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ClassicsOnline Home » BROUWER: Guitar Music, Vol. 4 - La Ciudad de las Columnas / Nuevos Estudios Sencillos
This fourth volume of Leo Brouwer’s guitar music consists of works ranging from his earliest, the neo-classical Suite No. 1 ‘Antigua’, written at the age of sixteen, to his most recent compositions. Written in 2004, La ciudad de las columnas (The City of Columns), a nickname for Havana, is an evocative musical journey of various landmarks and images of the Cuban capital. The disc closes with Yemaya, inspired by a goddess from the Afro-Cuban Santería/ Yoruba religion, written by Leo Brouwer’s close friend and protégé, Joaquín Clerch. Volumes 1–3 of Leo Brouwer’s guitar music are available on Naxos 8.553630, 8.554195 and 8.554553.
By David Denton
Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)
Guitar Music Volume 4
The composer, guitarist and conductor Leo Brouwer Mezquida was born in Havana in 1939 into a family of musicians. He had his first music lessons from his father, Juan Brouwer, and his aunt, Caridad Mezquida, while his great-uncle, Ernesto Lecuona, had been famous both as a composer and as a pianist. He had his first guitar lessons in 1953 with Isaac Nicola, who established the modern school of Cuban guitar-playing, and two years later began to study composition on his own. In 1959 he was awarded a scholarship for further study of the guitar in America at Hartford University and of composition at the Juilliard School in New York, where his studies were with Vincent Persichetti, Stefan Wolpe, Isadore Preed, J. Diemente and Joseph Iadone. In 1960 he was appointed director of the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos, a position that, over the years, brought the composition of a large number of film scores both in Cuba and abroad. From this time onwards he was associated with the Cuban musical avant-garde, serving as adviser to Radio Habana Cuba and teaching at the Conservatorio Nacional, and, as occasion demanded, in universities abroad. He established the biennial Cuban Guitar Competition and Festival and since 1981 has been general director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba. Conducting engagements have taken him to a number of countries.
It is possible to distinguish three periods in Brouwer's development as a composer. The first of these started in 1954, with a series of pieces that explored the resources of the guitar in works that combined traditional classical forms with Cuban inspiration. In the 1960s, after the Cuban revolution, he came to know the work of avant-garde composers such as Penderecki and Bussotti, when he attended the 1961 Warsaw Autumn Festival, absorbing these influences and those of leading contemporary composers who visited Cuba from abroad, into a very personal style that made use of modern techniques of various kinds, including elements of post-serialism and the aleatoric. The late 1970s brought a third period that Brouwer himself has described as national hyper-romanticism, a return to Afro-Cuban roots coupled with elements of traditional technique and of minimalism. In addition to his many film scores, he has written orchestral works, including concertos for the guitar, the flute, and the violin, and chamber works that often include the guitar. Many of his guitar compositions have won an international reputation, with a firm place in current repertoire, played and recorded by guitarists throughout the world.
This volume of Leo Brouwer's music consists of works ranging from his earliest to his most recent compositions. Also included are Brouwer's own arrangements of nineteenth-century Cuban piano music by Manuel Saumell and a composition by the young Cuban guitarist and composer Joaquín Clerch.
Written in 2004 and dedicated to Joaquín Clerch, La ciudad de las columnas (The City of Columns), a nickname for Havana, is inspired by the Cuban author Alejo Carpentier's essay with the same title on urbanism and Havana. This work is Brouwer's own portrait of his native city, and he takes us on a musical journey evoking various landmarks and scenes. After a brief introduction the first movement of the suite is entitled Andar la Habana (Stroll through Havana). This movement is actually one of Brouwer's earliest published guitar pieces, the tersely playful Pieza sin titulo No. 1 (Piece Without Title No. 1), written in 1956 and now given a name at last. Fragments from this piece are to appear at various moments throughout the remainder of the composition. The second movement is called La ceiba y el colibri (The Ceiba Tree and the Humming-Bird). The Ceiba tree is Cuba's national tree and is never cut down as it is considered holy by the Afro-Cuban Santería / Yoruba religion. With busy passage-work Brouwer creates a fascinating image of the humming-bird darting around the tall, mysterious and majestic Ceiba tree. The third movement, Convento de San Francisco (Convent of Saint Francis) is serene and prayer-like, a moment of reflection before the hustle and bustle of the next movement, Por la 'Calle del Obispo' (Along Obispo Street). The fifth movement is called Amanecer en el Morro (Dawn at the El Morro Fort). El Morro is the imposing sixteenth-century fort that guards the entrance to Havana. The final movement is Toque en la Plaza de armas (Ritual Ceremony in the Arms Square) The "toque" is a ceremony where various rhythmic drumming patterns are played in order to invoke the Orishas spirits and praise them, to bring their blessings and advice to the participants.
Viaje a la semilla (2000) (Journey to the Source) also takes its title from another of Alejo Carpentier's essays. There Carpentier recounts the life of his main character, wealthy landowner Don Marcial, in reverse. He leaves a house being disassembled and gradually the house is pieced back together after the wave of a stick by Don Marcial's black slave. And so the story continues, from death to conception.
Leo Brouwer began writing his first set of Estudios sencillos (Simple Studies) in 1959. They were composed as alternative study material to the traditional nineteenth-century pedagogic repertoire, the works of Aguado, Carcassi, Giuliani, Sor and others. Brouwer had added a further three sets by 1981 and these have become extremely popular student pieces, even finding their way into concert programmes of seasoned professionals. In 2001 Brouwer composed 10 Nuevos estudios sencillos (Ten New Simple Studies), each one dedicated to a twentieth-century composer. Just as in the previous volumes, every new study deals with a particular area of technique as well as introducing different harmonic and rhythmic structures.
Of European origin, the Contradanza is believed to have been introduced by the Franco-Haitian slaves seeking refuge in Cuba during the 1790s. With the introduction of African rhythm into the French contredanse, a new type of musical form was born which could be considered uniquely Cuban. It was to become very popular during the first half of the nineteenth century and Manuel Saumell (1817-1870) was perhaps its best-known and respected exponant. Originally written for piano, Saumell's Contradanzas were often given titles which alluded to life in Havana, for example Los chismes de Guanabacoa (The Gossip of Guanabacoa, a suburb of Havana), people La Maria, La Matilde, or colloquial expressions La quejosita, (The Little Nagging One).Through Saumell's miniatures we can hear the precursors of Cuban contemporary dance forms such as conga, habanera, mambo, rumba and salsa etc, which a century later were to become world famous.
Hoja de album – La gota de agua (Album Leaf – The Raindrop) is a short piece written in 1996 and given its first performance by the Spanish guitarist Gabriel Esterellas on 17 August 1996.
Leo Brouwer was sixteen when he wrote his Suite No. 1 'Antigua' (1955). With this composition he embarked on his musical journey to fill in the gaps he perceived in the literature of the guitar. Written in the form of a baroque suite, the music is closer to the neoclassicism of Bartók or Stravinsky.
This recording closes with a composition by Leo Brouwer's close friend and protégé, Joaquín Clerch. Yemaya was written in 1987 and won first prize in both the 1987 National Cuban Composition Competition and the 1987 Toronto International Guitar Competition. Yemaya is a goddess from the Afro-Cuban Santería/Yoruba religion. She is described as the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a protector of children. She also has many guises, which can be stern, violent and one which only appears in dreams. There are seven short sections, played without a break, which convey the various characters of Yemaya. From the opening La leyenda, one can hear soft brushstrokes on the strings suggesting the sound of a gentle wind at sea. Passages of lyrical beauty, aggressive fleets of notes, moments of reflection and a wild finger-twisting dance follow before the music finally settles down. The piece closes as it began, with the sound of the wind and the calm sea waters.
Graham Anthony Devine
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