Monday, 12 October 2020

Beethovenianas bolivianas No. 1 / Morenada Montecalva (castellano)


Beethovenianas bolivianas No. 1

Morenada montecalva


Estas dos piezas pertenecen a una serie de obras breves de corte folclórico que conforman una nueva fase de colaboración mía con el Trío Apolo. La propuesta de Apolo era que yo escribiera arreglos de melodías folclóricas para el Trío. Acepté gustoso, con la contrapropuesta de que la serie incluyera también algunas composiciones originales.


No es ningún secreto que el folclore nos define culturalmente. No es el único factor que nos define, pero es un factor importante. En mi caso el folclore es más importante aún porque con él descubrí la música y con él di los primeros pasos de una trayectoria que comenzó en la niñez, cuando conformé un dúo con el inolvidable Toño Canelas y juntos ambulamos por peñas y teatros en Cochabamba y otras ciudades. A mis trece años me zambullí en la música clásica y no volví a salir de esas aguas. Pero nunca renegué de mi pasado; al contrario, busqué maneras de integrarlo a un presente regido por parámetros muy distintos. Toda mi música tiene un sabor folclórico que es quizá más perceptible para los oídos de otras tierras. El folclore hace acto de presencia como una dínamo escondida, o como una fuerza subvertora del orden formal. Aunque he conseguido algunos resultados más afortunados que otros, es innegable que, si aún existen dos elementos reconocibles – uno clásico y otro folclórico – existe también una relación jerárquica en la que lo oficial es lo clásico y lo subversivo es el folclore.


Lo que estas nuevas composiciones y nuevos arreglos tienen de especial es que invierten las jerarquías. Los parámetros establecidos son folclóricos, y lo clásico es la subversión. Así surgen las Beethovenianas bolivianas, que espero convertir en una serie, y la Morenada montecalva. Creo que los dos títulos se explican solos.


Septiembre 2020


© Agustín Fernández 2020




Thursday, 8 November 2018

String Quartet No. 2 'Sin tiempo' (2013)

In a motivational sense this work belongs together with the opera Teoponte (1988) and with Souvenir de Teoponte (2012). Both respond to the same background of societal turmoil and failed insurrection. 

One specific episode in Bolivian history, the guerrilla campaign at Teoponte (1969-70), encapsulates the dreams of a generation, its struggle to make those dreams true, and its inglorious, bloody failure.I composed the 1988 opera based on the minimal sources then available, including my own memories. 

Only in 2006 was the first serious monograph on the subject published: Sin tiempo para las palabras: Teoponte, La otra guerrilla guevarista en Bolivia by Gustavo Rodríguez Ostria (Cochabamba: Kipus, 2006). Had this book been available in 1988, my understanding of the whole episode would have been substantially different, and my opera would have been much richer as a result. Hence the need to revisit the subject of the opera from new angles. In most cases this ‘revisiting’ is not thematic or otherwise recognisable to the ear.

‘Profecía’ is a musical illustration to a poem by Franz Tamayo (1878-1956), La profecía de Huaina-Capac, where the dying Inca emperor foretells a grim future of strife and devastation on the land he leaves behind.

‘Plegaria’ is a prayer, although not in the sense of a slow or private meditation, but prayer as an invocation, a gathering of inner energy, a struggle to achieve control, an exhortation, an appeal, a supplication. This has to do with the role Liberation Theology played in the Teoponte episode.

‘Acción’ relates to the strife itself, musically alluding to the opera’s most violent passage.This work was composed thanks to a commission from The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, The Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Inc,  for the Momenta Quartet, who gave the first performance in 2014.

Monday, 13 August 2018


LoA (suggested pronunciation ‘eloway’) is a commission from North Music Trust for Royal Northern Sinfonia and guests, for performance at Sage Gateshead on 22 September 2018 as part of the celebrations of RNS's 60th anniversary. The piece brings together five leading soloists from RNS and four professional guest musicians who have had to adjust their practice to life-changing disabilities.

Undeniably in this project it has been more important than ever to communicate with the players and to assimilate their particularities in order to write suitable parts for each of them. Once these were ascertained, the high musical standard of the guest players made it possible for the creative work to flow without any great sense of impediment. More than one of constraint, the experience of composing LoA was one of channelling the energy, the struggle and ultimately the triumph of these wonderful players over adversity.

As will be obvious to many listeners, LoA is a fantasia on the Northumbrian traditional tune Lads of Alnwick (first published in 1733). Since I first heard it in 2005 by the Kathryn Tickell Band, this tune has intrigued me for its quirkiness, its tightness of construction and the vertiginous circularity of its design. I have long looked forward to an opportunity to immerse myself in this tune through some kind of creative exploration.

The opportunity has arrived to make a start, thanks to a commission from Royal Northern Sinfonia. I offer the piece to RNS on its 60th anniversary, with gratitude for the many magnificent musical experiences the orchestra has given me, including some with my own music.

Making the acronymic title even more suitable for the occasion, in my native Spanish loa is a word for ‘eulogy’ or ‘praise’, which is what this piece is for Royal Northern Sinfonia. More obscurely perhaps, Loa is the river on the banks of which a small contingent of Bolivian civilians fought to fend off the invading Chilean forces in 1879. The rout of the Bolivians led to their being driven out of their own coastal territory, leaving the country in a landlocked condition Bolivians still consider temporary. This, too, is relevant to some aspects of this piece.

An alternative version for ten players is also available. 

© Agustín Fernández 2018

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel

Agustín Fernández
Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel

Rachel Bluwstein Sela (1890-1931), known by the pen name of Rachel, was born in Russia and settled in Palestine from the age of 19. Her poems possess an extraordinary transparency, conveying simply and briefly complex feelings of hope, unrequited love, self-doubt, irony, fear of death, and devotion to the land and landscape of Palestine. She wrote in Russian and later switched to Hebrew.

Tres canciones sobre poemas de Rachel are settings of Spanish translations of three of Rachel poems. Written in La Paz in 1976 – when the composer was 18 – they belong to a youthful period of development and discovery. In 1992 the composer destroyed most of his manuscripts written before 1984. Only a handful of works were preserved, among them this choral songcycle.

In the first song the poet deploys a degree of sarcasm to describe her own abject infatuation with a man who does not return her love. In the second song Rachel depicts the enthusiasm for agricultural work shared by the pioneers in Palestine, with words full of a sunny vitality clouded only by a wistful mention of her posthumous legacy at the end. The third song stares death in the face, first protesting that it is too soon, then accepting “the verdict” and attempting a gracious welcome of the inevitable.  

© Agustín Fernández 2018

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Souvenir de Teoponte

Teoponte – a guerrilla campaign that in 1970 was the home-bred response to the more famous, but equally unsuccessful one led by Che Guevara three years earlier – is a recurrent theme in my work. It has been the subject for an opera (London International Opera Festival, 1988), a string quartet (Koussevitzky Commission, 2012) and this piece for double bass and piano. The piece recasts the opera’s four-section structure based on an expansion of a chord sequence common in Andean folk music. 

The piece was written for James Rapport, who alongside pianist Eduard Lanner gave the first performance at Festsaal, Diplomatische Akademie, in Vienna in 2011. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

James's Fire

James Wishart was an inspirational and encouraging supervisor for my studies in composition at Liverpool University. After my masters’ graduation, he surprised me by commissioning me to write a new work for a concert he was going to conduct with the Orchestra of the Metropolitan Cathedral. This was 1986.

My response to this thrilling commission - my first in the UK - was also a response to the military dictatorships I had left behind in South America. In particular to an incident that year, where, during a protest in Santiago, Pinochet’s forces set fire to two students, one of whom died from his burns. The piece, which I entitled Fuego, explored images of fire and violence in some of their possible technical and metaphorical applications to music. After its Liverpool première, the piece went on to be performed in various countries.

In 2016, thirty years after the incident, I had the unexpected opportunity to communicate with the survivor - the one who did not die, Carmen Quintana. On a much more cheerful note, in 2016 James celebrates his sixtieth birthday. For very different reasons, the two living people to whom Fuego owes its existence have been very much in mind lately.

James’s Fire weaves together ideas from Fuego in a new, celebratory context. One connecting thread, in my mind at least, is the sense of drive and onward struggle. Another, more tangible connection is the repeated presence of a quotation from James’s Nimue’s Song.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


para clarinete y piano

Esta pieza fue compuesta en 1994, por encargo del Dúo Paperhaus de Londres. Comencé a escribirla cuando trabajaba en Dartington College of Arts, y la terminé en Cochabamba, cuando vine a pasar la Navidad. El entonces Director de la Sección Musical del Instituto Laredo, Emilio Aliss, me dio permiso para usar uno de los pianos del Instituto a fin de que pudiera yo seguir componiendo. Tuve que mandar la partitura por DHL, porque los conciertos se acercaban y los músicos necesitaban prepararse. (Recordemos que en 1994 el correo electrónico y los programas computarizados de notación musical aún no eran comunes.) El estreno fue en enero en la Sala Purcell de Londres.

La idea de esta obra es cultivar la constancia y hacer de ella el argumento principal. La gran mayoría de los músicos veneramos a Bach. Yo en particular estudié su contrapunto con gran interés en los años setenta, y quise absorber la influencia tonificante de su técnica sin límites. Obras de esa época, como Misa de Corpus Christi o Cantata de Navidad y Epifanía, están llenas de contrapunto inspirado por Bach.

Munirando explora no el contrapunto, sino esa otra dimensión de Bach que es el flujo continuo del ritmo, ese discurrir constante y sereno en el que las sorpresas se consiguen no con gestos musicales dramáticos, sino con giros armónicos o melódicos, unos previsibles y otros no, mientras el ritmo transcurre impertérrito.

Para los temperamentales y habituados a los extremos, esta misión es difícil de cumplir. No es fácil producir un arroyo plácido cuando se tiene un torrente por dentro. Pero he aquí una de las búsquedas del que compone música: auto-disciplinarse, aunque a veces se parezca más a auto-amansarse.

Hoy resultan quizás obvios los momentos en los que la energía amenaza desbocarse. En esa pugna entre violencia interior y disciplina impuesta reside el carácter particular de esta música. Sus reglas de juego son tan específicas, y tan difíciles de cumplir, que he vuelto a aplicarlas en otra obra para virtuosos, Munirando II para violín y piano. Pienso seguir explorando el mismo formato, como decimos en Bolivia, “hasta aprender”. 

Agosto de 2014
© Agustín Fernández 2014