Dating the First Letter in the Segovia-Ponce Letters 

By Matanya Ophee 


In his article titled “The Judgement of Paris”, in Classical Guitar Magazine, August 1998, Allan Clive Jones devotes some space to the question of when exactly did Segovia play Roussel's composition Segovia in Paris. He suggests, based on several well argued assumptions, that it must have been in a concert on 13 May 1925. In a footnote to this text, the author says the following:

13. Similar reasoning casts doubt on the date of 1923 given for the first letter in the Segovia-Ponce Letters (ed. by Miguel Alcázar, Editions Orphée, Columbus, 1989). In this letter Segovia says he has a work by Roussel and has been promised others by Ravel, Volkmar Andreae, Schoenberg and Wellesz. Segovia is most likely to have encountered Schoenberg and Wellesz in the course of a European tour, such as he is known to have undertaken after his Paris debut . Given that the letter was written in Paris, and that Segovia says he has recently played in Madrid, the most likely date seems to be May 1925. At this date he is known to have been in Paris, in possession of a new piece by Roussel, and to have recently played in Madrid.

This argument has been accepted by some. In retrospect I think there are some ground to question the basic assumptions made here. The first one is the characterization of the date as “... the date of 1923 given for the first letter... ”. The question is obviously, given by whom?

In a footnote in our book, the editor, Miguel Alcázar, reports that the letter was type written, but the date was written by hand, in ink. In the course of preparing the book for publication, I have been provided by the editor with xerox copies of all the letters used in the books. Here is a scan of the xerox copy of the letter in question:

Needless to say, the same exhortation I made on several occasions regarding the unreliability of information derived from xerox copies, without a direct examination of the original manuscript, is equally valid here. However, unless it can be proven otherwise, I think we can take the editor’s word at face value that he in fact examined the original before he made his determination.

There is no doubt that the name of the hotel and the address, were in fact written in ink by Andrés Segovia, just before he mailed the letter. But what about the date?

Obviously, this was not Segovia's standard way of writing dates. He often used this format:

Or sometimes in this format:

The reason why he chose an abbreviated format for this letter is obvious when we look at the entire page. In typing this letter, Andrés Segovia started the first line at a couple of centimeters down the page, and must have run out of vertical space, leaving him hardly any room to sign his name in the usual way, with a date. Hence, he squeezed in his signature on whatever white space was left and inserted the date on top.

It could be argued, successfully, that the date does not seem to be in Segovia's hand. I do not claim to be an expert in hand-writing analysis, but I could see that the digit 3 seems to have been written over, perhaps in a very sharp pencil. However, it could not have been written over the digit 5, since its format in Segovia's hand writing, as obvious from the first signature sample above, could not be obscured with an over-imposition of the digit 3. Unless of course, the digit 5 has been erased before the digit 3 was written on top. We cannot determine anything of this nature from the xerox copy and a direct examination of the original would be in order before deciding. UPDATE: It has been suggested by several readers that the digit 3 is indeed written over a previously existing digit, but not on a digit 5, but rather on a digit 4 which is still visible. Having looked closely at the xerox copy on hand, I have to agree. Of course, it still matters if this correction was made by Segovia himself or not. It was suggested that while the main date inscription is undoubtedly in Segovia's hand, the digit 3 correction is not. Frankly, I am not so sure this is cut and dry, precisely because I cannot think of anyone's possible motivation to make this alteration. As Crocodile Dundee would have said: what for?

Besides, while I acknowledge that my expertise in hand-writing analysis is not extensive, and my familiarity with Segovia's hand writing is not what it should be, I cannot avoid comparing that super-imposed digit 3, to another such digit appearing in another letter in the collection:

There are a few slight differences in the curvature of the 3 in the letter above, but it seems to me that they are due to the slight changes we all do unconsciously when we trace another letter in order to obscure it. In other words, this alteration, in all probability, was made by Segovia himself, just prior to mailing the letter. Either way, Mr. Jones supposition that the letter dated from May 1925, is definitely an idea to be discarded.

If this date can be ascertained to have been written by Segovia, could he have written it by mistake?

I do this all the time, when paying my bills in January, when I am not yet accustomed to the new year. But by February or March, the old date fades away. It is most unlikely that Segovia would commit such an error two years after the fact.

So the only logical conclusion is that either the date was written by Segovia, in 1923, or that the letter's date was forged by someone else, after the letter was received by Ponce. Since it is hardly possible that anyone would stand to gain anything from such a forgery, I do not see the need to discuss the possibility.

The main argument against Mr. Jones's conclusion that the letter must date from May of 1925, lies elsewhere. This must have been an early letter in the relationship because it uses the formal form of address and it addresses the recipient by his surname.

As for Mr. Jones' conclusions based on his assumption of an incorrect date, I would reserve my commentary for another occasion. Obviously, should it be ascertained that the date was written by Segovia, Mr. Jones would need to re-examine his entire line of thinking in this regard.

Copyright © 2004 by Matanya Ophee. All Rights Reserved.

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