Composition Department

Las Guitarras Azules (2010)

IU New Music Ensemble; David Dzubay, conductor
Nathan Fischer, guitar; Sharon Harms, soprano

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DURATION: 18 minutes

INSTRUMENTATION: 1*1*11 - 1110 - 2pc,hp - 3111 - guitar solo & soprano solo


Las Guitarras Azules was written in 2007 for guitarist Nathan Fischer and was funded by the Fromm Foundation and the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music. The 17 minute concerto for guitar, soprano and chamber orchestra is an exploration of the origins of the flamenco tradition and is divided into several sections played without pause: an introduction, five movements, and three brief cadenzas interpolated among them. The first four movements, entitled Bulerías, Soleá, Seguiríyas and Guajíras, are each derived from actual flamenco forms and try, with some degree of latitude, to remain true to the rhythmic pattern (compás) and general chord progressions of the originals.

A word should be mentioned about the arrangement of the movements. The structure of the concerto is based on recent research into the flamenco compás, whereby the rhythmic patterns of several prominent song forms were compared and arranged in a kind of genealogical chart. The arrangements of these forms were made partly based on previous musicological research, and partly on similarities between rhythmic patterns, such that a slight change to the compás of the Bulerías, for instance, would yield that of the Soleá. In the end, by extrapolation, researchers were able to estimate a possible “ancestral rhythm” from which these prominent flamenco forms were derived, as well as create a family tree placing these forms at increasing distance from the “ancestral rhythm.” This structure is reflected in the form of Las Guitarras Azules, with the final movement representing the “ancestral rhythm.” It is this movement that introduces the solo soprano for the first and only time in the piece, with the guitar serving as an accompaniment. Since flamenco is inherently a vocal tradition, this seemed the most logical choice in concluding the work.

The musical materials of the piece are quite easy to hear throughout. Much of it is held together with motivic ideas—a five-note pattern here, a descending four-chord progression there—which make their way into most of the movements of the concerto. Even the soprano’s solo in the final movement makes an appearance in the Seguiríyas as an english horn solo. Harmonically the piece is rooted in d minor, though each movement shifts to different tonal areas. The Seguiríyas, for instance, dips into D-flat major before yielding to the A-major tonal center of the Guajíras. The Soleá is perhaps the most harmonically ambiguous of all the movements, serving primarily as an extended transition between the Bulerías and the first cadenza. In the end, the concerto makes its way back to d minor, though the real conclusion comes on a wayward and highly uncertain A-flat a tritone above.

The title of the piece comes from the last words of a Pablo Neruda’s The Destroyed Street from his collection Residence on Earth. The imagery of the text, with its references to destruction, decay, and hardship that seemed the very essence of daily life, served as a fitting analogy to the spirit of flamenco, which seeks to celebrate life through a remembrance of death. Las Guitarras Azules is dedicated with deepest affection and admiration to my very good friend Nathan Fischer.

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