Maria de Alvear

Maria de Alvear: En Amor Duro

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This landmark 1991 work by Spanish composer Maria De Alvear is perhaps her most haunting, a sheer mystery in its stark beauty. Written in five movements that are virtually indistinguishable from one another, De Alvear's score is, for the performer, either a detective story with few clues, or a work of spiritual process creating itself in a void where composer, performer, and listener all commune on a level that exists only in the sacred and/or erotic unconscious. The music here is so sparsely composed, the range so narrow, you would swear upon first listen that little if anything was happening (much in the same way that first-time listeners are confused by the work of Morton Feldman, though De Alvear's work couldn't be more different). But this is the first of many veiled truths inherent in her work. Music is taken down to its most basic elements: There are few pitches in an even narrower range, minimal extended intervals, and rhythms, where they occur at all, are static. The notion of harmony is itself challenged by the austerity of the few places harmony occurs in the score. Notes, singly or in chords (played softly or occasionally played severely and stridently), are repeated seemingly endlessly, with an obsession that only one consumed with a passion for sound could write or play. There are few directions, as vague as this score is, for Hildegard Kleeb to read, so she must intuit: There are no tempi, bar lines, phrasing instructions, and only the hint (via short or long stems) of note values. And she does so without faltering. From the mysteriousness of the text, she brings a sense of the dynamic and drama of its emotional truth; Kleeb thus brings the work to life in the ear and heart of the listener. Kleeb is simply one of the finest interpreters of "new music." Her empathy is well-evidenced here by De Alvear herself, who stated that she placed a circle of white beans around the piano as Kleeb was playing during the recording session. "I like mystery," De Alvear said. This is music of an extreme nature to be sure, but not of dissonance. It is strict in its approach to single notes and their sonority, beginning with and disappearing into the well of silence. Here, in similar fashion to Galina Ustvolskaya, she comes to equanimity with the resonance of that note, played over and over for long periods, in order to create, as Art Lange writes in the liner notes, "an incantory heightening of tension." And that is what makes this work so powerful, so original, and even terrifying in its attempt to create a musical language in which all the participants mentioned above are moved by the poetry of its pain, longing, and resolution through love. De Alvear's work finds an ecstasy in the slow, unknowing, fateful journey of yearning through the blackness toward a divine that lies in the heart of the earth, in the belly of the woman etched from the earth's surface where the poetry of life begins. And that's what this music is -- poetry, in the same manner as her countryman Lorca's was, a place where metaphor ends and spirit begins and the body awakens to the touch it inspired. Truly this is a late-20th century masterwork.

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