Presti, Ida (1924–1967)

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Presti, Ida (1924–1967)

French classical guitarist, one of the greatest in musical history. Born Yvette Ida Montagnon at Suresnes, France, on May 31, 1924; died in Rochester, New York, on April 24, 1967; daughter of Italian mother Olga Lo-Presti and French father Claude Montagnon (died 1939); married in the mid-1940s and divorced; married Alexandre Lagoya, in 1955; children: (first marriage) one daughter, Elisabeth Rigaurd Lagoya; (second marriage) one son, Sylvain.

Ida Presti was born Yvette Ida Montagnon at Suresnes, France, in 1924, the daughter of an Italian mother, Olga Lo-Presti , and a French father, Claude Montagnon, who was an excellent musician and teacher. Ida's introduction to music came by way of her father and the piano, but at age six she became intrigued with the guitar. Though Claude did not play the instrument, he studied the guitar so that he could help his young daughter learn. To the end of her life, Presti had no other teacher.

Presti was extremely gifted musically and seemed to understand the guitar intuitively. At age eight, she played for the first time in public, and at ten she gave her first concert in Paris. By age eleven, her technique had surpassed that of many concert artists. She had already recorded works such as Federico Moreno-Torroba's Sonatina and Manuel Ponce's Mexican Songs. These recordings were made in an era before tape editing, so each mistake was recorded, and there were very few. When Presti was 13, she played before the world-famous classical guitarist Andres Segovia, who advised her to "never listen to the advice of any other guitarist." As a teenager, she toured internationally and was chosen to play Paganini's guitar on the observance of the centenary of his death.

Presti's approach to the guitar was unique. She played to the right side of the nail, whereas most guitarists played to the left, and her right hand was not parallel to the bridge, the technique of guitarists of the Tárrenga school. Fingering and phrasing were the first aspects of a piece she considered. She devised fingering which was more like an arpeggio than a scale, producing smooth melodic passages, and often used open strings, allowing her to change positioning so that each note slightly overlapped. While playing polyphonic music, Presti believed that whatever one hand with three fingers could accomplish in the treble, one thumb could do in the bass, and her bass lines had a uniquely independent quality. Her approach to music was imaginative and often brought out hitherto unknown qualities in many pieces.

Presti had been married briefly during World War II, during which she had a daughter Elisabeth. In the early 1950s, she met Alexandre Lagoya. Of Italian and Greek descent, Lagoya had grown up playing the guitar in Egypt, where he gave his first recital at age 13. Deciding to pursue a musical career, he went to Europe where he gave hundreds of concerts. One evening in Paris, Presti heard him play at a soiree at André Verdier's. "This is the best guitarist I've ever heard," she said. Interestingly, the two had developed similar techniques under completely separate circumstances. Their shared interest in music soon led to marriage and appearances on the concert stage as a duo.

Segovia had worked hard to establish the guitar as a classical instrument. Although there was a wealth of classical music written for it, gradually the violin and cello were favored, and the guitar lost its status except as a folk instrument. Following in the master's footsteps, Presti and Lagoya continued to expand the instrument's repertoire. The couple was extremely energetic on stage. Theirs was a life of jetting from one city to the next, tracing lost luggage, missing connections, and sometimes keeping up with the schedules of three agents. In the midst of this chaos, they practiced.

On April 23, 1967, Presti and Lagoya played an afternoon concert with the St. Louis Symphony. That night, Ida became ill. Though a doctor was called, there seemed to be no grave symptoms, so the couple proceeded to their next engagement in Rochester, New York. While on the plane, Presti became sick once more, and upon landing was rushed to a hospital in Rochester. Surgeons operated immediately, suspecting the problem was in her lung, but they were too late. Ida Presti died on the operating table, not quite 43. Her death was a great shock to the musical world. "The air over the guitar world will never be the same without their music," said Gregory d'Alessio. Lagoya continued to perform alone.


Artzt, Alice. "Presti in New York," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969, p. 4.

d'Alessio, Gregory, and John W. Duarte. "Editorial," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969.

Dorigny, Henri. "Ida Presti," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969, pp. 4–5.

Duarte, John. "Presti-Lagoya Duo," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969, pp. 6–7.

"Ida Presti, 42, Dead; Concert Guitarist," in The New York Times. April 26, 1967, p. 47.

Wade, Graham. "A Historical Perspective of the Guitar Duo," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969, pp. 7–8.

Wiseman, Cynthia. "Alexandre Lagoya," in Guitar Review. No. 66, Summer 1986, p.1–5.

Zoi, Liza, and Evangelos Assimakopoulos. "Ida Presti—In Memorium," in Guitar Review. No. 31, May 1969, p. 5.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia