Alvaro Pierri was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he was introduced to music at an early age by his mother, the pianist Ada Estades. By the time he was 7, he was taking guitar lessons from his aunt, [...]
They spoke about it
The name Leo Brouwer is familiar to nearly every guitarist as one of the most significant and original voices in the contemporary world of the guitar. In addition, he is recognized as one of the prime forces in the cultural life of his native Cuba. Among the appointments he has held in Havana, he includes assistant for Radio Havana (1960-61), director of the music department of the Instituto de Artes Industria Cinematograficos (1960-62), professor of composition at the Havana Conservatory (1961-67) and director of the ICAIC experimental music department (from 1969).
Born on March 1, 1939, Brouwer first learned to play the guitar from his father at the age of 12. He later went on to study with Isaac Nicola, who had studied with the renowned Emilio Pujol. Brouwer also learned to play piano, double bass, cello and clarinet. In 1960-61 he studied composition at the Julliard School in New York with Vincent Persichetti and Stefan Wolpe. Brouwer saw his first composition published when he was only 17. As a conductor, he has appeared with many orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Havana Symphony Orchestra, and, in Canada, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, where he led the world premiere of his Toronto Concerto in 1987 with guitarist John Williams as soloist. At present he is based in Spain where he conducts the Cordoba Orchestra. Brouwer received an Honorable Membership from UNESCO in 1987, a rare and signal honor.
Brouwer’s musical development is usually divided into three phases: 1) Early (to 1964, the period of much Latin-American and Afro-Cuban folkloric influence); 2) Exploratory (1964-80, when he concentrated on avant-garde techniques); and 3) 1980-present. Alvaro Pierri’s program encompasses works spanning Brouwer’s entire career, from the teenage Danza caracteristica of 1957 to the Rito de los Orishas, premiered in 1993.
Brouwer’s music is generally devoid of what we like to call “melody.” The composer explained his position in an interview published originally in Guitarre Laute (March / April 1990): “I don’t favor it. Melody has an other value. Melodies are tied to the voice. Instruments which are not melodic, like the guitar which can be wonderful and magical, but not melodic, should travel another path. They should go more toward texture; through the development of patterns, figures — flowing ideas.” Elsewhere in this interview Brouwer noted that “I find it more difficult to write for the guitar than for orchestra or string quartet because it’s an instrument which is full of clichés. When I use clichés, there must be a musical reason for it. A cliché is generally a technical patern, an information code. You use it deliberately or avoid it.”
One of the early works on Alvaro Pierri’s recital, Danza caracteristica, employs specific Afro-Cuban rhythmic patterns. The tresillo is found in it, sounding rather like a lopsided triplet (it is actually a pattern of 3 + 3 + 2), and becomes a structural element in the bass line. The cinquillo is also found in Danza caracteristica, as a rapidly syncopated figure of 2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2. “In Cuba we still have very strong roots in the African tradition,” says Brouwer. “But African music has not only rhythms, but also special forms and structures which are similar to Hindu ragas.”
Elogio de la Danza
Elogio de la Danza, perhaps Brouwer’s best-known composition, was commissioned by the choreographer Luis Trapaga for the Havana Ballet Company. It was originally intended as a five-to-six-minute intermezzo to be played during a scene change. Dating from 1964, it straddles the division between his first and second periods, and was his last work for solo guitar for four years. In two sections (a Lento and a fast Obstinato), it features dramatic contrasts in timbre and dynamics, and is replete with precise performance directions.
El decameron Negro
The three-movement El decameron Negro (The Black Decameron, an allusion to the 14th-century collection of tales by Boccaccio, but with an African genesis) is one of Brouwer’s most substantial works, written in 1981 and dedicated to guitarist Sharon Isbin. Brouwer’s inspiration came from a story drawn from the similarly named book by the German ethnologist and explorer Leo Frobenius (1873-1938). This story deals with a warrior who wanted to be a musician. In the African tribe where the story takes place, a musician is regarded at the opposite end of the social order from a warrior. Yet the greatest warrior of the tribe dared to defy this caste system and chose to become a “mere” musician. Each movement is constructed according to traditional structures: the first is in sonata form, the second is a rondo (ABACA) with an obsessive rhythmic ostinato, and the third is in three-part (ABA) form.
Tres Danzas Concertantes
Tres Danzas Concertantes is also a work of Brouwer’s teenage years, written originally as a concerto for guitar (the first of four) and string orchestra. The piano transcription used for this recording was done by Steve Wingfield and Pierre Debonville. Close relationships among the main themes, close integration between guitar and orchestra / piano, and terse rhythmic figures suggestive or Bartók and Stravinsky are notable features of this work. Brouwer believes that “since timbre is the most typical feature of guitar music, it should be a central compositional element.”
Rito de los Orishas
Rito de los Orishas (Rite of the Orishas) resulted from Leo Brouwer’s long friendship with Alvaro Pierri and admiration for his playing. Pierri, the work’s dedicatee, gave the world premiere in Paris in October of 1993. “Orishas” is Yoruban (people and language of the West African costal area) for Afro-Cuban deities. “The composer told me,” says Pierri, “that he experienced the same kind of magical feeling while composing Rito de los Orishas as he did for the Elogio de la Danza, a sort of communion with the divinity — a feeling that emanates from his deep empathy for Yoruban culture, as does that of most Cubans. A ritual ceremony involving the subjugation of spirits is suggested in the first section (“Exordium-conjuro”), followed by a longer section of three dance variants subtitled Dance of the Black Goddesses.”
© Robert Markow