1st Edition

John Williams: Changing the Culture of the Classical Guitar Performance, perception, education and construction

By Michael O'Toole Copyright 2019
    222 Pages
    by Routledge

    222 Pages 16 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book assesses the influence and reception of many different forms of guitar playing upon the classical guitar and more specifically through the prism of John Williams.

    Beginning with an examination of Andrés Segovia and his influence upon Williams’ life’s work, a further three incisive chapters cover key areas such as performance, perception, education and construction, considering social and cultural contexts of the guitar over the past century. A final chapter on new directions in classical guitar examines the change in reception of the instrument from the mid-1970s to the present day, and Williams’ impact upon what might be termed ‘standard classical guitar repertoire’.

    With in-depth discussion of the cultural and perceptual impact of Williams’ more daring crossover projects and numerous musical examples, this is an informative reference for all classical guitar practitioners, as well as scholars and researchers of guitar studies, reception studies, cultural musicology and performance studies. An online lecture by the author and a transcript of the author’s interview with John Williams are also available as e-resources.


    The ‘Segovian’ narrative

    John Williams and diversity 


    1 Andrés Segovia and John Williams

    Segovia: career, tributes and reception

    Other contributions to classical guitar culture in the early twentieth century

    Attitudes to other musical styles


    Interpretation of the Segovia legacy

    The king and the prince

    Williams as a child prodigy

    Contrasting approaches to popular and folk music styles

    Williams and politics

    Shifting attitudes about classical guitar


    2 John Williams’ approach to the classical guitar

    Following the pulse

    Performance anxiety

    Approach to J.S. Bach’s Chaconne in D minor

    Contrasting approaches to Mauro Giuliani’s Guitar Concerto No. 1 in A major, Op. 30 (1808)

    Ensemble playing and sight-reading

    Amplification and other manipulations of the natural sound


    Guitar design

    Williams and guitar teaching


    3 ‘Putting the guitar out of classical music’

    Cavatina and other film projects 1



    Venezuela – El Diablo Suelto

    John Williams and jazz


    4 New directions in classical guitar




    Performing with Julian Bream

    Richard Harvey

    Williams’ own compositions

    Programme choices

    Leo Brouwer

    Agustin Barrios Mangoré



    Broadening the repertoire and appeal of the classical guitar

    Critical perception





    Michael O'Toole is one of the leading figures in the Irish guitar scene today. He has given many memorable solo recitals and also contributed significantly to the development of the instrument as artistic director of both The Waltons International Guitar Festival and The Chord Ennis International Music Festival. Michael also currently has the honour of being a director of the prestigious Kilkenny Arts Festival. Michael holds a PhD from the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, and a master's degree in performance from University College Cork.