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The Modal World of Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro Part II: The Flight of the Lovers

The focus of this instalment is the second movement of EDC. It’s a great study in mimicking the properties of an echo and needs some subtle right hand technique to bring out the vast range in dynamics.

However, that is not my concern. What I am focusing on, as many of you know and appreciate, is how the music actually works from a structural point of view using scale, and more specifically, modal analysis to understand the patterns and direction the music takes. So let’s get to it.

First, the key signature gives us our reference point of E minor (Aeolian) and the D# in bar 1 moves us into E Harmonic minor (D Mixolydian +1 = D# Alt bb7) but LB holds off on the G note so the tonality is ambiguous and the confirmation that we are in a minor key only occurs in bar 5 with the E Melodic scale E F# G A B C# D#. Unsurprisingly, the following bar introduces the Melodic b5 scale once again (hopefully readers will be familiar with the relevance of such a move now) with the note of Bb and now the music stays in the modal world of Melodic b5 for 4 bars. The Melodic b5 scale here seems to imply the agitated state of the lovers, why are they fleeing, what are they taking flight from?

The C section is mimicking the lovers take their run up for their flight, gathering pace all the way. Notice that the bass note has moved back a fifth from E now to A. The tonality is ambiguous again, with the third, either C or C#, being studiously avoided until the fifth bar when C# appears confirming the key of A Major and that is where it stays for the next 5 bars.

Now the music shifts forward a fifth, this time into E Major and stays there through all of the time signature changes of the next 10 bars. The Allargando is the point that the lovers plunge off the cliff, at least that is the picture that I get, and the sense of peace and bliss embraces them as they glide.

Now the real flight begins, through the valley creating the echo this time, passing between the two narrow walls of the canyon either side. This lasts for 18 bars until a G natural appears and for four bars hinting that the lovers seem to brush with danger, symbolized by the E Melodic scale and its minor third, only to recover with E Major once more.

The Epilogo sees them land and back to the usual world of Brouwer, E Melodic b5 again, but this time with a subtle twist and a happy ending. E Melodic b5, the agitation again, is replaced by E Melodic, ‘no, it looks like we made it’ to finally D Major, ‘we are free!’. This is shown below:

E Melodic b5 – Bb Lydian +#23(+1) =

B Mixolydian b6(E Melodic) – D# Alt (-1) = D Ionian

I find the vividness of LB’s use of scales really effective in this piece and perhaps this is why it is probably the most enjoyable work he wrote for guitar. The third movement will be the final instalment in this series and I look forward to the next which will be Takemitsu’s All in Twilight.

Thanks for reading. If you want to understand the analytical method further, my book explains it all at

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