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Varazdin's Guitar Great
It's not by chance that Varazdin's distinguished string instrument maker Vladimir Simunov Proskurnjak, whose studio is in the heart of downtown, at Kranceviceva 5, specializes in guitars. This particular instrument holds a special place in the hearts of the classical-music lovers of Varazdin. Indeed, there was a time when the guitar was among the most popular instruments in Croatia and elsewhere in Europe and earned the respect of the great music critics of the day. That time, in Croatia, peaked in the first half of the nineteenth century. The nation's greatest guitarist of the era, and one of the continent's best, was Varazdin's own Ivan Padovec. Born in 1800, Ivan was often ill as a child and extremely nearsighted. To make matters worse, at the age of 10 he was left half blind when a stone thrown at him by another boy hit his left eye. Since his physical limitations meant he could not become a priest, as his parents had hoped, Padovec trained to become a teacher. However, he chose quite another path.
By the age of 19 Ivan Padovec had not only taught himself to play the guitar, he was indeed able to support himself by giving lessons to friends. Before long he decided to devote his life to music. Within five years, Padovec had a reputation not only as a virtuoso guitarist but also as a talented composer. By 1827 he was giving concerts from Zagreb and Varazdin to Zadar, Rijeka, and Trieste, and before long he'd earned the respect of even the court in Vienna. While living in the Austrian capital from 1829 to 1837, Padovec gave concerts throughout Europe, though weakening eyesight eventually forced a return to his native Varazdin. After a concert in Zagreb in 1840, one critic wrote, "[Padovec] showed that even on such an instrument it was possible to play tenderly and skillfully, thus surpassing everyone else." In addition to writing more than 200 compositions, he authored an influential book on guitar instruction and invented a 10-string guitar. Completely blind by 1848, Padovec retreated to his sister's house in Varazdin, unable to compose or teach. In 1871 he gave his final performance at the city theater. A life of music reaped little financial compensation for Padovec, and he died in poverty on November 4, 1873. Appropriately, Varazdin's tourist office is located in the house where he was born, at Ivana Padovca 3.
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