Ida Presti (1924 – 1967), born as Yvette Ida Montagnon, is considered by her admirers to be the greatest guitarist of all time.
Her father was already a passionate music lover who hurried from party to party in his spare time to perform there for dance. One evening, when he went to a concert by A. Segovia, he was so shocked by his playing that he decided to make his child a“great guitarist” as well.
So even before Ida was born, he began to teach himself how to play the guitar so that he could teach his child later.
Already as a small child he put Ida at the piano and began to systematically train her on the guitar, mainly on the basis of records by A. Segovia. He paid particular attention to training her the necessary discipline of a virtuoso by holding her for hours on end.
An ordeal that later led I. Presti to say: “I never had a childhood.”
But despite everything, she seemed to have loved her father very much and learned so much from him that she had no other teacher until the end.
In addition to this hard training, she seemed to have a natural talent for the guitar because she made such rapid progress that she gave her first concert at the age of ten and was the only artist who already played as a child in the “Société des Concerts du Conservatoire” and “Les Concerts Pasdeloup”.
The critics flashed with enthusiasm.
“Already at the age of ten she has a sure technique… her full tone and the variety of possible tones is extremely enchanting…” “(“Le Figaro“, 1935).
“An innate sense of music, an extraordinary sense of rhythm.” “(“Aux Ecoutes“, 1935).
“La Presse” said: “Ida Presti is currently the youngest, most amazing and most promising young guitar virtuoso.”
Even Emilio Pujol called her in 1935 a”miracle of dexterity and grace”.
When she was thirteen years old, she played for the then world-famous Andres Segovia. His succinct opinion was: “I can’t teach her anything more… she shouldn’t take advice from any guitarist anymore.”
But in the same year she also had to overcome the most serious crisis of her life. Her father died and from that time on she was solely responsible for her family. So she was forced to appear again and again and to keep herself and her relatives afloat with the scarce income.
The war years and the years after were also full of difficulties. But there are hardly any records from this time, because Ida Presti preferred to remain silent about this part of her life.
In 1938, the year she recorded her first record, the magazine “Rhythm” published an article entitled “A Wonder Guitarist” in which A. P. Sharpe raised the question of whether there was a better guitarist than Segovia somewhere in Spain.
His conclusion was: “Here is the better guitarist. It is a child of fourteen years.”
On this recording she played the usual standard repertoire of her time: works by Robert de Visée, various movements from the suites of J. S. Bach, a part of the Sonatina by F. Moreno-Torroba and similar more.
The recording of the “Serenata Espanola” by Joaquín Malats is particularly noteworthy. Today the piece is seldom performed, because it has become unfashionable to deal with salon music.
But fortunately, important interpreters such as J. Bream or A. Diaz have taken up the piece and there is also a recording from the composer himself.
Ida Presti played the piece completely in the sense of her fresh, unbiased manner. Of course, she was not free of the Zeitgeist and interpreted the work with the usual pathos and an excess of glissandi and agogic distortions. But still her playing doesn’t sound artificial or arffected at any point.
Above all, however, no one would expect this mature interpretation to have emerged in the hands of a fourteen-year-old girl.
At the age of nineteen she married Henry Rigaud and one year later her daughter Elisabeth was born.
Together they lived in the south of France, near Marseille, where Ida took care of her daughter and younger sister and gave numerous concerts.
During this time she slowly began to free herself from the rigid corset into which her father had forced her. Her innate nature became more and more popular and she loved to sit improvising on her guitar until late at night and sing for her friends. It was these experiences with singing and the human voice that later always dreamt of her as the ideal of phrasing.
In her twenties, the “Female Mozart“, as critics meanwhile called her, constantly astonished the audience with her wonderful playing and her youthful charisma. She has not only given concerts in the big concert halls, but has also visited numerous small provincial towns, especially in France.
In 1948 she was selected for the French premiere of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” and broadcast live on the radio for the first time. The success was so overwhelming that she got her own radio show, “Notes sur la Guitare“, which opened up a completely new circle of admirers for the guitar.
After the Second World War, her marriage was now divorced, she was a welcome guest in the house of André Verdier, a guitar lover whose house was the “Les Amis de la Guitare” (Friends of the Guitar).
Many music lovers made a pilgrimage there just to hear Ida Presti play. Among them was a new admirer of Presti, the Italian-Greek guitarist Alexandre Lagoya.
A. Lagoya grew up in Egypt and made his first public appearance at the age of 13. Later he went to Europe, where he gave hundreds of concerts.
One of these evenings Ida Presti heard him say:“This is the best guitarist I’ve ever heard.” Interestingly, the two had developed a similar technique under completely different circumstances.
After their first contact at Verdiers, their mutual interest in music soon led to a deep affection and they became the dream couple of the guitar scene.
After she married Alexandre Lagoya and had her second child Sylvain, Ida decided to give up her solo career and only perform together with her husband.
The fruit of their joint work was the most important guitar duo in the history of the instrument, which became a model for all subsequent generations. Even the Assad brothers had to admit that they had originally built their repertoire on that of Presti / Lagoya.
One of the earliest joint concerts took place on 24 July 1956 at the music festival in Aix-en-Provence. It was broadcast in various European countries and was such a resounding success that they set out to conquer the stages of this world for the guitar.
Soon they had an unmanageable number of admirers and played in the most important concert halls of Europe and America.
The press was unanimous in its praise:“Remarkable” (Washington Post),“Dynamic” (New York Times),“A Shock” (San Francisco Chronicle),“One of the Wonders of the World” (Le Combat, Paris).
In her last years Ida began teaching with her husband at the Academie International d’Été in Nice. In the unanimous opinion of her students, she was a great teacher.
Guitarist Aaron Skitri gives us the following reason:“Whenever she taught a gifted student with a distinct musical personality, she let him do what he wanted and encouraged him in his own musical ideas.
How far ahead of her time! Presti was not an“old school” teacher who told the student how to interpret a musical work, but was happy to assist and accompany him on his journey.
Presti died of a lung tumour on 24 April 1967 at the age of 42.
Her unexpected death shocked music lovers worldwide and robbed the guitar scene of one of its most important members.
The obituaries of them give us only an idea of what we have lost through their early passing away.
“She taught me that the guitar can express music, only music.” (Pierre Petit)
“Great, pure, wonderful artist.” (Daniel Lesur)
“For a short time we had a genius among us and it is almost impossible to meet another one of this kind during our lives.” (John W. Duarte)
Alexandre Lagoya said about her:“Sensitive, sensitive, passionate, with extreme seriousness – she was a genius. No guitarist or guitarist in my whole life has moved me like she has. She was the music in persona. I believe she was the best guitarist of our century. She was something inexplicable.”
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