This piece represents a major shift in Brouwer's approach to composition. With this piece he turns away from the atonal, aleatoric avant-garde style he had been using since the early 1960s and returned to a style that used tonal harmonies, though often in new ways. I attended a panel of composers in Toronto in the 1980s that included Brouwer, Stephen Dodgson and Gilbert Biberian and posed to them all the same question: why are you returning to using tonal harmony? Brouwer's answer at the time was that atonal music caused a fatigue to write and listen to. He later gave a much more complete explanation:
This is exactly the point I have tried to make on several occasions on this blog. If you search under "harmony" you will probably find over a dozen posts on the issue, but here is a typical one.…I became saturated with the language of the so called old avant-garde…the atomized, crisp, and “tensional” language of this kindsuffered, and still suffers today, a defect related to the essence ofcompositional balance, a concept that is present in history: Movement,tension, with its consequent rest, relaxation. This “law of opposingforces” – day-night, man-woman, ying-yang, time to love-time to hate– exists within all circumstances of mankind….The avant-garde lackedthe relaxation of all tensions. There is no living entity that doesn’t rest.This is one of the things I discovered….In this way, I made a kind ofregression that moves toward the simplification of the compositionalmaterials. This is what I consider my last period […which]encompasses the essential elements from popular music, from classicalmusic, and from the avant-garde itself. They help me to give contrastto big tensions.
El Decameron Negro consists of three movements of which "El Arpa del Guerrero" (The Warrior's Harp) is the first (though Brouwer has indicated the movements can be played in any order, everyone usually follows the printed order). Brouwer has said that the inspiration was a collection of African folk-tales. The original Decameron is a 14th century collection of 100 tales by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375). I cannot find, however, the African collection that was the direct inspiration. What I do find is a 1972 Italian film directed by Piero Vivarelli entitled