Sunday, May 20, 2007

A short biography I - Early life in Paraguay

Agustín Pío Barrios (also known as Agustín Barrios Mangoré) was born in San Juan Bautista de las Missiones, southern Paraguay on 5 May 1885, and died on 7 August 1944, in San Salvador, El Salvador. He was a member of a large family - the fifth of seven sons – and all of them played at least one instrument each. Both of his parents placed great value on cultural arts, particularly literature, drama and music.

Agustín’s father, Don Doroteo Barrios, was born in Corrientes, Argentina and played the guitar himself. It is known that Doroteo, by playing together with his brothers, used to entertain the local people of San Juan Bautista. Naturally inspired by his father's guitar playing, Barrios began to play the instrument at a very young age learning what he could from his father’s “folk” skills.

His mother, Dona Martina Ferreira, was a native of Humaitá, Paraguay. She was a teacher who was very fond of literature and theatre. Agustín’s affinity for other areas such as poetry and languages must have been partly inherited by his mother (although more decisive is the social surroundings to which the young guitarist have been exposed throughout his life).

Barrios birth’s place was and still is a small and quite town. A visitor can today walk on its unpaved streets and admire the two monuments dedicated to him in the same park which is located in the main square of San Juan Bautista. One can easily assume that a young talented guitarist, as Barrios was about to become, wouldn’t conform himself to the simplicity and little cultural opportunities that this small and humble town could provide him.

Barrios would prove himself to be a multi talented man who was a passionate for culture, once he said: “One cannot become a guitarist without having bathed himself in the fountain of culture”. Besides Spanish, he spoke Guaraní, the native language of Paraguay. He understood French, English and German. His other interests where philosophy, poetry and theology. Barrios also became a good calligrapher and a talented caricaturist.

As a young man, Barrios never studied in a formal music conservatory. In 1898, he was formally introduced to the classical guitar repertoire by Gustavo Sosa Escalada – maybe the most influent person in Barrios’ life. At that time, young Barrios had already composed works for the guitar, and also performed pieces written by his former teacher Alias, such as: La Chinita and La Perezosa.

Under the influence of his new teacher, Barrios went on to perform and study the works of Tárrega, Vinas, Sor and Aguado. Sosa Escalada was so impressed with his new pupil, that he convinced Barrios' parents to let him move to Asunción to continue his guitar education.

Now, in the capital of Paraguay, Barrios was living with his two older brothers Hector and Virgilio. At the age of 15 (by March 1901) he enrolled in the Colegio Nacional (“National High School”). Although he did quite well, particularly in languages and arithmetic, there is no evidence that he studied in the Colegio for more than two years. Obviously his interest was strongly directed to the music and by the time he quitted school he had become much more serious and involved with the guitar.

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© 2007 Pedro Abreu