Rose Augustine

Champion of the classical guitar

Tuesday 06 May 2003 00:00
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Rose Lipschitz (Lewis), businesswoman: born New York 10 February 1910; married 1928 Albert Augustine (died 1967); died New York 21 April 2003.

In 1928 Rose Lewis married the Danish-born guitar maker Albert Augustine. Affected by the wartime shortage of gut strings for his instruments, in the late 1940s Albert turned his attention to nylon fishing line, and with the collaboration of the DuPont company persuaded the great Andrés Segovia that it made a better guitar string than the gut that had served musicians for centuries. When Albert Augustine died in 1967, Rose took control of the company, marketing with conspicuous success the strings that bore her husband's name.

With the profits that accrued, she launched a number of other projects, one of which was the Albert Augustine Foundation, a non-profit-making organisation devoted to promoting the study and performance of classical guitar. The name Augustine among the list of sponsors became almost a commonplace at guitar festivals and other events around the world.

A native of New York's lower east side (the Bronx), she was born Rose Lipschitz in 1910, although her family later changed their name to Lewis. A talented pianist, she could have made music her career but, with two science degrees behind her, from Hunter College and Columbia University in New York, she instead became a high-school teacher of science. She continued to teach until she took over Albert Augustine Ltd on her husband's death.

Rose Augustine was a woman of many talents, seemingly inexhaustible energy and formidable determination. In 1946 the magazine Guitar Review was founded by a consortium of guitar enthusiasts who called themselves "The New York City Society of the Classic Guitar", among whom were Albert and Rose Augustine. The original idea was to form a kind of "Segovia fan club", but a number of other New York guitarists were felt to be worth supporting: Julio Martinez Oyanguren, Manuel Gayol, Jose Rey de la Torre, and one or two others.

Guitar Review's first editor was Vladimir Bobri, a Russian emigré who played the guitar; he began the tradition of fine design and visual appeal that Rose Augustine was determined to continue when she acquired the magazine, and became not only its publisher but also its chief editor. Under her strict but judicious rule, it gained a reputation for supporting contemporary music that few other music journals can equal. Many new works for guitar were commissioned and published by Guitar Review.

She was also a collector of rare instruments, and believed that their working life should continue; professional musicians would be invited to give informal recitals in her house in Manhattan. I remember seeing a fine harpsichord by Kirkmann there. Another superb instrument was a guitar by Hermann Hauser, made in 1941 and much coveted by Segovia. Though Albert Augustine refused to part with it, Rose lent it, many years later, to Julian Bream, who for several years used it in his concerts.

Despite the good deeds that she performed in her long life, Rose Augustine rejected the concept of "doing good": the work was, simply, something that had to be done, and she did it without fuss and ostentation, though usually with the acumen of an astute businesswoman.

Like many visionaries, she had an immense capacity for hard work. When I met her in New York in 1995, she was 85 and still going to the office every day. It was true that sometimes she could be "difficult". If she disapproved of something, or if it seemed to her that her own high standards of integrity and conduct had been departed from, she could be devastatingly direct in pointing out the faults. Any resentment was short-lived, however: her abundant humanity and vitality saw to that.

Rose Augustine loved to travel, and she loved the element of adventure. It took her, among other places, to Cuba, a small but proud country that she saw not as part of any "axis of evil" but as an intensely musical country not deserving the hardships imposed on it by a powerful neighbour. She showed her appreciation in a practical way by distributing large quantities of Augustine strings among the students.

Augustine's vision and energy continued to the end. Even after the stroke that put her in hospital, she was making plans, including a face-lift for her magazine, and possibly a change of marketing strategy.

Colin Cooper

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