(published in Ocho Sonoro, n.1, 1997)

by Aníbal Soriano y Julio Gimeno


8 Sonoro.- Dña. América, how did your interest arise for the guitar?

America Martinez.- My mother, Matilde Serrano, has some guitar notions, because she studied a little the instrument with a teacher called González who had a guitar shop with the same name in Carretas street in Madrid. When my sister España listen to my mother playing songs and small pieces with the instrument, she wanted to learn too, and was my mother who began to teach her. I was the youngest, anybody teach me, and I had to resign me to listen carefully to the explications that my fortunate sister received.
          When my mother realized the interest that we showed, She decided that we had to begin to learn in a more comprehensive form. Unfortunately, at that time, the guitar was not studied at the Conservatories, so, my mother asked for the best private guitar teacher in Madrid, everybody had the same answer: Daniel Fortea.

8 S.- The truth is that Fortea had been among the best pedagogues of this century, and one of Tárrega's pupils who taught in a more extensively way the knowledge of his "maestro". What can you tell us about your training period with Daniel Fortea

A.M.- My sister and I began to learn with Fortea in the early 30's, I was not even 9  and my syster 11. The "maestro" taught us in his academy at 27, Cruz St. There was his famous library. At the end of the year concert, my sister and I were the big surprise for the audience, because our youth.
          Fortea also taugth at the "Círculo de Bellas Artes" and the "Ateneo" of Madrid. With 13 years, I was already his assistant. He used to sit in a huge table, with me in the other side. When to any student was in need of a more detailed correction, Fortea used to tell me: "Toma este, 'peque'!" (Take this student, 'kid'!) Because my sister and me the "maestro" called us his "kids". I always said to the "maestro" that I had many desires from became older, and he asked, why? "Because I treat your pupils in a formal way while they look me as a child." I was a girl wearing school clothes, and the other pupils ask me: "Hey girl, what has the "maestro" said about this? That C is sharp.?" and similar questions. And I had to answer, "Yes, 'Don José', yes 'Don Manuel'." I dreamt about being older!

8 S.- But now you are already "Doña" América for ever.

A.M.- Now I no longer think about it, but I tell it because it is a curious anecdote, and it is still on my mind. There were many older people that only wanted to play the guitar as a hobby. I met one that had been playing the guitar for ten years and he was 70!, but it was his illusion.

8 S.- Did Fortea have more assistants?

A.M.- No, he didn't., as long as I know. He looked for everything. Nevertheless, Fortea had another very good student called Trinidad García Aguado. Sometimes, when Fortea was away, travelling or making business, Trinidad used to teach the "maestro's" classes. I remember that one summer when Fortea was on holidays with his family from the Spanish mediterranean city of Valencia, Trinidad even gave us several classes. A few years later, when I was a Regino Sáinz de la Maza's pupil, and also his assistant, who was the Senior guitar Professor at Madrid's Conservatory, in one occasion I had to give a class to a student that I have never seen there before. She was the same Trinidad García Aguado. I tried to correct her so I didn't harm her feelings. When the lesson finished, and we were alone, Trinidad, with tears in her eyes, thanked me the favour treat I had with her in front of the other students. It was a very emotional moment for me.

8 S.- Did you study Spanish mandolin with Fortea too?

A.M.- I first studied guitar with the "maestro" Fortea, but when I was ten years old I had a home accident with a crystal. I could have lost the right arm. Fortea, very grieved, thought that I could not normally continue with the guitar studies, and he urged me to learn Spanish mandolin. Fortunately, I had a total recovery.

8 S.- We know that your mother, Matilde Serrano, was involved with the creation of the first class of guitar in Madrid's Conservatory.

A.M.- Yes, indeed. When my mother discovered the good conditions that we had my sister and me for the music, particularly for the guitar, and like any mother would do, she sought for the finest formation for us. So, my mother enroled us at Madrid's Conservatory to learn solfa because, at that time, one could not study guitar in any official place.
          My mother sat down beside the other mothers in the waiting room until our classes ended. There she met a woman whose son was studying at the Conservatory too. Many times, they spoke about the unjust exclusion of the guitar from teaching institutions. That woman had a ministerial job and, one day, she proposed my mother to present an application to the Minister on that matter. My mother, during the course, got a lot of adhesion signatures by the students and, also, a very little amount by the professors at the Conservatory. Finally, November 23rd of 1935, she gave the documentation to Mr. Luis Bardají, "Ministro de Instrucción Publica y Bellas Artes", who agreed to the petition in order to create a guitar class.

8 S.- Why Fortea was not selected as the Senior guitar Professor there?

A.M.- I don't know. My mother asked for the employment of Daniel Fortea, but the job was for Regino Sáinz de la Maza. Certainly, Regino was a guitar personality with a great prestige.

8 S.- The next year the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) broke out...

A.M.- Yes, they were very adverse moments. I remember that in the flat where Fortea lived two bombs fell but they didn't explode but they cut the building in two, and  when someone opened up one of the corridor doors he saw the hole. Then my parents offered the 'maestro' a place in our house, where he lived with us for several months. During that time, and in order to avoid him unnecessary risks, my sister and I assisted so much to his pupils like to his famous 'Biblioteca Fortea'.

8 S.- When the war is over you enroled in the Sáinz de la Maza's class, at the Conservatory.

A.M.- Yes, I did. I began to study with Fortea, but in order to get the guitar official title, I had to learn with Regino Sáinz de la Maza. The guitar course lasted six years but I did it in two, because I already played the guitar fairly well. I even thought to do the studies in a year only, but then I would had to take the exam in September, in a extraordinary summon, so I had to leave the last course for the next year in June. So, I could try to get the End of the Studies Extraordinary Prize. I passed every courses with A+. Joaquín Rodrigo, Turina and Sàinz de la Maza, were the professors envolved in my examination.
          I remember that one of the most difficult test was to sight reading a composition. In my public entrance examination for a post in the Conservatory, the examiners put me a Joaquín Rodrigo's "Tiento", a piece that Sáinz de la Maza used to play at concerts. They granted ten minutes in order to prepare the test, but I told them that it was not necessary and I read the piece at the moment. Then they show me another work and I played it too. When the exam ended Sáinz de la Maza told me: "You has been an admiration for everyone." I had a great ease for sight reading because I trained it for three or four hours everyday.

8 S.- What kind of music material did you use for it?

A.M.- Guitar works and sometimes piano pieces too. I didn't notice the fingering, the most important thing for me was to grasp the music sense immediately, without stopping. I think that sight reading is an essential exercise for guitaristic formation.

8 S.- Regino Sáinz de la Maza was a Fortea's pupil too, but they didn't match in some guitar technique aspects, nail use for example.

A.M.- Sáinz de la Maza studied with Fortea, but he also had many contacts with Segovia, Llobet, Pujol, etc. For Regino it should be a great satisfaction to be the first guitar's official professor in Spain, but his life were the concerts. In the other hand, Fortea's teaching dedication was total, using Tarrega's School methods. When Sáinz de la Maza was in a concert tour I looked for his classes. He knew that I was going to dedicate entirely to that matter with all my illusion and keenly, and almost from the beginning I was his conservatory assistant.

8 S.- Let us change to another topic, which are the more important technical aspects that you consider for the formation of a novice guitarist?

A.M.- One of the most important things is the hand's placement, so much the left as the right. It is necessary to get a left hand agile, relaxed, flexible. it is very difficult but this is indispensable in order to succeed in playing the guitar well.

8 S.- And the right hand? Your disciples present a different position for this hand.

A .M.- Of course, not all the hands are the same. Now, here, there are some guitarist, and if we take a guitar we will see a different hand's placing and physical morphology in each of them. We cannot say "we have to place the hands this way because Tárrega does it or because I want to". We have to consider everyone's possibilities and the easiest way to play, and then, teach one so.

8 S.- Had your teachers this attention for the hands' placement too?

A.M.- At that time, one had to place the hands in a certain way and it didn't matter the student's physical building. The same happened with the fingering. It was the one that the teacher wanted. I believe that it is always possible to find several good fingerings, why is it going to be good only mine? The student not unavoidably has to play the professor's fingering but that one which goes better with him. They were good teachers, I will never get tired of saying it, but the life changes, the time goes by, and one could not cling to the same thing of fifty or sixty years ago.
          It is for me very important to teach the students to study and know how to solve any problem that arise. Also the music's expression is fundamental, one should know how to transmit the author's message.

8 S.- In Spain the profile of the music novice's student has changed a lot in the last years. We have changed vocational students, or those whose parents had a very clear notion that their sons had to study music, to a generalisation of this type of studies. Also, with the new Spanish education's law (LOGSE), the pupils begin to study guitar very young and without a previous music's knowledge, therefore, many professors think that one cannot start to play the guitar using some of the traditional methods, like Fortea's.

A.M.- One could catch the most elemental things of Fortea, or use a new method, certainly I have not had time to read all, but I am sure that there are very useful material. It is fundamental that the children work out their technical's base. If we have to use simpler pieces (popular song's, for example), then we will do it. In any case, the most important thing is to get a correct hands' placement already from the beginning.

8 S.- Did Fortea use only his method or also other kind of material with his novice students?

A.M.- Apart from his method, Fortea used many other pedagogical own pieces. I think nobody has composed so much guitarristic elementary stuff than Fortea, mixing quality and pleasantness at the same time. I remember "Album de estudios y piezas fáciles" a great complement to his famous method, a second "Album" with studies, preludes and gavotte, a huge variety of short pieces like: "Vals y Mazurka", "Vals en sol", "Schotis", "Mi favorita", "Vals en mi". Others in "flamenco" style: "Sevillanas", "Guajiras", "Tanguillo", etc. Besides his transcriptions.

8 S.- What happened when someone didn't have any elementary music notions?

A.M.- I believe Fortea probably would do what I did when I arrived to Seville. At that time I taught at Conservatory but also in schools like "Colegio del Valle" or "Sagrada Familia". At this places nobody knew anything about music, but I never taught by ear. The first day I wrote on the blackboard three notes they learnt. Next day I wrote another three. Then I gave them some notions about the note's placement in the guitar. When they were trained in this matter and also in the rhythm values I taught them short songs like carols, but I never used the TAB. We also played "sevillanas" and any kind of popular music, but always with the score.

8 S.- What relationship did you have with Ruggero Chiesa? Did you bring him to a course in Seville?

A.M.- Yes, I did it. I met Ruggero Chiesa in a guitar competition in France, both were panel's members. We began a friendship. Then I went to Milán, to a competition where he was too. Finally, I invited him to Seville. That was the only contact we had, nothing else. He was a good sort, a hardworking person, he had been Pujol's disciple too .

8 S.- Tell us about Emilio Pujol.

A.M.- I could talk for hours about Emilio Pujol. A person could feel the knowledge flowing throughout him. He was a saint, I imagine saints like him. Looking at his face, you could see goodness, modest, humble, wisdom... In a few occasion I just took my students to meet him. His lifestyle was so modest...
          Once Brian Jeffery came home (in Seville), and told me that it was necessary to help 'maestro' Pujol, because he had money problems. I was surprise, I didn't know anything about that. So I called Adelaida (Pujol's second wife) to know more about this question, trying not to harm their feelings. Adelaida said to me. 'America, we haven't got any problem. Even so Emilio has just recieved a big amount of money from the Author's Society'. Nevertheless I would help them in no time. Mr. Jeffery was confused by the humble lifestyle that 'maestro' Pujol was living, with his used clothes..., I dont´t mind about stereotypes. Fortea used to do the same, and I have learnt that from them.

8 S.- What could you tell us about your Segovia´s relationship, too?

A.M.- I had a very good relationship with Segovia, but he was a person with a different character. That kind of people who lives from glory and the success that followed him. I don't have any complains about Segovia, he always received me anywhere he was playing, and he was a charming person. I also possess some beautiful things which he dedicated me. His wife, Emilita Segovia, wanted to be my student, but then I came to Seville and I recommended her to learn with Pujol or with Segovia. Finally, she became a Pujol's pupil, although she studied with his future husband.

8 S.- There is a certain black legend over Fortea, that accuses him as arrogant. This was diffused in fact by Andrés Segovia.

A.M.- Daniel Fortea was all kindness, I have already said to you that he was living at home. But he was an inflexible teacher too. I remember a difficult slurs' study, number 43 in his method. Until one didn't play it perfectly he wasn't pleased and we had to go over it again and again until the study was perfectly played. But Fortea corrected you with courtesy and with a smile: "Well baby, you have to study a bit more because you don't play it well yet".

The interview to America Martinez by Anibal Soriano and Julio Gimeno, took place in her Seville's home the 15th of March 1997. It was published in the first number (July 1997) of the magazine (in Spanish) "Ocho Sonoro".

The translation has been realized with the kindness help from my English teacher, Juan Luis Martinez.