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JOSÉ-LUIS NARVAEZ, A MUSIC WITH HUMAN FACE

 
 

 

 
 

I met Jose-luis Narvaez in Brussels after one of my baroque guitar concerts which, obviously, could only bore him very much: de Visée, Bartolotti... His intense look seemed to scan me deeply and to ask certain questions which, undoubtfully, could not be avoided any longer: We had to admit that we could no longer ignore that the Spanish music for the guitar was the soil on which we had grown he and myself, long ago; the same music we had overlooked for so many years and which had nurtured us all along? We vowed to look to it What came somewhat later out of this mutual assistance was the splendid Visión Clásica del Flamenco which Jose-Luis projected in a kind of cry of anguish.

With an approximately nine minutes duration, it is composed of an Introduction, Danza, and Copla of only one holding and which result from the same mother cell, sufficiently rare thing in a work of certain length to have to be noticed. As in the Arab mosaics, this very simple theme (thus well adapted to the possibilities of the guitar solo) is declined in various forms, melodic or rhythmic, in a remarkable structural play: The development of this basic idea in the various tonalities of the Danza is one of the most accomplished things which we do have in our repertory. The logic of this development leads to a superb bitonal passage : the bass evolves in F # Andalusian mode and the "cell" in C # minor in a seizing opposition. The Copla, freer, describes its arabesques after a brutal and remarkable modulation in C (Andalusian mode). Some techniques from the non-classical guitar are employed and will require acquisition of some preliminary work : chords of two sounds "pulled down" by the index alone, rasgueado including the small finger, tremolo "with five" with its well-known formula p, i, a, m, i, and mordents with only one finger of the left hand. Other techniques employed, quite as spectacular, are classical like the trills accompanied by harmonics for example or the double trills distributed between the right hand and the left hand.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 


Visión Clásica del Flamenco, work of a great lyricism, is crossed by swirls of sounds in a movement which confines sometimes with febrility well in agreement with the title.

Such is not the case of Cerro de la Luna (Homage to Manuel de Falla) and its second shutter Cerro del Sol (Homage to Alhambra) which concentrate more in the intensity and the force of the melody. Here the theme, the sentences, impregnate us immediately and irresistibly. In Cerro de la Luna, the homage to Manuel de Falla indicated by the author, materializes in "tuilés" jumps of fourths which evoke ringings of bells which cross all the piece written almost entirely in three voices with a rigour and a symmetry quite traditional in the developpements. I already noted elsewhere that the choice of the tonalities of Cerro del Sol (as well as Visión Clásica del Flamenco), strongly "sharped", corresponded to a certain sense of the southernmost light, as in Debussy; but especially with the desire of José-Luis Narvaez to renew the listening of the Spanish music such as one usually hears it on the guitar. Indeed, in these tones, the open strings and the characteristic timbre do not fall any more on the famous " good degrees" of the modes, and confer here and there on notes which would have only one secondary importance in a more conventional tonality, an unexpected value. An informed composer can then play with these new lightings and change to a certain extent the aspect of these Andalusian modes which, it should well be said, can seem pretty worn, victims, alas, of their permanent success since at least the time of Albéniz. Here still, it is around only one element that all the environment of Cerro del Sol is constituted: the chord of seventh of dominant without the third. This simple and obsessing harmony is used as punctuation for a kind of orientalizing melopée also easily memorable. The cadencial episode of arpeggios subtitled Aïnadamar (Fountain of the Tears, in Grenade) is attractive by its instrumental effectiveness and the sound "expatriation" offered by the open strings which "oppose" the tonality of Andalusian D #. The work ends in the quotation of the theme of the fourths of Cerro de la Luna. Rumba in B minor contrast with the preceding pieces by its gaity and its exuberance. It is a piece of virtuosity on a very syncopated theme well up to date and well in the genealogy of this title which comes us from the American continent, but coming from Africa without ambiguity because of its tasty sonority in m'Ba. Nevertheless, this obsessing rhythm sounding so "typical" is entirely reinvented and does not belong to traditional Rumba flamenca nor with other types of Rumbas. It comprises added values and a special breadth which confer any sound to him charms and prevent it from falling into the usual defect from much from these musics: the routine. It is to be announced that the version published, currently on sale, must in the near future notably refingered, modified, be amplified by the author and, of course, republished. With Sonata Flamenca, we approach the field of the duet of guitars. The work is inspired by the world of the bullfighting as the titles of the various movements indicate it; It is a music of "virile" profile which exploits the ambiguity of the word " flamenco" which, in Castilian, applies to the force of character, promptness and the temperament. But not more than in Visión Clásica del Flamenco or another work of José-Luis Narvaez, flamenco is not present as a palo or style. It is rather like an inexhaustible source of feelings, colors, and, finally, "of inspiration". The sonata is considered here not form-sonata but in the old succession of the fast and slow movements. The first, subtitled Desafío (Challenge), related to Bulería like the third, very scarlattian, develops an original idea by the superposition of fifths with each guitar. In spite of this licence (or perhaps because of that!) it makes me also think of Scarlatti: The second movement Estoqueo (Estocade) is perhaps deepest. It clarifies a rhythm presented like Tanguillo Viejo by the author; binary rhythm which is as much a derivative of old and traditional Zambras or, if one wants, Oriental Dances such as the XIX° century bequeathed them to us in the work of many composers, but with "something" here painful and obsessing. It evokes me the quotation of the poet José Mas, used by Joaquín Turina in the third of his Danzas Fantásticas: "the strings of the guitar, while vibrating, were as lamentations of a heart which could not resist the weight of the affliction any more". The third movement (Duelo, Duel) ends in short quotations of the themes of the first and second movements in a suddenly dramatic environment. The music of José-Luis Narvaez often based on the memory of the ear and the eye, but it is not like many others a "ready-made". For example, it does not integrate elements of jazz or rock'n'roll, as we see since a lot of years in the world of the flamenco guitar . These elements exogenic, mainly harmonic and rhythmic, very "à.la.mode", have the virtue to be acclimatized to any other style. These elements which claim to bring "new blood" and to fight a certain uniformity in a Spanish music, presumedly folded up on itself and badly sclerosed (precisely in rhythmic and harmonic matters); and which, finally, also create... uniformity. The music of José-Luis Narvaez does not obey either a research of the innovation in the direction of the modern theories of the language or perception. The music of José-Luis Narvaez is thus made: lived things, dreams, feelings, re-creations. It carries a vision and prolongs a glance, a face; it is incarnation. It could be described as "popular", even naive by some: it is matter of taste. But it remains sincere "by the roots " : it comes from deepest from an assumed personality which listens to only its interior voices.

R.A.

Published in Cahiers de la Guitare n°77,


 
   
  José Luis Narvaez et Rafael Andia,
Carpentras, France, 1998.