The Great Alirio Díaz (1923-2016)

Alirio and Leo003The guitar world lost a legend on July 5th. Alirio Díaz will be missed.

Some excerpts from the liner notes to my recording of the great Alirio Díaz’s arrangements….

About Alirio Díaz

As a young man in the early 1940s, Alirio Díaz found his way from the small village where he was born in western Venezuela to the Superior Conservatory of Music in Caracas. By 1950, Díaz was en route to Spain and within a year was in Siena studying with Andrés Segovia. Díaz impressed him so much that within three years he had become Segovia’s assistant, often substituting as a teacher while Segovia toured. It was during this time that Díaz began performing in some of the most prestigious concert halls of Europe. After spending more than half a century on stages throughout the world, the great Alirio Díaz was sought after by generations of guitarists from all over the world for his profound musical insight.

Though Díaz is primarily recognized for his grand achievements on concert stages throughout the world, his contributions to the guitar repertoire are unique. During periods when he found himself back home in Venezuela, he collected and arranged dozens of popular songs from the first decades of the 20th century that have endured the test of time. The arrangements highlight both Díaz’s skill as a composer and as a historian. Many of the songs were obtained from unconventional sources – redacted by older musicians or copied from old piano rolls. These songs are still heard in Venezuela in various guises: played by popular musicians on the radio, performed by small ensembles at social gatherings, and arranged and re-arranged in countless formats for as many occasions.

A Personal Note on Alirio’s Arrangements

I vividly remember fearing for my life as our rickety bus stormed around blind curves up the narrow mountainside roads that led to the small Andean town of Santa Ana in Venezuela in 1993. I was to spend one of the most memorable weeks of my life performing music of Agustín Barrios Mangoré  for the legendary Venezuelan guitarist Alirio Díaz. Alirio’s recordings, particularly his Melodías Larenses and his Valses del pueblo venezolano, had always embodied for me what I loved most about guitar: energy deeply rooted in the folkloric traditions of Venezuelan music, themselves a colorfully woven tapestry of African, European, and indigenous threads. When I first left the warmth of Venezuela for boarding school in New Hampshire, my cassettes of Alirio’s arrangements were among my most prized possessions – what I considered the essence of what I was leaving behind. Playing guitar was my way of evoking home away from home. Alirio’s arrangements of songs from the region where he had grown up were, to me, a distillation of Venezuela’s spirit. Alirio combined his intimate understanding of the guitar, intuitive virtuosity, and true love for the music of his country to create brilliant arrangements on par with the greatest South American guitar music ever written.


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