Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Elogio de la Danza, part 3

The second movement of this piece, the "Obstinato" is a wonderfully unique example of modern writing for guitar. Like Stravinsky, Brouwer has a physical approach to the instrument that leads to many original harmonies and textures. His roots in Cuban folk music make his music anything but abstract.

The second movement of this two-movement piece starts with a tricky staccato texture that is unique in the guitar repertoire:

There is no tempo marked in the score and my penciled in eighth note equal to 144 is just a suggestion. I may have gotten that from either the Cuban edition or from a recording--I simply don't recall. Pick your own tempo! This section uses a single chord-shape that moves around. What is tricky is how to create the staccato. It is really a combination of right hand and left. The left hand can stop the sound by releasing the pressure on the frets momentarily and the right hand helps by dropping back on the strings. The bass staccato is just with the thumb, of course. It seems odd at first, but once you get used to the technique it feels quite natural. Then next musical idea uses the same chord-shape, but fortissimo and marcato:

Don't cut these notes short as it makes for more of a contrast with the previous idea. I penciled in 2/4 over the 4/8 because this is really how the measure feels. I mentioned before how the notation of the meter is a bid odd in places and this is another example. I think Brouwer had this music in his fingers and ears first and then had to figure out how to notate it later--not an uncommon situation with composers. This section, with variations of the two basic ideas, repeats and the next section is marked Vivace:

Click to enlarge
Here we have perhaps the most distinctive original idea in the Elogio: the right hand strikes the bridge (I use the middle finger) followed by a left hand slur and then a simultaneous blow to the bridge combined with plucking the sixth string with the thumb. Tricky at first, but again, it comes to feel natural with practice. What I find the most difficult is adjusting the balance of the simultaneous golpe with plucking the sixth string. It is hard to get them evenly audible. Somewhere, again either in the Cuban edition or a recording of the composer, I have seen/heard an additional golpe with the open E at the beginning of the third measure. I don't do it myself, but I believe it would be an option here and similar places. The next motif is a transition to the "stacking" motif that ends the section and it involves symmetrical slurs across the fingerboard:

Pretty straightforward. The left hand index finger has two roles: first it opposes the torque from the third finger in order to make a clean slur, then it changes into the finger executing the slur to the open string. Slow practice will solve the problem, as always. I'm not going to quote the whole "stacking" motif as is goes over three lines of the score. Here is the basic idea:

Like a stretto in a fugue, the idea involves stacking up a single motif at higher pitches: descending 4ths and rising 5ths. These are intervals that have not been heard too often so far in the piece. This is combined with a rhythmic idea that squeezes the motif and then syncopates it. This same passage is later used to end the piece in a satisfactory manner.

Here is an interesting performance by Stephen Chau on a 1991 Friedrich guitar:

It is a tidy performance with fairly good attention to the dynamics. He agrees with me regarding the misprint on page 1. Unfortunately, the Obstinato feels a bit stiff and he simply does not do the staccatos in the upper voices, only in the bass!

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