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In Search of Alberto Guerrero

Edited by John Beckwith
Subjects Biography & Autobiography, Music, History, Canadian History
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Paperback : 9781554584420, 180 pages, April 2015
Hardcover : 9780889204966, 180 pages, April 2011

Table of contents

Table of Contents for In Search of Alberto Guerrero by John Beckwith
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: Chile / Canada — Beginnings in La Serena — Young Pianist, Young Composer — A Composer for the Stage — Two Composer-Associates — Writings
Chapter 2: A Wedding, a Tour — New York and Back: A Farewell — Why?
Chapter 3: Toronto: The Hambourgs — El cónsul — Personal Crises — Toronto: The Late 1920s and Early ‘30s — The TCM — Performances
Chapter 4: The Andison Concerts; Malloney’s — Friendships — “A Great Piano Town”: The Five Piano Ensemble — The 1940s
Chapter 5: Lessons — Changes — Glenn Gould — A Letter — The Final Public Recital
Chapter 6: The 1950s — A Funeral — “Boswell” — Legacy
Appendix 1: Alberto Guerrero, “The Discrepancy between Performance and Technique”
Appendix 2: Boyd Neel, “Alberto Guerrero”
Appendix 3: Reunion: Participants
Appendix 4: Excerpts from the Prgoram Note for the Symposium “Remembering Alberto Guerrero,” Toronto, 25 October 1990 (by John Beckwith)


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.”


  • Winner, One of the 100 Best Books of 2011 cited by New Zealand Listener 2011


A fascinating account of an extraordinary and influential musical personality who left an indelible mark on Canadian musical life.

- Anton Kuerti, pianist, 2006 April

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, Universite de Montreal, author of Rodolphe Mathieu:L'emergence du statut professionnel de compositeur au Quebec,18910-1962 (2005), 2006 April

[A] fascinating picture of the unfurling of musical life in the Toronto of Guerrero's time (1918-1959) and of the deeply influential part this wise and graceful artist-teacher played in what came from him and after him. In fact, like much distinguished biographical writing, Beckwith's readable, resonant and lovely book opens more doors than it closes. In everything from the welcome and specific details of the music Guerrero played ... to early and later comments on how he played ... to Beckwith's own lucid observatons of how he taught, there are pertinent insights into the kind of artist, teacher and person Guerrero was.... The whole book is essential and illuminating reading for anyone who cares about these musicians and about this period of our musical history. The extremely useful index will help establish it as a vital research resource.

- Ken Winters, Literary Review of Canada, Vol. 14, No. 7, September 2006, 2006 August

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, 2009 November

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, 2006 September

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.

- E.A. Breen, The Music Times, Vol. 1 #5, September-October 2007, 2007 September

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, 2006 December

John Beckwith's recent book on the pianist Alberto Guerrero is a compelling narrative about a fascinating figure on the Canadian, especially Toronto, musical scene for more than forty years of the last century (1918-1959). In Search of Alberto Guerrero also confirms Beckwith's own reputation as one of the most widely respected researchers on Canadian music history today. It it not just Beckwith's impeccable scholarship that makes his work distinctive, but as Beverley Diamond has written, Beckwith's `insistence that we look carefully at social realities' as a means of understanding culture is also a pervasive aspect of his work, one that facilitates interpreting music in broad contexts, and one that engages reflexive modes of thinking and writing about music. (Diamond 1995, 273). A decided strength of Beckwith's book is that he presents multiple narratives, weaving into the Guerrero story historical and contemporary perspectives, local voices, and importantly, his own voice, as a former piano student of Guerrero.

- Gordon E. Smith, Intersections: Canadian Journal of Music, 26/1, 2005, 2007 January

[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, 2006 December