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What was your first guitar?

It was a present from my mother, she gave it to me when I was confined to bed because of a serious bone disease that kept me immobilised in a clinic in Loano, on the Ligurian riviera, for two years; I could not even get up. One day, after more than a year in bed – I was just languishing and had lost the will to live –, my mother brought me a guitar with steel strings; she thought I would like it. I don’t know what gave her the idea – she’d probably listened to an acquaintance who did a bit of accompanying – as I hardly knew this instrument existed.

When I had it next to me and distractedly touched the strings, I remember the sound was a revelation to me: something started to vibrate inside me. My love for the guitar started that instant, on hearing those few notes from my untrained fingers.

How old were you when you started studying, and who was your first teacher?

I started when I was between 17 and 18, in the clinic where I was staying. My first teacher was Mario Canepa. He lived in Loano, and it so happened that I got the opportunity to meet him in my room. Seeing me stretched out in bed, he told me immediately that it was impossible to play the guitar in those conditions. But he must have taken pity on me, because he subsequently agreed to give me lessons. Completely absorbed as I was by the idea of playing music, and having all day to dedicate myself to my studies, my progress was considerable and within six months I played reasonably well. This new interest also did a near miracle to my physical condition, and after a while the doctors, who had given up all hope of saving me, put me on my feet again, albeit with my upper body in a plaster cast. I remember I found it difficult to hold the instrument in the upright position, and my friends made fun of my by saying "When you give a concert they’ll put a bed on stage for you to lie on while you play".

Back home again, in Camogli, I had the opportunity to meet my first real teacher.

It was Carlo Palladino, a famous performer at the time and the favourite pupil of Luigi Mozzani ; he lived and worked in Genoa. I still remember our first encounter. I went to see him in a house not far from my own where he went once a week to give lessons to a boy.

Carlo Palladino, photo dated 1953 dedicated to Ruggero

Palladino was still sitting at the table with his pupil’s family, and I told him my brief history as an instrumentalist. He showed me his guitar with nylon strings – I did not even know those existed – and then went on to play Tárrega’s Capricho arabe, a piece I only knew by name. I was highly impressed by his interpretation and by the beautiful, strong quality of his sound. He then asked me to play something, and I ventured to perform Feste Lariane, a piece I played fairly well and with which I gained his compliments. We agreed that he would give me weekly lessons, and he remained my teacher for more than two years. Palladino was going through a difficult period in his life because he had very few students. To me he was an unattainable ideal, and it was only later that I understood the problems that afflicted him. It was he who acquainted me with the classical repertoire for guitar I knew nothing about (Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, Aguado), and also taught me the rest stroke (apoyando) the novelty of that period. Palladino, who was very good at the free stroke (tirando), was almost ashamed that he did not master the rest stroke equally well. He did not realise how lucky he was, because the free stroke gave him great suppleness in his right hand, a gift that was lost in the next generation – my own –, which was handicapped by an inappropriate and cumbersome technique.


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