Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Townsend: El Decameron Negro, II Huida de los Amantes by Leo Brouwer

This is the second movement of Leo Brouwer's El Decameron Negro. My performance of the first movement is here. The full title of the second movement is "Huida de los Amantes por el Valle de los Ecos" or "Flight of the Lovers through the Valley of Echos".

There are a number of interesting things about this movement. It brings together two elements that are new to Brouwer's work and that will return again and again in his later music. The first of these is the influence of the 'minimalists', namely Philip Glass and Steve Reich. At the beginning of this movement, as we hear arpeggios that have more and more notes added to them creating groups of 4, 6, 8 10, 20, 11 or 14 notes, there is evident the influence of the early music of Philip Glass. The way these ideas develop, though,  owes nothing to Glass, but is typical of Brouwer. He uses brief canonic passages, which Glass would never do. Later on he uses arpeggio figures that only the guitar could execute. In these figures, which occupy the middle of the movement, slurred pairs of sixteenth notes are played against triplets. The repetition of smaller and smaller parts of the arpeggio, combined with a diminuendo, suggests the echos of the title. Brouwer has always had a unique gift for exploiting the timbres of the guitar. This brings me to the second element: the evocation of nature. More and more, especially in pieces like Cuban Landscape with Rain, Brouwer creates lovely passages that seem drawn directly from nature.

Considered from a more technical view, this movement is a series of variations on a simple arpeggiated major seventh chord. But, of course, the beauty is all in the details.

Again, I have included in the video a scan of the first page of the manuscript and of the published edition. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the manuscript which revealed quite a number of errors and omissions in the published score. It is often easy to determine if there is a misprint in a piece by Fernando Sor or Giuliani, where the musical 'vocabulary' is very clear. But in a piece by Brouwer, a misprint can go undiscovered forever unless you ask him directly. There is a glaring misprint of a chord in Brouwer's Danza del Altiplano that you would never guess! (For those studying the piece, in the original Max Eschig edition, without the later introduction, it is on page two, third system, last measure: the last eighth note chord in the measure should read, from the bottom, B, C, E, not A, C, E, the B being the second string open.) And the publishers never seem to get around putting out a new edition, or, much cheaper, just a little sheet of errata. Oh, well... Also in the video are photos of Leo Brouwer, myself working with him in a master class in Toronto and some pictures of my hands.

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