Before her untimely death at age 42, French classical guitarist and composer Ida Presti had two lengthy, influential periods in her career.
As a child prodigy, she wowed affluent European audiences with her right hand technique and advanced virtuosity, establishing her solo career in the process. Then, in her late 20s, she began an equally influential run as the marriage and guitar duet partner of Alexandre Lagoya.
Born in 1924 near a suburb of Paris, Presti was taught guitar by her father, Claude Montagnon, starting at a very young age. The famed inventor and musician Mario Maccaferri—the mind behind everything from Django Reinhardt’s preferred guitar to plastic clothespins—provided additional lessons.
At age 10, Presti played her first full-length public concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Two years later, she made her first commercial recordings. Legend has it that Andres Segovia, arguably the premiere classical guitar performer and instructor of the era, proclaimed that Presti needed no additional instruction from him or any other player after watching her perform as a young teen. By her mid-teens, Presti was playing Paganini’s guitar on stage for the centennial of the legendary French composer’s death.
Once the Presti-Lagoya duo formed in the early 1950s, the couple focused solely on works for two guitarists, many of which were selected from the Baroque period. This phase of Presti’s career made her a world-renown talent, as she performed thousands of concerts across numerous countries. She and Lagoya grasped the harmonic nuances and subtleties needed to make their guitars proverbially speak for themselves in classical instrumentals.
Presti’s legacy was built in part on playing off the right side of her fingernails, a method that provided a fuller and louder tone. It gave her acoustic guitar enough volume and power to match other classical instrumentation. There are videos online of this method, including this demonstration by successful Presti and Lagoya understudy, Alice Artzt.
Presti died during a 1967 tour of the United States. She visited a hospital in St. Louis after coughing up blood, where doctors advised she remain for further treatment. Instead, she and Lagoya flew to Rochester, NY the following day, where she died at a hospital from a massive internal hemorrhage.
Today, Presti is considered to be one of the most influential classically-trained musicians of her lifetime, and a true legends among 20th century guitarists.