Article published in Soundboard, v. 29, n. 2&3, Claremont, California, 2002. Portuguese version published in Assovio - Periódico da Associação Gaúcha do Violão, v. 2, n. 9, Porto Alegre, 2002. Spanish version published in Alfredo Escande's book 'Abel Carlevaro - Un Nuevo Mundo en la Guitarra' (Montevideo: Aguilar, 2005).
Last July, while teaching and performing at a music festival in Brazil, I received the sad news of the death of my friend and teacher Abel Carlevaro (1918-2001). Shortly afterwards, being myself a former student of his, I was encouraged by friends and colleagues to write an article on Carlevaro. Since the death of the maestro, a number of articles on his life and work have been published in guitar magazines from several countries, a testimony of the undeniable importance of Carlevaro to the guitar world. In view of the existence of such extensive published material about the musical achievements of Carlevaro, it seemed to me unnecessary to repeat once again those same pieces of information, which could be so easily obtained by other means. Therefore, I decided to focus on the personal side of Carlevaro, through the report of my personal intercourse with him.
My first contact with the work of Carlevaro happened when I was still a beginner guitar student. I had the opportunity to study with former students of the maestro, who encouraged me to practice the technical exercises of his four Cuadernos, as well as to perform some of his compositions for guitar. The exercises from the Cuadernos allowed a fast development of my guitar technique, as they did—and still do—help guitar students around the world. Intrigued by these excellent results, it did not take long until I felt a strong desire to study directly under the supervision of the maestro.
The first concrete opportunity to achieve that goal took place during my last high school year. A few months before the time to enroll as a student at a university, I was still not sure where or even if I would attend an undergraduate music program. By fate, around that time, a guitarist friend, with whom I played as a duo, moved to Montevidéo, Uruguay. A few weeks later, he wrote me that he was studying the guitar with Carlevaro. Suddenly, the prospect to study with the maestro, which until then seemed like a remote possibility, became something tangible.
During my winter vacation, I made a trip to Montevidéo, in the hopes to get acquainted with the city, visit the local university and, most important of all, meet Carlevaro and inquire about the possibility of becoming his student. Already on my first day in Montevidéo, I phoned Carlevaro and asked for an interview. He replied that he was about to leave for Europe, and therefore would not have any time available until his return to Uruguay, the following month. I insisted, explaining that I had come from Brazil especially to meet him. The maestro, gentle as he always was, made me an exception and requested that I went to his home that same day.
I still remember clearly how I left my hotel, in the center of town, two hours ahead of my meeting with Carlevaro. I was then only sixteen years old, and was therefore naturally anxious about the meeting with such an eminent master. In the hopes of taking control of my anxiety, I strolled slowly during the next two hours through the 18 de Julio Avenue (the main street in Montevidéo), until I reached the home of the maestro.
Carlevaro received me most cordially, asked about my former teachers, my musical experiences and my hopes for the artistic career. He also spoke of his current and future projects, as someone who is talking to a colleague. This humble aspect of Carlevaro's personality deeply impressed me, and immediately made me feel at ease, notwithstanding our differences in age and stage of musical development. Finally, he told me he would gladly accept me as his student. I agreed with him that I would move to Montevidéo in a few months, as soon as I finished my high school studies. I remember that, on my way out, while coming down the elevator, I celebrated with a few joyful jumps, but soon controlled myself, fearful of causing damage to an elevator which already showed clear signs of age.
The following year, I moved to Montevidéo and entered the undergraduate guitar program at the Escuela Universitária de Música, at the class of Eduardo Fernández. While attending the University, for the next three years, I had weekly lessons with Carlevaro. I learned a lot from him, both about the guitar and about music in general. However, my strongest recollections are of the man Abel Carlevaro, always a true gentleman. We discussed extensively about technique and interpretation matters, and his posture was always that of someone who is talking to a colleague, never demonstrating to be on a superior level or trying to impose his ideas forcefully. He accepted, therefore, disagreements with his precepts, as long as they were the result of a thorough reflection, allied to subsequent practical confirmation. The respect, care and dedication that he showed to his students are to this today strong references for me, and influence positively my relationship to my students and colleagues.
After the end of my stay in Uruguay, I met Carlevaro on several occasions. All my subsequent visits to Montevidéo, to perform or teach masterclasses, included invariably a visit to my former master. He continued showing his respect and attention, sometimes with small gestures, as for example through a phone call he made a few minutes before I went on stage for a recital, just to wish me good luck.
We also spent pleasant moments together in social occasions, as at the wedding of a friend of mine, who had also been a student of the maestro. Carlevaro and his wife were sitting at the same table as me, along with a few other students of his. It was a most enjoyable evening, filled with animated conversations and toasts. At the end of the evening, the maestro joined me and my colleagues in a round dance, with a humor and disposition quite impressive for his advanced age.
The last time I saw him was in 1999, when I was in Montevidéo to perform concerts and deliver courses at the University. When I arrived at his home for a cordial visit, I found the maestro distressed by a trouble. He had recently purchased a personal computer and, not having yet learned how to handle it properly, was "fighting" a word processor while trying to type the syllabus for an upcoming course he was going to deliver in Germany. I promptly offered to help him, and ended up teaching the maestro several "secrets" about the handling of a computer, which nowadays seem so simple for most of us, but which were true mysteries for Carlevaro. The maestro now took the posture of a child, displaying joy and pleasure at each new learned trick. It was another great lesson for me, among the many I learned from the maestro. His desire to learn was constant, be it aimed at complex musical knowledge, be it to the use of a simple word processor.
At the end of my visit, as a sign of gratitude, Carlevaro insisted on accompanying me all the way to the sidewalk in front of his building. This time, it seemed that he was the one wishing to jump joyfully as the elevator took us downstairs, in celebration of his newly acquired computer skills.
The death of Carlevaro represents a great loss for the guitar world. I take comfort in the fact that the maestro was very active until the end of his life. He passed away in Berlin, where he was beginning an European concert tour. However, his legacy still lives, and I have not doubt that the fruits of his labor will continue to be a source of constant inspiration for generations to come.
© 2002 Copyright by Daniel Wolff. All rights reserved.