In Search of Alberto Guerrero is the first full biography of the influential Chilean-Canadian pianist and teacher (1886-1959), describing Guerrero’s long career as virtuoso recitalist, chamber music collaborator, concerto soloist, and teacher. Written by composer John Beckwith, who was a student of Guerrero, the book blends research and memoir to piece together the life of a man who once insisted he had no story.
Guerrero was part of the intellectual scene that introduced Chileans to Debussy, Ravel, Cyril Scott, Scriabin, and Schoenberg. He and his brother played an active role in founding the Sociedad Bach in Santiago. In 1918 Guerrero moved to Toronto, making the Hambourg Conservatory, and later the Toronto (now Royal) Conservatory, his new base. He soon became one of Canada’s most active pianists. In what was then a novel activity, he played regular radio recitals from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s. He was also deeply engaged with issues in piano pedagogy, and worked with young talents including Canada’s much-acclaimed Glenn Gould. But unlike the shadowy role Guerrero is assigned in Gould biographies, here he is given proper credit for his technical and aesthetic influence on the young Gould and on other notable musicians and composers.
Guerrero left few written records, and documentation of his work by others is incomplete and often erroneous. Aiming for a fuller and more accurate account of this remarkably influential and well-loved man, Beckwith’s In Search of Alberto Guerrero gives an insider’s story of the Canadian classical music scene in mid-twentieth-century Toronto, and pays homage to the influential musician William Aide has called an “unsung progenitor.”
“We come away with a new awareness of Guerrero’s unique and important role in the development of music in Canada and understand why it deserves recognition…. It is testimony to Beckwith’s labours that he has illuminated the life and work of this hidden man to the extent that he has. In this elegantly produced book we have ample evidence to support William Aide’s claim that Guerrero `cultivated a whole generation of musicians,’ and was `the unsung progenitor of our nation’s musical culture.”’ (John Mayo Institute for Canadian Music Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 3, September 2006)
“A fascinating account of an extraordinary and influential musical personality who left an indelible mark on Canadian musical life.” (Anton Kuerti)
“In this engaging account, Beckwith tells the intriguing story of a man who once declared, `I have no story.’… Beckwith really did have to search for Guerrero, and did so with scrupulous documentation…. The story of Beckwith’s search adds another layer of richness to the story of Alberto Guerrero, a remarkable musician and a well-loved teacher.” (The Music Times, Vol. 1 #5, September-October 2007)
“As a social chronicle of the musical life of Toronto in the first half of the 20th century, [In Search of Alberto Guerrero] constitutes an invaluable document…. Beckwith … has done a superb job of bringing this period of artistic awakening to iconographic life and of paying long-overdue tribute to one of its prime pianistic `movers and shakers,’ resisting whatever nostalgia he must feel in raking up a past in which he himself shared so fully and lived to play so leading a role, both as composer, educator, and now as author.” (Malcolm Troup Piano Journal)
“Beckwith has produced a thoroughly engrossing biography of this brilliant pianist and important teacher … Beckwith’s knowledge of music in this country as a historian, composer, critic, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Music at U of T is unmatched. Here he has produced a fascinating, well-documented portrait of Guerrero, establishing his lasting place in Canadian music.” (Pamela Margles WholeNote, September 2006)
“Beckwith paints a compelling portrait of a vital and remarkable musician. The book is highly readable and filled with details of interest. It re-establishes Guerrero’s reputation as one of the country’s finest and most influential artists of his day. In Search of Alberto Guerrero is an outstanding addition to Canadian music history.” (David Rogosin CAML Review (Canadian Association of Music Libraries), Vol. 34, No. 3, November 2006)
“In this magnificent book John Beckwith uncovers the story of the great pianist and pedagogue Alberto Guerrero. He stresses the important and too often forgotten influence Guerrero had on such prominent Toronto musicians as Gerald Moore, Oscar Morawetz, Helmut Blume, R. Murray Schafer, and Bruce Mather. Beckwith’s account spotlights the importance of Guerrero’s artistic and personal contribution to music in Toronto and Canada.” (Marie-Therese Lefebvre)
“Beckwith sets out what he knows of the Guerrero story very well, and the part of the book that is his `personal memoir,’ as he calls it, will remain permanently valid whatever new facts emerge.” (Peter Williams The Musical Times, Winter 2006)
“The Canadian composer and pianist John Beckwith…exposes thoroughly and with investigative clarity the sources concerning Guerrero’s career and achievement…. Chileans seem to have forgotten the extent of [Guerrero’] musical contribution, his life, and his valuable legacy, as can also be observed of many of his contemporaries…. [But] the important investigations which John Beckwith has dedicated to Guerrero’s life story yield a detailed account covering his first thirty years in Chile and his later eminence as a brilliant teacher at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.” (Revista Musical Chilena, 2009)
“[O]nly now, with the publication of John Beckwith’s book, has the case for Guerrero finally been made in a truly comprehensive and compelling way…. It is no longer possible to take Gould’s dismissive (and self-serving) comments about Guerrero at face value. The book is well documented, though Beckwith admits that parts of Guerrero’s story will probably always remain obscure…. Questions linger: Why did Guerrero chose to leave Chile for good and resettle in Toronto? Why did he largely abandon composition in Toronto? In cases like these, Beckwith augments the sketchy documentary record with intelligent speculation. He acknowledges a certain `partial and tentative’ quality to his portrait of Guerrero, but the reader is never in doubt that to the extent this is true the sources, not the author, are to blame…. `If the story has two parts [Chile and Canada],’ Beckwith writes, `my narration itself takes two tones–part objective research and part personal memoir.’ In Search of Alberto Guerrero is indeed an admirable synthesis of the scholarly and the subjective, in the service of rehabilitating the reputation of a notable musician who has been too long obscure.” (Kevin Bazzana GlennGould website, March 2007)
About the Author
In his sixty-year career, John Beckwith has drawn attention with performances, broadcasts, and recordings of his more than 150 compositions and with his critical and research writings on personalities and issues of Canadian music past and present. Associated from 1952 to 1990 with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, he was a witness of, and often a participant in, “the excitement of new creative directions in theatre, painting, and music” (as he once put it) of late-twentieth-century Canada. John Beckwith is a member of the Order of Canada and holds honorary doctorates from five universities.