Composer of the Month: Leo Brouwer

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Hello, and welcome back to the California Conservatory blog! It’s finally March and we are excited for what the spring months will bring. This March we are celebrating Leo Brouwer who was born this month in 1939. Brouwer is a celebrated classical guitarist, composer, and conductor whose impact on music continues to be felt even today.

Early Impact

Brouwer’s brilliance was recognized at an early age. He began studying classical guitar at age 13 and, only four years later, began performing and composing his own music. Brouwer, who was born in Havana, soon made his way to the U.S. to study music at the Hartt College of Music of the University of Hartford and then made his way to the prestigious Juilliard. Later, he even received a scholarship to the Academy of Science and Arts of Berlin by DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) where he was a guest composer and lecturer after he performed in the premiere of El Cimarrón composed by Hans Werner Henze. In Berlin, Brouwer continued to compose, play, and even record beautiful music that delighted all who had the chance to hear it.

Years of Composing, Recording & Performing

In his early years of composing, his style was inspired heavily by Cuban music and its rhythms. Later, however, he was inspired by aleatoric music (also known as chance music) which left primary aspects of the musical piece up to chance and the prerogative of the players. During his composing years, Brouwer composed music for more instruments than just guitar. He composed pieces for piano, percussion, and larger ensembles including orchestral pieces, ballets, and even one for 200 guitars! Brouwer also had an appreciation for the music of the time; he transcribed Beatles songs for guitar and wrote music for the movie Like Water for Chocolate. However, one of his best-known accomplishments of the time is a series of studies called Etudes Simples.

Brouwer’s compositions continued to evolve and reflect his new-found fascination with the music of modernist composers such as Luigi Nono and Iannis Xenakis. During this time he wrote pieces such as Canticum (1968), La Espiral Eterna (1971), Parábola (1973), Tarantos (1974), El Decamerón Negro (1981) The Sonata (1990, for Julian Bream), and Paisaje Cubano con Campanas (1986). His prolific composing didn’t keep him from continuing to perform and record: Brouwer played and recorded pieces by Sylvano Bussotti, Hans Werner Henze, Maurice Ohana, Cristóbal Halffter, Leni Alexander, Cornelius Cardew, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and others.

Later Years

Unfortunately, due to an injury to a tendon of the middle finger of his right hand, Brouwer’s performing career came to a close. This loss did not keep Brouwer from his love of music and performing: He has been the conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Cordoba Symphony in Spain and continues to be greatly involved in the music scene on a global scale. However, he always makes time to travel to guitar festivals, especially those in Latin America.  

More Interesting Facts About Leo Brouwer

Leo Brouwer isn’t the only musically inclined member of his family. He is the grandson of Ernestina Lecuona y Casado and the nephew of Ernesto Lecuona, who composed the beloved "La Malagueña." His cousin Margarita Lecuona, composed Babalú and Brouwer’s nephew Al Jourgensen is a member of the band Ministry.

Happy Birthday, Leo Brouwer!

If you are interested in guitar lessons near San Jose, Milpitas, or Sunnyvale CA, The California Conservatory in Santa Clara offers music lessons to students of all ages. We offer private lessons, group theory courses, and recital opportunities to cultivate musicians of all ages with extensive musical knowledge and skills, as well as a love for music itself. Learn more about our guitar lessons, piano lessons, and other opportunities we offer at our Santa Clara and Redwood City locations.