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John Duarte

1919 - 2004

John Duarte

Since we've been throwing bouquets at classical guitarists we'll keep that up for a bit. Naturally at this point, you'd probably expect a blurb on Segovia (and for that click ahead a few caricatures). But for now we'll talk about this gentleman, the British guitarist, teacher, and composer, John W. Duarte.

One criticism heard by attendees of guitar concerts is that you just listen to the same damn stuff over and over. I mean just how many friggin' Villa-Lobos etudes, Albeniz transcriptions, Tarrega and Sor minuets, and various and sundry transcriptions of Bach can you listen to, for crying out loud? So early on John set out to remedy that situation and in doing so ended up writing some of the best compositions for the guitar ever put to paper.

What is particularly nice about John's work is he always thought of the listener first. So his songs tend to be what you'd like to listen to rather than songs where the performer smugly expects you to gasp in astonishment at the flashy technique. But the uninitiated should know John's songs are not necessarily as easy to play as you might think. Listen to "English Suite" - perhaps John's best - and see how effortless a great guitarist makes it sound. Then try to play it.

John was not, strictly speaking, a musician either by profession or by training, and it wasn't until he was up in years that he gave up his day job and devoted all his time to the guitar. So how in the heck did he end up having the greatest guitar virtuosi of the Twentieth Century (which included Andres Segovia) play and record his songs and think of him as one of the instrument's finest composers and pick up a Grammy Award to boot?

Well, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. John was, after all, a man of exceptional intelligence, brilliance, artistry, and ability.

Yes, John was a chemist.