The death of Narciso Yepes on 3 May 1997 marked the end of an era in the history of the Spanish guitar. Yepes was considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century, surpassed only by Andrés Segovia. He developed a strong interest in music from the Baroque period and showed an overwhelming preference for the compositions of Spanish composers like Joaquín Rodrigo. He was also instrumental in the rediscovery of many previously neglected Baroque compositions and achieved distinction as a composer, especially in the realm of film music.
Born in Lorca, Murcia, in November 1927, Yepes received his first guitar at the age of four and he soon showed a natural musical talent. His father arranged for the youngster to have lessons with the celebrated guitarist, Jesús Guevara, and he began playing the instrument with great proficiency. His family moved to Valencia when Yepes was nine years old and four years later, he was accepted to study at the Conservatorio de Valencia with the pianist and composer Vicente Asencio.
The young maestro made his début in Madrid in December 1947 and the overwhelming success of this performance brought him much acclaim from critics and the public alike. After his success in Madrid, Yepes began visiting Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and France. During this time he made two early recordings; one in mono with the Madrid Chamber Orchestra, and the second in stereo with the Spanish National Orchestra. He went on to make more than 50 recordings.
After performing in Paris in 1950, Yepes spent a year studying with Romanian violinist, George Enescu, and the acclaimed German pianist, Walter Gieseking. It was while in Paris that Yepes met a young Polish student called Maria Szumlakowska - the daughter of the Ambassador of Poland in Spain - and they married in 1958.
A benchmark in his career came in 1964, when, while performing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Yepes unveiled his ten-string guitar, an instrument he had invented with renowned guitar maker José Ramírez III. After 1964, Yepes used the iconic ten-string guitar exclusively, touring all over the world performing solo recitals and concerts with the world's leading orchestras, giving an average of 130 performances each year.
He was granted many official honours during his long career and these included the Gold Medal for Distinction in Arts, presented by King Juan Carlos I; the Premio Nacíonal de Música and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Murcia.
Yepes began to limit his public appearances after 1993 due to illness. He gave his last concert on 1 March 1996 in Santander and he died in Murcia in 1997, after a long battle with lymphoma.