NOVEMBER 2019 | Leo Brouwer at 80 by Morgan Szymanski

NOVEMBER 2019 | Leo Brouwer at 80 by Morgan Szymanski

I grew up in Mexico City and started playing the guitar at the age of six, in 1985. In 1990 I joined the National Music School, where my teacher immediately got me playing Leo Brouwer´s Estudios Simples. I played number five in my first public recital at the end of that year.

There were more guitarists than violinists and pianists put together back then. We all played Brouwer, Barrios, Ponce and Villa-Lobos. However, Brouwer was ´modern´. He was perhaps my first intoroduction into contemporary music – a wonderful universe of complex rhythms and harmonies, full of fun effects and colours yet dancing in Cuban folklore. It was a magical discovery....

Few composers in the guitar world today have left such an important legacy as Leo Brouwer. Brouwer was a virtuoso performer and due to a hand injury had to stop performing. Composing and conducting then became his main creative outputs, but it was through necessity that he became an all-round musical genius. His familiarity with the instrument has helped him understand and exploit it´s limits like few others, and he is the composer many non-guitarist composers turn to when in doubt.

From the simplicity of his Canción de Cuna or Un Día de Noviembre  - both pieces that have become favourites in many guitarists’ repertoire - to his sublime sonatas, chamber works, duets, quartets, concerti and numerous film scores (like the wonderful Como Agua para Chocolate) his output is immense and covers many styles. His Concierto Elegiaco, written for Julian Bream, the Concierto de Toronto written for John Williams and his Danzas Concertantes are among my personal favourites.

Brouwer always found inspiration in his roots, whether it was a folk melody, tango, poetry or the Beatles, his music is always recognisable, with an embedded Cuban colour and rhythm which has become his signature. This idiom has inevitably led to the permanence of his music in our heritage.

The minimalist movement had an important influence on his music. He manages to find a balance between an academic and intellectual approach which is full of popular colours, as if watching a sunset in Habana whilst reading Borges. He seems to have an eternal fountain of creativity pouring constantly, always ground breaking and inspiring.

When as a guitarist I think of the achievements of the great composers throughout history that have been associated with a particular instrument – my personal idols being Rachmaninov for the piano, Schubert for song, Paganini and Sarasate for the violin – I can´t help turning to the guitar.

In our history we remember of our ´grandfathers´, Giuliani, Sor and Tárrega to name but three. Of course Rodrigo in Spain, and Barrios, Ponce and Villa-Lobos in Latin America. Leo has managed to join these ranks. What he has accomplished is admirable and we are all grateful to him for the mountain of marvellous music he has left us.

Muchas gracias Leo! Happy 80th birthday and many more to come.



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