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Narciso Yepes (Guitar, Lute, Arranger)

Born: September 14, 1927 - Marchena (7 km from Lorca), Spain
Died: May 3, 1997 - Murica, Spain

The Spanish noted guitarist and lutenist, Narciso Yepes, was born into a family of humble origin in Marchena, 7 km from Lorca, southern Spain. When he was only 4 years old, his father caught him in the act of hanging a walking stick in a guitar manner, pretending to be playing a real instrument. His father, a modest peasant, supported his son incipient inclination towards the music by buying him a real guitar at the fair of Lorca. Some days later, at age 6, the young child already was playing by ear the popular tunes at that time, and his father started to bring him to Lorca, on a humble little donkey, to take solfege and guitar lessons from his first teacher, Jesús Guevara. When he was 12 years old, the family moves to Valencia when the Spanish Civil War started in 1936. When he was 13, he was accepted to study at the Conservatorio de Valencia, and he was 15 when he became a student of the pianist and composer Vicente Asencio, who forces him to make up his own self-technique. At the Conservatorio he followed courses in harmony, composition, and performance.

In 1943 Narciso Yepes made his debut at the Teatro Serrano in Valencia. The family moves back to live in Lorca, and here he played for the famous conductor Ataúlfo Argenta, who proposed him to move to Madrid, where he met the composers Regino Sainz de la Maza and Joaquín Rodrigo, who had just finished the composition of the Concierto de Aranjuez, work with which Yepes started his career as soloist. On December 16, 1947 he made his Madrid début, performing Concierto de Aranjuez with Ataúlfo Argenta conducting the Orquesta Nacional de España at the Teatro Español of Madrid. The overwhelming success of this performance brought him renown from critics and public alike. Soon afterwards, he began to tour with Argenta, beginning in 1948 with very successful performance in Genève, and then visiting Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France. During this time he was largely responsible for the growing popularity of the Concierto de Aranjuez. Since then his activity as concertist was overwhelming.

In 1950, after performing in Paris, Narciso Yepes moves to this city, where, even though the tributes he receives for his art, he thinks he must go deeper into his study, work and research, and so he would act for the rest of his life. There he met such great personalities from the musical world - the violinist George Enescu and the pianist Walter Gieseking. He spent with them a year studying interpretation. He also studied informally with Nadia Boulanger. This was followed by a long period in Italy where he profited from contact with artists of every kind. This practical studying period helped to complete his artistic personality. Also in Paris he met a young woman of Polish origin, student of philosophy at the Sorbonne, Marysia Szummakowska, and they married in 1958.

Applauded by the audiences all along the world, Narciso Yepes was a tireless traveller, giving concerts around the world. In 1980 he tours by the first time the former Soviet Union. From there he went to Japan, where he gave 40 concerts and his art was really revered. His repertoire was remarkably expansive, extending from the 15th century to contemporary. He won particular distinction for his performances of the lute music of Bach on both lute and guitar. Among composers who wrote works for him are Salvador Bacarisse, Leonardo Balada, Ernesto Halffter, Moreno-Torroba, Maurice Ohana, and Françaix. He also prepared transcriptions for the guitar.

In 1952 Narciso Yepes arranged a traditional song for guitar called Romance, which he played as the theme to the film Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits) by René Clément. He also performed other pieces for the film soundtrack. This film received prizes in Cannes and Venice festivals and Oscar to the foreign film that year, propelling Yepes' career on an international level. His later credits as film composer include the soundtracks to La Fille aux Yeux d'Or (1961) and La viuda del capitán Estrada (1991). He also starred as a musician in the 1967 film version of El amor brujo.

In 1964, Narciso Yepes performed the Concierto de Aranjuez with the Berliner Philharmoniker, premiering the ten-string guitar, which he invented in collaboration with the renowned guitar maker José Ramirez. Yepes was the greatest proponent of the 10-string, an instrument that made it possible to transcribe works originally written for baroque lute without deleterious transposition of the bass notes. However, the main reason for the invention of this instrument was the addition of string resonators tuned to C, A#, G#, F#, which resulted in the first guitar with truly chromatic string resonance - similar to that of the piano with its sustain/pedal mechanism. After 1964, Yepes used the ten-string guitar exclusively, touring to all six inhabited continents, performing in recital as well as with the world's leading orchestras, giving an average of 130 performances each year.

Aside from being a consummate musician, Narciso Yepes was also a significant scholar. His research into forgotten manuscripts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries resulted in the rediscovery of numerous works for guitar or lute. He was also the first person to record the complete lute works of Bach on period instruments (14-course baroque lute). In addition, through his patient and intensive study of his instrument, Yepes developed a revolutionary technique and previously unsuspected resources and possibilities.

His recordings are world-wide sold, but his endless research interest leads him to invent in 1964 the 10 strings guitar, and at the same time that he goes on his big career as concertist all over the world, he constantly works in the recovery and edition of old unpublished scores from the Renaissance, Baroque, etc., with more than 6000 works. Many composers made works for solo guitar or guitar and orchestra for Narciso Yepes, and he gave many premières. Thanks to Narciso Yepes, as well to other great concertists from the 20th Century like Andrés Segovia and Emilio Pujol, the guitar has reached a big prestige as instrument.

As well-known world-wide concertist and teacher, Narciso Yepes was granted many official honours and distinctions during his life, including: 1964 Favourite Son of the Town of Lorca; 1964 Laurels of Murcia; 1977 Doctor Honnoris Causa by the University of Murcia; 1977 Member by Chapter and Honnour of the Royal Academy Alfonso X El Sabio from Murcia; 1978 Favourite Son of the Region of Murcia; 1984 Prize of the General Authors Society of Spain; 1985 Prize of the Spanish Radio and TV Broadcasting; 1986 National Prize of Music of Spain; 1986 Counselor of the Higher Council for Culture and Fine Arts; 1989 Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (elected unanimously); 1989 Gold Medal of Lorca; Gold Medal for Distinction in Arts, conferred by King Juan Carlos I; Many other Spanish and foreign distinctions. As these distinctions show, and using Yepes' own words, he was and felt "prophet in his homeland", in the town of Murcia, on the occasion of his last public appearance, he received a warm homage the January 26, 1997, giving his name to the symphonic hall of the Auditorium and Congress Center.

Since 1993 Narcisco Yepes limited his public appearances due to illness. He gave his last concert on March 1, 1996, in Santander (Spain). He and Marysia had 3 children, Juan de la Cruz (death in accident), Ignacio, an orchestral conductor, and Ana, a dancer and choreographer at the Opera in Paris.


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Source: Conservatory of Music of Lorca Website; Wikipedia Website; Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (June 2008)

Narciso Yepes: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Narciso Yepes (Official Website) [Spanish]
Narciso Yepes (Conservatory of Music of Lorca)
Narciso Yepes, Spanish guitar (Flamenco World)
Biografia de Narciso Yepes (Biografías y Vidas) [Spanish]

Narciso Yepes (Wikipedia) [English]
Narciso Yepes (Wikipedia) [Spanish]
Narciso Yepes - Biography (AMG)

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