En Clave: Piano Music of Marquez, Ibarra and others

Fred Sturm

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Recent masterworks for piano solo by Arturo Márquez (En Clave, Dïas de Mar y Rio, and Solo Rumores); Federico Ibarra (Sonata 7 and La Aniquilación de un Sueño); Miguel del Águila (Toccata), Mario Carro (Impromptu) and Alejandro Rutty (Qualia).

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CD notes:

The title piece, Arturo Márquez’ En Clave, was a primary impetus for this recording project. In the words of Márquez, “Composing En Clave for piano totally changed my perspective of music and art.” I had loved his other two pieces for solo piano, Días de Mar y Rio and Solo Rumores, but it was many years before I was able to obtain a score for En Clave.

It was a revelation. 

On the surface, it seems simple: one note played at a time in a constant underlying pulse, alternating between the hands; a limited palette of tones, contained in shifting sections centering on E flat and D; lots of short motives, usually no more than three to five notes long.

The magic lies in how these elements are put together. The rhythm is fluid, consisting of groupings of 2, 3, sometimes 4 or more notes. In the alternation of hands, the left hand always plays one note while the right shifts between one and four notes. Above this background appear accented notes that coalesce into motivic cells, which are constantly varied both rhythmically and melodically.

The result is a sonic panorama filled with ever-shifting textures and colors, a piece that seems to have a life of its own, living and growing from start to finish.

I found it extraordinarily difficult to learn, to incorporate into my being – my fingers, hands, wrists, arms, spine, mind, and heart, and especially the two sides of brain and body. That process changed me as a pianist, and expanded my ability to comprehend and execute the other works that appear on this recording.

Días de Mar y Rio and Solo Rumores share many characteristics with En Clave, particularly the fluid rhythms and often unexpected accents. 

Días de Mar y Rio (1997) is dedicated to Mexican artist Mario Rangell, perhaps inspired by one of his paintings. It is a rhapsodic work that flows organically from beginning to end, seamlessly shifting between or counterpoising 3/4, 6/8 and other rhythmic groupings in a natural and dynamic way. 

Solo Rumores (2006) was commissioned by pianist Ana Cervantes as part of a project honoring the hundredth birthday of Mexican author Juan Rulfo, author of Pedro Páramo, a seminal work of the magical realism movement. The title refers to the background murmuring of the spirits that are constantly reliving their lives in the mythical town of Comalá. Emerging from the low murmurings are more distinct voices, recalling poignant episodes before receding into silence. 

The second major impetus for the project was Federico Ibarra’s Sonata 7. I produced a recording of Ibarra’s works-to-date in 2012, and shortly thereafter he completed this sonata, and did me the honor of dedicating it to me. I have performed it several times and wanted to record it to bring the cycle to completion. In the interim, he composed a new piece, La Aniquilacion de un Sueño (2019).

Ibarra’s seventh sonata reveals an evolution in sound from the previous six. The earlier works have more limited palettes, with melodies based primarily on chromatic scales and harmonies that largely avoid thirds and sixths in favor of fourths, sevenths and seconds. 

In his seventh sonata, Ibarra draws from a wider range of colors and techniques, partly through making use of a variety of artificial scales (whole tone, alternating whole steps and half steps, alternating minor thirds and half steps and others). These additional resources allowed him to produce a rich tapestry that has a fresh, improvisatory feel. 

The structure is very classical, with a slow movement and a scherzo between the two outer movements. Themes and motives reappear in different guises to tie the whole together.

As suggested by its title, La Aniquilacion de un Sueño (The Annihilation of a Dream) has a dream-like structure. A scene is presented, then an abrupt change occurs. The first scene returns, familiar, but somewhat different. This kind of shifting pattern continues until the dream evaporates.

The remaining three pieces were chosen simply because they are masterworks dear to my heart, written by three other living composers.

Miguel del Águila’s Toccata (1988) is a bravura piece, featuring alternate hands in constantly shifting groupings of two and three.

Mario Carro’s Impromptu (2010) uses constantly changing rhythmic patterns to give the impression of a freely improvised fantasy, creating ever-changing harmonic and melodic contours.

Alejandro Rutty’s Qualia (2015) is based on the rhythms of tango, with overlays of other rhythmic patterns and accents. One overlay is a syncopated pattern on a single note that appears in the background through much of the piece. There is also a simple melody consisting of four rising notes followed by four descending notes, which recurs many times in different contexts.

About the performer, Fred Sturm

Supported by my day job as a piano technician, I have devoted my energy to finding, learning, inhabiting and being inhabited by extraordinary music. I have been fortunate to cross paths with several brilliant composers from Latin America and Spain, each of whom consistently finds new ways to interweave rhythms, melodies, and colors, creating fresh and wonderful sonic worlds and emotional landscapes. It is my joy and privilege to share some of their works with you. 

Recorded in Keller Hall, University of New Mexico, February/March, 2022.

Recorded and mastered by Liz Rincon

Program notes by Fred Sturm.