Sunday, May 20, 2007

A short biography II - Beyond borders

By 1908 Agustín Barrios was already well known in all Paraguay. Very famous were his performances with his brother, the poet Francisco Martín Barrios. While Agustín played the guitar, Francisco recited his own poems.

After receiving his training from Gustavo Sosa Escalada, Barrios left Paraguay for the first time to give a couple of concerts in Corrientes, Argentina. So enormous was his success that his return, which was planed to happen one week after his performances, got postponed for nothing less than 12 years, during which he toured throughout South America.

In this period beautiful pieces of music came into life such as: La Catedral, Estudios y Preludios, Madrigal, Allegro Sinfónico and Las Abejas. International critic considered him as one of the greatest guitarists in the world and called him magician of the guitar. That what meant to be a simple journey to Corrientes in 1910 for two or so weeks ended up to be a turning point in Barrios life.

Since then he never settled down in a particular country. He took periodic residence in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and at last in El Salvador where he would suffer from a heart attack that was fatal to him. Besides the places where Barrios lived he also gave concerts continually in Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Trinidad. In short, he conquered Latin America.

However, there was a time when Agustín, together with his brother Francisco, returned to Paraguay. It was in 1922, 12 years after leaving to Corrientes for that “short period of time”, and it was a turbulent time because Paraguay was under a civil war. Nevertheless, the Barrios brothers still gave several performances in Asunción and other places of Paraguay. The musicologist Juan Max Boettner recalls one of their performances under a full moon evening in San Bernadino. According to him, Francisco recited his poem “Oyendo a Beethoven” (Listening to Beethoven), while Agustín accompanied him with his own transcription for guitar of Beethoven’s Moonlight Serenade.

In January 1925 he had one of his last performances in Paraguay. The event took place in the Plaza Uruguaya. It was in that occasion that Barrios presented his famous poem “El Bohemio” (The Bohemian). In 25 of February 1925 he left Paraguay forever.

In 1929 Barrios initiated a tour around Brazil. This year came to be a very significant one to him; he fell in love with Gloria Seban who stayed his companion for the rest of life. No one knows exactly where the two met for the first time. Possibly it was in Pelotas or in Rio de Janeiro.

Barrios escaped from Latin America in 1934 to visit Europe thus being the first Latin-American guitarist of stature to perform in the “Old Continent”. During that period he performed in Belgium, Germany, Spain and England. In a concert in Brussels Barrios premiered his first transcription of Bach’s 1st Suite for Lute. It is reported that the event received lots of critics.

In 1936 he returned from his European tour and kept on performing around Latin America. But his lifetime goal was to reach the United States, something that he never came to concretize because of the failure in getting a visa for his companion Gloria.

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© 2007 Pedro Abreu