I had already done two years at the University of Victoria in music, but the only problem there was that they wanted me to play the piano. They also had me playing lute in an early music ensemble. Nothing wrong with that, but the main reason I was there was to become a guitarist and they didn't even have a teacher! So I dropped out after second year and went to Spain. I picked up a great concert Ramirez in Madrid and headed for Alicante. When I knocked on Tomas' door, I told him I was a student of Téo's in Vancouver and he was all smiles: "How is Téo?" Then he asked what I was working on and I said the Etude No. 8 by Villa-Lobos, which seemed to pass muster. So I started lessons with José Tomas. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was just about the best place to be. There was a whole community of international guitar students there from Japan, the US, France, Belgium, England, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Finland and the Philippines. Here's a group photo of some of us at the end of the course. I'm kneeling down, second from the right and next to me, first on the right, is my good friend at the time, the Finnish guitarist Klaus Helminen who spoke at least seven languages. In the photo are guitarists from Canada, France, Scotland, Belgium, Mexico, Ireland and the girl whose leg I am clutching, was a fine guitarist from the Philippines.
When I went there I was a pretty junior player, just finding my way. A bit of a hack, I guess you could say. When I got back to Canada, about ten months later, I could play the guitar. Well. While I was in Alicante I did nothing but eat, sleep and practice the guitar (and read Russian novels). I played about six hours a day. I learned a LOT of music. At the end of one lesson, when I wasn't going to see Tomas for a couple of weeks, he suggested I learn the English Suite by John Duarte, which is in three movements--about ten or twelve minutes of music. When I came to the next lesson I had it all memorized.
The reason I got off on this digression is because of Alicante. It is a medium-sized provincial capital and, apart from the Conservatorio "Oscar Esplá" and José Tomas, there isn't much going on. But in the years after the terrible Spanish Civil War 1936-39, there was a prison camp outside Alicante where enemies of the Franco regime were imprisoned. One of these was the young poet Miguel Hernández, who started out as a goatherd and farmhand. He was on the Republican side--who lost--during the war and afterwards was sentenced to thirty years in prison. He died, age 31, in the prison outside Alicante in the year 1942, of tuberculosis and mistreatment. Much of his poetry was written in prison. Of course, when I was studying in Alicante, I knew nothing of this history.
In 1981, Léo Brouwer chose six lines from Hernández' Poemas de Amor as titles for six brief preludes titled Preludios Epigramaticos. Here are the titles with my translations:
- "Desde que el alba quiso ser alba, toda eres madre" ["As you are wholly woman, so the dawn wishes to be dawn"]
- "Tristes hombres si no mueren de amores" ["Sad men, if they don't die of love"]
- "Alrededor de tu piel, ato y desato la mia" ["Surrounded by your skin, mine is tied and untied"]
- "Rié, que tod rié: que todo es madre leve" ["Laugh, everything laughs, all is mother of levity"]
- "Me cogiste el corazón y hoy precipitas su vuelo" ["You caught the flight of my heart and today hurled it down"]
- "Llegó con trés heridas: la del amor, la de la muerte, la de la vita" ["I endure with three wounds: that of love, that of death, that of life"]
Now for the performances. With the first one, I have included three photos: a young Miguel Hernández, a young Léo Brouwer and myself working with Léo in his masterclass in Toronto in 1978. I think we might have been working on Memorias de El Cimarron by Henze, but maybe not as I don't see a cello bow anywhere!
Here is the second prelude. The photos are a pencil drawing of Miguel Hernández, a photo of Léo Brouwer playing Memorias as we can see from the cello bow, and a photo of myself playing a concert at the University of Victoria, BC.
With the third prelude I have put up a photo of Miguel Hernández giving a speech, Léo Brouwer playing a concert and another photo from the master class.
The fourth prelude is the only really up-tempo one, suitable to the text, so in the photos everyone is looking quite happy.
For the fifth prelude, three photos as before:
And finally, the sixth prelude: