A unique figure in the history of music, Agustin
) was a Paraguayan
, poet and virtusoso
Born in San Juan Bautista de los Misiones, he came
from a musical and cultured family, and was introduced
early in his childhood to traditional and popular
music. At high school in Asuncion, in his teens, he
studied classical guitar and performed his debut
under Pellegrini, the noted music teacher at his
At age 27, having started to establish his musical
career, he departed for a concert in Argentina, having
promised his girlfriend to be back in a week with
money for their coming marriage. But he didn't return
for 12 years.
He traveled extensively in South America, and toured
Germany and Spain in 1935, performing concerts with
programmes from his repertoire of guitar transcriptions
of Bach, Chopin and other classical composers, pieces
for the guitar by composers such as Tarrega, and his
During one period, he insisted on performing in his
traditional Indian dress, and adopted the name of
Mangore, a Guarani chief of legend.
He was inspired by religion of a theosophical
cast and by the traditions of his own Guarani people, and
his most famous works, La Catedral and
Una Limosa por el Amor de Dios (An Alm for the Love
of God) reflect these preoccupations. Other works
lean more heaviy on the traditional music of the area.
He was influenced by the great guitar
comoposers Sor, Tarrega and Aguado and by classical
and romantic western composers, especially J.S. Bach
and Chopin. The noted guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer
says of him: "Just as Bach continued to write superb
baroque music up to the year of his death [...]
Barrios was writing exquisite romantic music long after
its passing in Europe." and guitarist John Williams
adds "This romantic musicality is expressed by a far
more imaginative and developed guitar technique than
anything that had gone before."1
It is hard to convey the flavour of Mangore's work.
I think the influence of Bach is predominant (he transcribed
and performed many of Bach's works on the guitar) but
warm lilting Latin cadences and rhythms are never far from the surface. His Preludio in G minor, openly modelled on Bach, has a baroque form and harmonies, but there is a subtle Latin beat underlying its stately rhythm. In other pieces, he employs, dazzlingly, many of the tricks of guitar technique, including tremelos, unusual uses of open strings and melodies which hop from the bass to the treble register, while the other strings provide the harmonies. In all this,
the musicality and unique personality shine through.
Although he became relatively obscure in the years immediately following his death, Mangore was a great influence on performing guitarists of the time (Segovia was said to have learned his Aquado technique from viewing one Barrios performance) and his music can justifiably be said to extend and develop the guitar repertoire beyond the best efforts of his contemporaries.
Fortunately, he made many recordings, which document in
full his incredible virtuoso technique and are the
only source for many of his compositions. These are scratchy, and at times almost undecipherable, but are
nonetheless stunning and a bit awe-inspiring for a playing guitarist. Thanks to the work of Barrios biographer Richard Stover in bringing these to light, many contemporary guitarists are giving his work due exposure on the international recording and
Mangore was also a poet, and in 1930 he wrote his Profession
of Faith to explain his adoption of a traditional Indian
name and dress:
Tupa, the supreme spirit and protector of my people,
Found me one day in the middle of a greening forest,
Enraptured in the contemplation of Nature,
And he told me: "Take this mysterious box and reveal its secrets."
And enclosing within it all the songs of the birds of the jungle
And the mournful signs of the plants,
He abandoned it in my hands.
I took it and obeying Tupa's command I held it close to my heart.
Embracing it I passed many moons on the edge of a spring fountain
And one night, Yacy (the moon, our mother),
Reflected in the crystal liquid,
Feeling the sadness of my Indian soul,
Gave me six silver moonbeams
With which to discover its secrets.
And the miracle took Place:
From the bottom of the mysterious box,
There come forth a marvelous symphony
Of all the virgin voices of America.2
Inappropriate in this writeup, perhaps, but I can't help wondering if this was the inspiration for Rush
's concept album 2112 :-)
1. John Williams' sleeve notes for "The great Paraguayan. John
Williams plays Barrios" Sony SK 64 369
2. Richard Stover, "Agustín Barrios Mangoré, His Life and Music Part III: Cacique Nitsuga Mangoré"
Guitar Review, No. 100 (Winter 1995): 17