27 November 2009

Publication of ¡Oh Guitarra!

This autumn saw the publication of my second piece for solo guitar, ¡Oh Guitarra! The publishers are Tre Media of Karlsruhe, the same company that released my first guitar work, Nana del insomne, a few years ago.

¡Oh Guitarra! was composed at the request of the Swiss guitarist Christoph Jäggin. Its broad theme is carnival, and the various meanings and associations it carries for somebody with my background. 

To mention first the associations my piece does not concern itself with, carnival is, of course, a time of lavishness, abandon and extravagant fun. In its religious connotations it is the season of wanton recklessness preceding the austerity of Lent. 

Although these generic meanings are, no doubt, somewhere in the background, this guitar piece is more specific in that it explores two instances of music associated with carnival. One is the taquipayanacus, a tradition of my native Cochabamba, where groups from the surrounding valleys come down on the city to compete in dexterity and wit on one genre. A pithy musical phrase in lively tempo and triple rhythm is repeated for as long as the singer has inspiration to improvise couplets to go with it. The irreverent piquancy of the lyrics makes up for the repetitiveness of the melody. The words are in Quechua, but somehow one line in Spanish passed down to me from my father: estos carnavales quién inventaría. In my experience, although the sound of taquipayanacus pervaded the atmosphere during carnival time, my ignorance of Quechua gave these four words the value of an emblem. In my piece I subject the classic four-bar phrase to intervallic manipulation that probably renders it unrecognisable, and there is no repetition. 

The other specific nod is in the direction of eastern Bolivia, where a popular genre bears the name of carnaval, or sometimes carnavalito. The tempo and metre are the same as in the western taquipayanacus, but the character and style are a world away. In ¡Oh Guitarra! I extract and distil some of the elements - especially rhythmic ones - that make up this style. I do not expect the average reader of this blog to be interested in the technicalities, so I leave it at that. 

Although I had not intended it that way, the resulting piece of music is something of an east-meets-west specimen. So am I, born in the Andes but brought up, at least for part of my childhood, in the lowlands. By rights the piece should have been titled Estos carnavales, but at days before I sent it off I changed my mind. Completing the work had been an exhausting experience, because I find it hard to write for a solo instrument and because the guitar, in particular, has so many technical variables that progress had been excruciatingly slow. I remembered García Lorca's poem La guitarra and its final words:

¡Oh guitarra!
corazón malherido por cinco espadas.

The line that for the poet conveys mesmeric reverence seemed just as good to express my feeling of exhaustion. 

¡Oh Guitarra! can be obtained from Tre Media, who are contactable by email or by telephone +49(0)721/26023 or by post at the address below.

TRE MEDIA Musikverlage 
Amalienstr. 40
D-76133 Karlsruhe 


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