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Clive Kronenberg master's studies entail research into Leo Brouwer's life and philosophies, as well as detailed technical analyses of the composer's solo guitar works. He is curently researching Cuban Cultural Policy (post 1959)towards a PhD at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He would like to acknowledge the assistance granted to him by the University of Cape Town, the South African National Research Foundation and the Churches' Commission for Overseas Students (London). He invites researchers in similar field of study to share their ideas and experiences with him (
  • Introduction
  • Reappraisal of Etudes Simples
  • Brouwer's Critique of the 19th Century Models
  • Brouwer's Technical Development and Aguado's Legacy
  • Introduction of Aguado's Schooling to Cuba
  • A Unique Achievement Among Many
  • The Purpose of Etudes Simples

  • On the occasion of entering into yet another uncertain year of our new millennium, we look to the future, and among the delightful we also contemplate fears and difficulties. In the midst of rumours of war and carnage, as artists, we undoubtedly also confront the decline of profound artistic expression. This may or may not seem somewhat egotistical and discrete. But without the arts, man surely cannot exist. And neither can women. So, are artists facing a battle of their own, on their own? One much veiled and incomprehensible perhaps? One that cunningly attempts to govern and ultimately overcome our pleasing traditions? Have artists become dispassionate, or simply drained whilst raising their voices amidst the many other crusades waged upon their daily lives? If contemplating the future is complex, then maybe we should pause, and linger for just a while . . . and view what went before. No, we cannot dwell in the past, but perhaps we should return to some of our obscure treasures, to find desire, the valour to carry on. We do so to inspire ourselves, to arm ourselves with wisdom, for knowledge is and always will be, power. We owe this to our new and perplexed generation, our offspring and our learners. We resolve to share with them some of life's fortunes before these too become forgotten and possibly, demolished forever through hostilities that appear to get nearer and greater and more and more probable in every corner of our world.

    As guitarists, and more so, classical guitarists, we especially feel vulnerable. We've felt this way for a long time, only now its getting worse, not so? So let's look at some past customs that can enthuse the new, the youthful, the often-infantile legion, sometimes our very own, to continue playing and practising that classical guitar, that thing we cannot help but love so much - and hopefully they will too. And with any luck who knows, may be one day . . .? But we are patient and dedicated and we ought to remain focussed.

    I want to revisit some souvenirs that, with some blessing, will inspire our kids (and our terrible neighbours' terrible kids too) to carry on and not abandon the instrument. Above and beyond all this, let us not fail to remember simply to play to our children. But let us also play for them, and perhaps through this, we also live for them.

    It is wise to start off by exploring some study material, designed especially for our young and inexperienced neophytes. It is equally good to select some fine studies crafted by the twentieth century's greatest living composer for the guitar. More so, by an artist who hails from an isolated and poor island nation situated on a remote periphery. "Why him in particular", you may ask, "For Sor and Aguado and Pujol and Carcassi and Carulli and Guiliani and many other geniuses from the past left behind splendid legacies for us all to profit from?". There are many established grounds for straying in this instance, from the traditional 19th century models. And this is what we will now address before we proceed.


    Firstly, Hector Quine and Stephen Dodgson, the highly established English duo of tutor-composers, deviated radically from the nineteenth-century norms with their own guitar studies. Let's observe some of their reasons for doing so. They say among other,

    the classical studies with their attractive but predictable patterns, seldom do enough to develop the guitar student's general musical ability. Nor do they extend his power of reading, his musical imagination or his technical curiosity . . . [note 1]

    The nineteenth-century tutorial material presents much technical value for sure. This however, is often geared towards guitarists of intermediate standards and above. Let's view how Brian Jeffery, the world authority on Sor and Aguado expresses his judgement on this matter. In his editorial comment in Sor's Guitar Solos: Opus numbers 44-52 Jeffery makes the following statement:

    In 1828 Sor had published his Op. 31, a series of relatively easy 'lessons' for the guitar designed specifically for beginners. They are at a lower level of technical difficulty than his earlier studies, Op. 6 and Op. 29. Yet we gather from his Op. 35, published later in the same year, that even these had been found too difficult.

    Further, in many contemporary quarters the 19th century material has been found lacking in more substantial musical depth. In his discussion of Sor's Op 48, Jeffery somewhat exceeds the bounds and characterises the musical content of the pieces with some wicked phrases like, "utterly childish march", "deliberately absurd", "pompous scale passages", "rapid runs . . . combine[d] . . . with nothing else that has any musical interest", "an apparently innocuous rondeau","foolish little phrase"
    [note 2] Ouch!

    The celebrated guitar historian Harvey Turnbull douses the fires somewhat, but his critical stance in this regard nevertheless is quite apparent. He writes, "the practise of adopting a basic movement that proceeds inexorably to the end of the piece is the hallmark of a great amount of nineteenth-century guitar music".
    [note 3]

    In his tutorial experience Decker has found that "students [are] often saturated with and bored by a consistent diet of Sor and Carcassi studies." ".
    [note 4]

    If we leap to the early twentieth-century Douze Etudes of old Heitor Villa-Lobos, we know for sure that these studies undoubtedly have proven its musical value. However, they are intended for concert performance and furthermore demand dazzling faculties from the performer.

    So where does that leave us? I return to my earlier proposition, the fringes, the contribution of the artist born in what was once "Spain's jewel of the Caribbean".

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    I propose we choose Estudios Sencillos, the first ten only, as a start. Why did the Cuban, more than forty years ago compose these miniature art works? As far as we can construe, it was precisely to arouse the unconfirmed, the contemporary juvenile bunch to learn to love music and express it skilfully and musically, and through this, cultivate a love for the guitar itself. Leo Brouwer is only a start, and certainly a good start that is. But first of all, let us re-examine some further reasons why Etudes Simples I-X is such an excellent pick.

    Brouwer's goals with his studies are in some degree similar to those of his predecessors. These artists' works contributed immeasurably to the guitar's evolution and significantly advanced guitarists' technical development. Still, operating in a new era, being fully aware of the unique limitations and requirements of our young players, Brouwer parted from the tradition of the celebrated guitar figures. In so doing he too became a pioneer.

    In his departure from convention, Brouwer offers short, simple musical works in contrast to often-expressionless technical material from the nineteenth century. In reality Etudes Simples embodies musical miniatures, which are valuable and most appropriate for its projected group. The studies possess opulent textures that are skilfully incorporated into terse formal designs. The composer's seemingly unadorned harmonies in effect constitute a crafty fusion of conventional resonances with novel sonorities, designed for the unpolished ear. Strong rhythmic and syncopated patterns are employed alongside gorgeous Afro-Cuban-inspired themes. Etudes Simples consequently expose young players from the traditional art-music world, to style characteristics from an exotic culture. All in all, Brouwer employs an assortment of rhythms, metres, tempos, harmonies, dynamics and textures to develop the student's musical awareness. He thus offers suitable incentives to set free and enhance our young players' creative talents. ".
    [note 6]

    Similar to Villa-Lobos, Brouwer did not write a method in itself, but a compilation of studies. In great contrast, Brouwer composed notably uncomplicated and more pragmatic apprentice pieces. ".
    [note 7] One of guitarists' principal remaining strengths today are some very exceptional works that have seen the light of day. But often these are projected to the concert recitalist. Youthful players at a basic fitness level will find Brouwer's studies superb to learn and begin to love contemporary idioms

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    Brouwer's Critique of the 19th Century Models

    We return briefly to the study material from the previous age and consider the views thereon of Brouwer himself: He says, "these are very difficult for children to play, despite the fact that they are musically simple [my emphasis] . . . . When we incorporate complexity and richness in a technically easy piece, children enjoy playing it more." ".
    [note 8] On another occasion he declares,"[its] musical languages little suite children."[note 9]

    Brouwer further believes that Sor generally, did not isolate particular technical difficulties, that his studies in arpeggios present impossible left-hand positions for a child; some studies by Aguado too "contain insurmountable difficulties", he states. ".[note 10]

    Before we develop an excessive protectiveness over the 19th century grand tradition, we must remain judicious, and consider Brouwer's comments in broader context. We must bear in mind that Brouwer critically evaluates the nineteenth-century material in terms of a large quantity, in reality not addressing the requirements and abilities of younger players. He does not dispute their significance for the more advanced player, or their precious standing in the history of the guitar as a whole. In this regard it is valuable briefly to revisit some historical-technical records and view Brouwer's place therein.

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    Brouwer's Technical Development and Aguado's Legacy

    In order to appreciate more fully Brouwer's views above, we must explore his own technical development on the guitar. Brouwer received his very first guitar schooling from his father. Brouwer Sr., an aficionado of Villa-Lobos, Tárrega and Granados, introduced the guitar to his son through his playing of these composers' works. This occurred when Leo felt great loneliness and sorrow after the death of his mother. His father inspired him to play by ear and the young Brouwer could count among his first performing works, Chôros and the Preludes of the Brazilian composer.
    [note 11] Such are the particular techniques employed in these works that some years later Brouwer could still perform these, perfectly as written, without ever having seen the music scores. Subsequently Leo Brouwer's compositional style has often been compared to that of Villa-Lobos. Their similar geographical settings and historical backgrounds, and hence, their great use of folk rhythms, further attach these two artists. In addition and of significance is their employment of a compelling idiomatic language in their works.[note 12] The musical qualities of their works nevertheless preserve their own uniqueness.

    During his teenage years Brouwer also became strongly attracted to flamenco music, and he seriously contemplated pursuing this style in his guitar playing. However, after his remarkable learning episode brought about through his father's influence, the youthful Brouwer went on to receive his only formal guitar instruction, which was to be from the noted Cuban guitar master Isaac Nicola (1916-1998?).

    Nicola was a student of Emilio Pujol (1886-1980), Francisco Tárrega's (1852-1909) heir and most celebrated pupil. It is relevant to note that Tárrega was associated with Julian Arcas (1832-82), who was in turn a pupil of Aguado (1784-1849). Besides being acquainted with Arcas who, could have introduced Aguado's Method to him (i.e. Tárrega), Pujol holds, "Aguado's Method became a guide to future guitarists and was, incidentally, an effective means of wider adoption . . . even in the exceptional case of Tárrega." ".
    [note 13] Among his charitable comments on Aguado's New Method, Brian Jeffery writes,

    It was however Tárrega who promoted suave cantabile lines by cultivating the legato practice and exploring the instrument's rich sound qualities. The adopted posture in the twentieth century is also largely based on Tárrega's model.

    The duty fell on Pujol to keep Aguado's flame burning and this he achieved from his intense knowledge of Tárrega's adopted methods and styles. Pujol passed these on to future generations through publishing, performing and teaching. Of significance is Pujol's method Theoretical Practical Method for the Guitar, which is expressly based on the principles of his teacher, Francisco Tárrega. In so doing Pujol documented and developed the trends of the Aguado-Tárrega technical schools and furnished the student of the guitar of his time with a more romantic music language. Pujol also inaugurated the rescue of the vihuela by having its antiquated works published. By doing so Pujol enhanced the guitar's repertoire outstandingly.

    Brouwer came into contact with some of these particular works through the teachings of Nicola whose own training on the instrument was rooted in the above traditions. This, among other factors, prompted Brouwer to 'abandon' the flamenco guitarra and devote himself to the classical idiom instead. Some years later the mature Brouwer affirmed, "These revelations that Nicola gave me were my future. My dream!"
    [note 15]

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    Introduction of Aguado's Schooling to Cuba[note 16]

    Besides Nicola's spreading of Aguado's legacy in Cuba, José Prudencio Mungol counts as possibly the first guitarist to present Aguado's method to the country. The first existing records on guitar recitals in Cuba - conceivably the earliest in the Americas - relates to this Cuban musician. Born in Havana in 1837, Mungol became a student of Aguado during his stay in Barcelona. After his homecoming Mungol gave several concerts primarily in Havana, and became a composer and guitar instructor at Cuba's earliest music institution, The Hubert de Blanck Conservatory, founded in 1885. As a result of his dedication and direct affiliation with Aguado, records confirm that Mungol enjoyed fame and critical recognition as a performing guitarist.

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    A Unique Achievement Among Many

    Leo Brouwer forms an important cog in this lineage of guitar personalities: Aguado - Tárrega - Pujol - Nicola - Brouwer. Thus, by and large, the Cuban artist playing techniques trace back to the great methodology of Aguado. It was this process, among other factors, that led Leo Brouwer to reach such great heights during his performing career. One such unique accomplishment was when he performed at a concert that also featured the three supreme performers of the time: Towards the end of Brouwer's performing career in the 1980s, prior to him abandoning the concert stage due to inflamed right-hand finger tendons, he was a performer in a series of concerts in New York City, "The Great Virtuosos". Other performers in this historic series included the three Grand Masters, Segovia, Yepes and Lagoya!
    [note 17] In conclusion then, there is no reason why we need to feel troubled about Brouwer's critical judgements on Sor or Aguado & co.

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    The Purpose of Etudes Simples

    So what was the composer's objectives with Etudes Simples? Brouwer says his intention was to write "easy studies using a harmony and a rhythmic style that was relatively modern and above all of great economy of technical problems" [my emphasis].
    [note 18] But Brouwer not only wished to depart from the tradition of earlier tutorial material, he likewise aspired to contribute to them. Over and above his critical evaluation of some of the nineteenth-century contributions, he considers in his works particular technical elements, deemed most significant already in the 19th century. Mandatory techniques from the Aguado-Tárrega-Pujol tradition have been particularly well preserved and presented pragmatically for the young student. These include the use of slurs, chords, arpeggios, the barré, movement of the right-hand thumb, and cultivation of finger independence, speed, and strength. Given the guitar's array of stringent technical demands, it is most gratifying to observe Brouwer's awareness of economic finger movements and a style of writing well suited for the instrument. Such an idiomatic compositional approach has its roots in Fernando Sor's highly rational system of writing. Villa Lobos' modern-styled designs initiated great expansion on Sor's approach. Brouwer's imaginative fusion of these aspects contributed to Etudes Simples being both accessible to and loved by young players from across the world. [note 19]

    These studies furthermore serve as performance material for both the young and experienced guitarists. Novices especially, can additionally be taught and inspired to reflect the intentions of music, which is not achieved by sitting in a practice room all day playing finger patterns.
    [note 20]

    American guitar-virtuoso David Tanenbaum, recorded all of Brouwer's studies, because

    Etudes Simples calls for players to echo human experiences, to nurture their own musicianship, and to mirror the creator's goals. Leo Brouwer reminds tutors and students alike, that music is, after all, an art form, just like painting, literature, drama, dance, poetry, and others. [note 22]
    Artistic expression constitutes a critical element of our humanity, it epitomises our civilisations, our modes of articulation, our state of affairs and our natural sphere. Such a spacious consciousness performs a crucial task in sustaining not only the arts, but also the future growth of the classical guitar.

    In Part II we explore particular technical aspects Leo Brouwer purposely structured in Etudes Simples especially for our new generation of guitarists.

    1. In Harvey Turnbull, The Guitar: From the Renaissance to the Present Day, 1991, The Bold Strummer, Connecticut, p. 116. [ return to text ]

    2. Brian Jeffery (Ed), Fernando Sor: Volumes 6: Guitar Solos-Opus Numbers 44-52, n.d., Tecla Editions, n.p. [ return to text ]

    3. Turnbull, 1991, p. 116.[ return to text ]

    4. Michael Decker, "The Style Characteristics and Idiomatic Techniques of Estudios Sencillos by Leo Brouwer", Classical Guitar, February 1987, p. 23. [ return to text ]

    5. Brouwer's studies collectively, are entitled Estudios Sencillos. They are similarly labelled Etudes Simples, which comprises four series with each series containing five studies each. General sources present 1961-62 as their inception dates. Paul Century however, lists Series I (i.e. Studies I-V) as being composed in 1958 and Series II (Studies VI-X) in 1962. (See Century 1985, p. 51). [ return to text ]

    6. Clive Kronenberg, Cuban Artist Leo Brouwer and His Solo Guitar Works: Pieza sin titulo to Elogio de la Danza. A Contextual-Analytical Study, Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Cape Town, 2000, p. 189.[ return to text ]

    7. Michael Decker, 1987, p. 21. [ return to text ]

    8. Michael Dausend, (trans. Rose Augustine), "Structure is a Fundamental Element of my Work", Guitar Review, Summer 1990, p. 11.[ return to text ]

    9. A. Dumond and F. Denis, (trans. Michael Tuffin), "Entretiens avec Leo Brouwer", Les Cahiers de la Guitare, 4e Trimestre 1988, p. 8. (Michael Tuffin is a Senior Lecturer at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town)[ return to text ]

    10. Ibid.[ return to text ]

    11. Constance McKenna, "An Interview with Leo Brouwer", Guitar Review, No. 75, Fall 1988, p. 10.[ return to text ]

    12. Corresponding techniques include open strings acting as pedal points or used in peculiar higher-register chordal structures, fixed left-hand positions which shift along the fingerboard, numerous slurring figurations, left-hand finger glides on single and more strings, left-hand pivot fingerings, and intrinsic and fixed right-hand finger patterns.[ return to text ]

    13. Emilio Pujol, El Dilema Del Sonido, (trans. D. Gow and E. Giordan), 1960, Buenos Aires, Ricordi Americana, p. 48. [ return to text ]

    14. Dionisio Aguado, (Brian Jeffery Ed.), Nuevo Metodo para Guitarra, 1843/1981, London, Tecla Editions, pp. ix-xvi.[ return to text ]

    15. Dausend, 1990, p. 10.[ return to text ]

    16. This paragraph has as its source Carlos Molina, "The Guitar in Cuba", Guitar Review, No. 72, Winter 1988, p. 4.[ return to text ]

    17. Gareth Walters, "Leo Brouwer", Classical Guitar, September 1984, pp. 18-19. Here already, Brouwer's right hand was causing him some trouble and he was forced to make last minute changes to his right-hand fingerings - rather than cancel this performance.[ return to text ]

    18. Dumond and Denis, p.8.[ return to text ]

    19. Kronenberg, 2000, p. 189.[ return to text ]

    20. Kevin Vigil, Classical Guitar, February 1987, p. 23. [ return to text ]

    21. GSP Publications/Reference "Leo Brouwer", 2000, Catalog Web Site[ return to text ]

    22. Vigil, 1987, p. 23[ return to text ]


    1. Els Breukers, "Leo Brouwer in Holland", Guitar, April 1977, pp. 7-8.

    2. Joseph Breznikar, Reviews: "Etudes Simples Pour Guitare: 3rd and 4th Series, Guitar Review, Fall 1984, pp. 36-37.

    3. Paul Century, Idiom and Intellect: Stylistic Synthesis in the Solo Guitar Music of Leo Brouwer, Unpublished Master's Thesis, 1985, University of California at Santa Barbara.

    4. Paul Century, "Leo Brouwer: A Portrait of the Artist in Socialist Cuba", American Music Review, Vol. VIII Fall-Winter 1987, pp. 151-171.

    5. Colin Cooper, "Chanson de Geste: Leo Brouwer and the New Romanticism", Classical Guitar, June 1985, pp. 13-16.

    6. Colin Cooper, "Binary Rhythm: Leo Brouwer in Rome", Classical Guitar, December 1996, pp. 11-14.

    7. Paul Cox, Classic Guitar Technique and its Evolution as Reflected in the Method Books CA 1770-1850, PhD Dissertation, 1978, Indiana University.

    8. Clive Kronenberg, The Contribution of Leo Brouwer to 20th Century Guitar Composition, Unpublished Research Essay, BMus. Hons, 1997, University of Cape Town.

    9. Clive Kronenberg, "Meeting Cuban Composer Leo Brouwer", Interview with Brouwer at the 1998 Nürtingen Guitar Festival.

    10. Constance McKenna, "The International Competition and Festival of the Guitar in Havana", Guitar Review, No. 74 Summer 1988, pp. 1-6.

    11. Carlos Molina, "Guitarists of Cuba", Guitar Review, No. 74 Summer 1988, pp. 12-19.

    12. Charles Ramirez, "Classical Repertoire - Intermediate" in The Guitar: A Guide for Students and Teachers, M. Stimpson Ed., Oxford University, 1988.

    13. David Russell, "Classic Technique" in The Guitar: A Guide for Students and Teachers, M. Stimpson Ed., Oxford University, 1988.

    14. Kevin Vigil, "Minimizing Left-Hand Tension", Soundboard, Fall/Winter 1992, pp. 33-38 & "Developing Speed with Music", Soundboard, Summer 1994, pp. 25-26.