By Alan di Perna
“The greatest guitar of our epoch.” That’s how this exquisite 1937 Hermann Hauser Sr. guitar was described by its original owner, the celebrated Andalusian classical guitarist Andrés Segovia. As Segovia is often hailed as the greatest guitarist of our epoch, player and instrument were perfectly matched between the years of 1937 and 1962, when this was Segovia’s principal guitar.
“This guitar, as much Andrés Segovia himself, established classical guitar playing,” says Jayson Dobney, curator of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the guitar currently resides along with its predecessor, the 1912 Ramírez with which the maestro launched his career in the period between 1912 and 1937.
“Segovia codified what we now think of as classical guitar playing by reaching back to the music of 18th and 19th centuries,” Dobney continues, “rearranging earlier lute pieces, parlor pieces, and even Bach cello suites for the guitar. He commissioned new compositions as well, really looking everywhere for music to play on his guitar. He brought what had been a parlor instrument onto concert stages. Many of his greatest recordings were done with the Hauser.”
Segovia was extremely demanding when it came to guitars. He first met German luthier Hermann Hauser Sr. in 1924. Hauser examined and measured Segovia’s Ramírez with a view toward replicating it. His initial effort was judged by Segovia, “a very faithful copy, but with no soul.” For the next 12 years, Hauser sent Segovia one or two guitars per year, each a little better than the last, until Segovia finally accepted this instrument in 1937.
Segovia and his legendary Hauser were inseparable for three decades to follow. The upper Brazilian rosewood side even bears a sizable salt stain left by the master’s perspiration. But the romance ended in 1962 when a microphone fell into the guitar during a recording session. Segovia said it never sounded the same.
The guitar was gifted to the Met in 1986 by Segovia’s third wife and widow, Emilita Segovia, Marquesa of Salobreña.
Thanks to organologist extraordinaire Matthew Hill for invaluable assistance with this article.