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In Search of Alberto Guerrero

John Beckwith

 

Hardcover 180 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-496-6

Release Date: April 2006

Online discount: 25%

$45.00  $33.75

 

One of the 100 Best Books of 2011 cited by New Zealand Listener


   

Composer John Weinzweig would have turned 100 on March 11, 2013. A year of celebrations begins Friday, March 8 at Walter Hall, U of T (7:30pm) curated by Soundstreams Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney. See the Press Release for full details and schedules. Press Release for full details and schedules.

In Search of Alberto Guerrero is the first full biography of the influential Chilean-Canadian pianist and teacher (1886-1959), describing Guerrero’s long career as virtuoso recitalist, chamber music collaborator, concerto soloist, and teacher. Written by composer John Beckwith, who was a student of Guerrero, the book blends research and memoir to piece together the life of a man who once insisted he had no story.

Guerrero was part of the intellectual scene that introduced Chileans to Debussy, Ravel, Cyril Scott, Scriabin, and Schoenberg. He and his brother played an active role in founding the Sociedad Bach in Santiago. In 1918 Guerrero moved to Toronto, making the Hambourg Conservatory, and later the Toronto (now Royal) Conservatory, his new base. He soon became one of Canada’s most active pianists. In what was then a novel activity, he played regular radio recitals from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s. He was also deeply engaged with issues in piano pedagogy, and worked with young talents including Canada’s much-acclaimed Glenn Gould. But unlike the shadowy role Guerrero is assigned in Gould biographies, here he is given proper credit for his technical and aesthetic influence on the young Gould and on other notable musicians and composers.

Guerrero left few written records, and documentation of his work by others is incomplete and often erroneous. Aiming for a fuller and more accurate account of this remarkably influential and well-loved man, Beckwith’s In Search of Alberto Guerrero gives an insider’s story of the Canadian classical music scene in mid-twentieth-century Toronto, and pays homage to the influential musician William Aide has called an “unsung progenitor.”

John Beckwith studied piano with Alberto Guerrero in Toronto, 1945-50 and composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, 1950-51. His more than 130 compositions include four operas, as well as orchestral, choral, and chamber works, solo pieces, and songs. He was associated for thirty-eight years with the faculty of music at the University of Toronto, including seven as dean and five as founding director of the Institute for Canadian Music. John Beckwith is a member of the Order of Canada.

Reviews

“The Canadian composer and pianist John Beckwith...exposes thoroughly and with investigative clarity the sources concerning Guerrero’s career and achievement.... Chileans seem to have forgotten the extent of [Guerrero’] musical contribution, his life, and his valuable legacy, as can also be observed of many of his contemporaries.... [But] the important investigations which John Beckwith has dedicated to Guerrero’s life story yield a detailed account covering his first thirty years in Chile and his later eminence as a brilliant teacher at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.”

Revista Musical Chilena

“John Beckwith’s recent book on the pianist Alberto Guerrero is a compelling narrative about a fascinating figure on the Canadian, especially Toronto, musical scene for more than forty years of the last century (1918-1959). In Search of Alberto Guerrero also confirms Beckwith’s own reputation as one of the most widely respected researchers on Canadian music history today. It it not just Beckwith’s impeccable scholarship that makes his work distinctive, but as Beverley Diamond has written, Beckwith’s ‘insistence that we look carefully at social realities’ as a means of understanding culture is also a pervasive aspect of his work, one that facilitates interpreting music in broad contexts, and one that engages reflexive modes of thinking and writing about music. (Diamond 1995, 273). A decided strength of Beckwith’s book is that he presents multiple narratives, weaving into the Guerrero story historical and contemporary perspectives, local voices, and importantly, his own voice, as a former piano student of Guerrero.”

— Gordon E. Smith, Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music

“Beckwith paints a compelling portrait of a vital and remarkable musician. The book is highly readable and filled with details of interest. It re-establishes Guerrero’s reputation as one of the country’s finest and most influential artists of his day. In Search of Alberto Guerrero is an outstanding addition to Canadian music history.”

— David Rogosin, CAML Review (Canadian Association of Music Libraries)

“As a social chronicle of the musical life of Toronto in the first half of the 20th century, [In Search of Alberto Guerrero] constitutes an invaluable document.... Beckwith ... has done a superb job of bringing this period of artisitc awakening to iconographic life and of paying long-overdue tribute to one of its prime pianistic ‘movers and shakers,’ resisting whatever nostalgia he must feel in raking up a past in which he himself shared so fully and lived to play so leading a role, both as composer, educator, and now as author.”

— Malcolm Troup, Piano Journal

“We come away with a new awareness of Guerrero’s unique and important role in the development of music in Canada and understand why it deserves recognition.... It is testimony to Beckwith’s labours that he has illuminated the life and work of this hidden man to the extent that he has. In this elegantly produced book we have ample evidence to support William Aide’s claim that Guerrero ‘cultivated a whole generation of musicians,’ and was ‘the unsung progenitor of our nation’s musical culture.”’

— John Mayo, Institute for Canadian Music Newsletter

“In this engaging account, Beckwith tells the intriguing story of a man who once declared, ‘I have no story.’... Beckwith really did have to search for Guerrero, and did so with scrupulous documentation.... The story of Beckwith’s search adds another layer of richness to the story of Alberto Guerrero, a remarkable musician and a well-loved teacher.”

The Music Times

“[A] fascinating picture of the unfurling of musical life in the Toronto of Guerrero’s time (1918-1959) and of the deeply influential part this wise and graceful artist-teacher played in what came from him and after him. In fact, like much distinguished biographical writing, Beckwith’s readable, resonant and lovely book opens more doors than it closes. In everything from the welcome and specific details of the music Guerrero played ... to early and later comments on how he played ... to Beckwith’s own lucid observatons of how he taught, there are pertinent insights into the kind of artist, teacher and person Guerrero was.... The whole book is essential and illuminating reading for anyone who cares about these musicians and about this period of our musical history. The extremely useful index will help establish it as a vital research resource.”

— Ken Winters, Literary Review of Canada

“In this magnificent book John Beckwith uncovers the story of the great pianist and pedagogue Alberto Guerrero. He stresses the important and too often forgotten influence Guerrero had on such prominent Toronto musicians as Gerald Moore, Oscar Morawetz, Helmut Blume, R. Murray Schafer, and Bruce Mather. Beckwith’s account spotlights the importance of Guerrero’s artistic and personal contribution to music in Toronto and Canada.”

— Marie-Therese Lefebvre, Universite de Montreal, author of Rodolphe Mathieu: L’emergence du statut professionnel de compositeur au Quebec, 18910-1962 (2005)

“A fascinating account of an extraordinary and influential musical personality who left an indelible mark on Canadian musical life.”

— Anton Kuerti, pianist

“[O]nly now, with the publication of John Beckwith’s book, has the case for Guerrero finally been made in a truly comprehensive and compelling way.... It is no longer possible to take Gould’s dismissive (and self-serving) comments about Guerrero at face value. The book is well documented, though Beckwith admits that parts of Guerrero’s story will probably always remain obscure.... Questions linger: Why did Guerrero chose to leave Chile for good and resettle in Toronto? Why did he largely abandon composition in Toronto? In cases like these, Beckwith augments the sketchy documentary record with intelligent speculation. He acknowledges a certain ‘partial and tentative’ quality to his portrait of Guerrero, but the reader is never in doubt that to the extent this is true the sources, not the author, are to blame.... ‘If the story has two parts [Chile and Canada],’ Beckwith writes, ‘my narration itself takes two tones—part objective research and part personal memoir.’ In Search of Alberto Guerrero is indeed an admirable synthesis of the scholarly and the subjective, in the service of rehabilitating the reputation of a notable musician who has been too long obscure.”

— Kevin Bazzana, GlennGould

“Beckwith has produced a thoroughly engrossing biography of this brilliant pianist and important teacher ... Beckwith’s knowledge of music in this country as a historian, composer, critic, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Music at U of T is unmatched. Here he has produced a fascinating, well-documented portrait of Guerrero, establishing his lasting place in Canadian music.”

— Pamela Margles, WholeNote

“‘I have no story,’ Guerrero once retorted when he was asked for biographical information for publicity purposes. Well, he does have a story, and a fascinating one at that. Thankfully, Beckwith has now told that tale, with exquisite passion and detail.”

— Rick MacMillan, Opus

“Beckwith sets out what he knows of the Guerrero story very well, and the part of the book that is his ‘personal memoir,’ as he calls it, will remain permanently valid whatever new facts emerge.”

— Peter Williams, The Musical Times

In Search of Alberto Guerrero

Table of Contents
Excerpt

Related interest

Biography and autobiography

Canadian history

Music

By the same author

Weinzweig: Essays on His Life and Music, John Beckwith and Brian Cherney, editors

Mapping Canada’s Music: Selected Writings of Helmut Kallmann, Helmut Kallmann; John Beckwith and Robin Elliott, editors

Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer, John Beckwith

Music Traditions, Cultures, and Contexts, Robin Elliott and Gordon E. Smith, editors

Centre and Periphery, Roots and Exile: Interpreting the Music of István Anhalt, György Kurtág, and Sándor Veress, Friedemann Sallis, Robin Elliott, and Kenneth DeLong, editors