spanish luthier Jose Ramirez. Its extra bass strings, tuned to C, B flat, A flat and G flat, would not have appealed to Segovia, to whom any guitar with more - or fewer - than six strings was anathema.

Yepes claimed that the additional strings enabled him to approach the piano music of Manuel de Falla (who wrote only one piece for the guitar) and Isaac Albeniz (who wrote none). It is worth remembering that Julian Bream in the early part of his career played such an instrument, abandoning it only when - like Segovia and so many other guitarists - he came to the conclusion that limiting the number of strings to six could actually enhance expressiveness, though at the cost of restricting the physical range.

Yepes, as always, went his own way, and was rewarded with some excellent music for the ten-stringed instrument composed by Maurice Ohana. The dodecaphonist Bruno Maderna also composed a piece for him, Y despues, inspired by a poem of Federico Garca Lorca.

Yepes made, in 1956, the first of very many recordings of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. In a recent interview, the composer's daughter said that her father had told her that Yepes's version came close in spirit to what he had in mind, and we should remember that it is not a work that dazzles by its extroversion but should be, in Rodrigo's words, "light and agile . . . like a butterfly," its sounds "hidden within the breeze which rustles the foliage" of the gardens of Aranjuez. Yepes captured all this perfectly.

He was also a lutenist of ability, and recorded all the Bach lute works. The Baroque lute was not, however, an instrument with which he gave concerts; carrying around a guitar was quite enough trouble, and in addition he found that an audience's attention span - in those days - did not extend much beyond 35 minutes of lute music.

An engaging and empathetic personality made Yepes an unusually persuasive teacher, particularly in the public format of a masterclass. Never an authoritarian, never a mandarin, he reached his students' minds with a judicious mixture of humour and information that greatly facilitated the learning process. An invariable custom was to draw more attention to a student's strong points than to the weak. As he put it, "As you grow in your strengths, you will forget your weaknesses". Many students, including those who subsequently became teachers, will remember with gratitude that it was Narciso Yepes who taught them that particular piece of wisdom.

Colin Cooper

Narciso Garca Yepes, guitarist and composer: born Lorca, Spain 14 November 1927; married Marysia Szummakowska (one son, one daughter); died Lorca 3 May 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits