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The Modal World of Brouwer’s Black Decameron Part I: The Warrior’s Harp

In the first of this series I am analysing the modal approach that Brouwer takes in his three movement piece. As mentioned in my comparison post on Brouwer and Takemitsu (link here

Leo Brouwer enters into the D Melodic b5 world within 5 bars and stays there for 20 more bars of music.

The next 19 bars leading up to the section marked ‘lyrique’ is where the proverbial really hits the fan. This level of complexity is more akin to Takemitsu with Brouwer using the following scales in the changes:

Melodic – Neapolitan Major – Major – Neapolitan minor – Harmonic minor – Harmonic minor b5 - - Hungarian minor – Harmonic Major – Harmonic Major #4

Now, before I get into the sequences in depth, can I just say that the density of scale changes in this section is typical for modern classical guitar music, especially of the late 20th century, so don’t be overwhelmed.

We can split these 19 bars into 3 sections and their sequences can be made apparent:

1) (D Melodic – D Melodic)

D Melodic – D Neapolitan Major – C Melodic – D Neapolitan Major – D Melodic

Brouwer chooses a nice change by dropping the 2nd in Melodic to get to Neapolitan Major, drops the 7th to go to C Melodic then reverses the move back to D Neapolitan Major and D Melodic again. Very Bach influenced with its symmetry.

2) D Major – D Major This sequence splits into three parts, the first:

a) D Major – E Melodic – E Neapolitan Major – E Neapolitan minor – E Neapolitan Major E Melodic

You can see the symmetry idea again with the sequence reaching Neapolitan minor before turning back on itself. Very much an ebb and flow idea, postponing the resolution back to D Melodic with the following sequence:

b) E Melodic – E Harmonic minor – E Harmonic minor b5

– E Harmonic minor – E Melodic

Same idea again, symmetry or a wave in motion peaking this time with Harmonic minor b5 before returning to source.

c) F# Neapolitan Major – E Melodic – D Major

A nice simple change, F# Neapolitan Major has its 7th flattened and the E Melodic has its 7th flattened too. It only involves two changes but is effective and quite a standard change.

3) The final sequence uses different ideas but the point is to settle us into the next section which starts in E Major.

D Melodic – D Neapolitan Major – D Melodic – D Harmonic minor – D Hungarian minor – A Harmonic Major – A Major – D Harmonic Major #4 – A Major

You can see the symmetry idea in the first three scales but then the music takes us on a scenic route to A Major to prepare for the change up a fifth into E Major and the next section of music.

The E Major section into page 2 leads us nicely into the next iteration of the Melodic b5 idea, this time in B Melodic b5 and lasting for 16 bars before a quick repeat of the symmetry idea but this time with B Harmonic minor b5 – B Melodic b5 – B Harmonic minor b5. Then into the ‘tranquillo’ section.

The tranquillo section breaks down into three parts.

1) A Harmonic minor/E – C Melodic/G – A Harmonic minor/E

The symmetry idea in chordal form becomes obvious and both scales have their fifths in the bass making the modal sound E Phrygian Major – G Mixolydian b6 – E Phrygian Major. Three dominant modes making a great sequence, again akin to Bach's dominant sequences.

2) F Neapolitan Major – C Harmonic Major b5 – C Melodic b5 – D Neapolitan Major b4 – D Neapolitan Major – D Melodic

This time LB opts for a more unusual scale choice but the Melodic b5 scale (yet again) is firmly in the centre of the sequence.

3) C Harmonic Major – C Major – G Major – A Melodic – A Major – E Major

Again, sequence three is preparing us for what is to come by getting us out of altered scale territory back into the Major world with consecutive circle of fifths changes, albeit with A Melodic taking the place of the D Major scale.

The rest is a repeat of the previous sections with minor deviations until the end in E Major. A very successful movement in my opinion, and one that would have impressed Takemitsu, I’m sure. Next time I’ll look at ‘The flight of the lovers through the valley of echoes’ which is the second movement. Thanks for reading.

The method I use to analyse music is explained fully in my book The Modal Method available here

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