About this Recording
8.573363 - BROUWER, L.: Bandurria and Guitar Music (Chamorro, P.M. González)

Leo Brouwer (b. 1939)
Music for Bandurria and Guitar


Leo Brouwer from Havana, Cuba, is universally acknowledged as one of the most challenging and innovative of contemporary composers. His prolific output ranges from solo guitar pieces to symphonic works, including concertos, chamber music, and many film scores. Brouwer’s guitar works have developed over four decades through various styles embracing the avant-garde and the experimental, as well as neo-romanticism. His guitar music is now performed internationally wherever the guitar is played and frequently recorded, making him one of the most popular of twentieth century composers for the instrument.

On this recording we hear the music of the bandurria, in consort with the guitar. The bandurria is a five or six-course lute type with a small, cittern-shaped body, a flat back, and a shorter fretted neck than the guitar, played with a plectrum. The instrument dates back to the sixteenth century hence its perennial popularity in many countries of South America having been transported to the New World by the Spanish explorers.

Música Incidental Campesina (Incidental Music of the Countryside) expresses the rhythms and energies of Cuban folk music. It has been arranged for various ensemble combinations such as two guitars, or mandolin and guitar.

Preludio uses the traditional alternation between 6/4 and 3/4 rhythms from bar to bar, the hemiola, as well as shifting to other time signatures within the piece, to communicate a sense of a group of rural musicians overheard from a distance. The intricate rhythms and syncopations are characteristic of folk music in this region. Interludio offers a moment of reflection with a plaintive tune accompanied by gentle chords. Danza, marked Allegretto, is a vigorous intermingling of rhythmic patterns beginning with a 5/8 time signature and moving rapidly to 6/8 and 3/4 alternation as in the Preludio. Once again a line of melody, switching from player to player and back again, is punctuated with energetic chords, some syncopated. Final offers some dazzling interchanges between the two players involving intricate rhythmic effects. Though the rhythms are traditional the mood is modern with more than a hint of dissonance. The movement ends with a suddenly reflective chordal sequence.

Víctor Jara (1932–1973), Chilean singer and songwriter, theatre director, teacher, poet, and political activist, became a martyr for his beliefs when during General Pinochet’s army coup in Chile on 11 September 1973, he was arrested, tortured and murdered.

Brouwer’s variations take as their inspiration one of Jara’s most popular songs, Lo único que tengo (The Only Thing I Have). Its theme is the sadness of being without a place on the earth, far from family and home. The variations cover a kaleidoscopic range of emotions and techniques.

Sonata for Bandurria was given a first performance in 2012 by its dedicatee, the bandurria virtuoso Pedro Chamorro. It was the first sonata Leo Brouwer had written for an instrument somewhat overlooked by serious composers. For Pedro Chamorro to have such a composition dedicated to him was the fulfilment of an ambition and he described how the work encapsulates the aesthetics of Brouwer’s characteristic style, including Afro-Cuban elements, minimalism, and many rhythmic and harmonic contrasts.

Sonata del Caminante (The Wanderer’s Sonata), composed in 2007, is dedicated to the eminent Brazilian guitarist, Odair Assad. Leo Brouwer wrote in the liner notes for the first recording:

Sonata del Caminante was composed in a few days for Odair Assad. Composition is like a birth with pain, effort and joy, but in this case everything was organic. Thinking and doing were the same. An impossible challenge for any guitar virtuoso is commonplace for Odair…Thematically you will not find in Sonata del caminante sweet melodies nor gracious batucadas; if I intended to achieve something it was ‘intensity’. I hope to have succeeded.

The sonata offers tribute both to Odair Assad and the immense vistas of Brazil. The second movement, El Gran Sertão, refers to the great outback, the semi-arid region in north-eastern Brazil close to the equator. Toccata Nordestina celebrates the municipality of the state of Bahia in the northern region of Brazil.

Micropiezas, completed in August 1957, were dedicated to Darius Milhaud. The first four movements were published by Max Eschig in 1973, though the fifth came into print only in 1985. The work is in the form of a suite with echoes of a Cuban salon dance of the nineteenth century and presents contrasting rhythms with a vivid musical dialogue between the players.

There are many subtle aspects of interest within this suite. Micropieza No. 2, for example, alludes to the conga at the beginning while No. 3 just before the end quotes from Brouwer’s guitar piece, Danza característica. Isabelle Hernández, in her biography of Brouwer, recommends that ‘careful attention should be given to Micropieza No. 4 since this piece contains some of the most successful polyphonic effects the composer has achieved’.

No. 5 takes the form of a theme with variations on the French children’s song, Frère Jacques. This involves various styles and tempi from the comparatively traditional (as at the opening) to flamenco type embellishment, from markings such as tranquillo (just before the section in harmonics, the little bell-like sounds which sound poignant on the guitar), to agitando poco a poco a few bars later. The movement achieves its effect by the juxtaposition of many contrasts in remarkably close proximity subjecting the theme’s familiar simplicity to a variety of unexpected dissonances and moods.

Graham Wade

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