The Black Decameron by Leo Brouwer is a true modern masterpiece for the guitar. In this in-depth lesson you will learn how to get the notes off the page, under your fingers, and out to perform. With videos detailing all the tips, and hacks, you need. Grab some #6stringinspiration in this tutorial.
This three movement work draws inspiration from Leo Frobenius’s Tales of the same name. It incorporates elements of Afro-Cuban folk music and Latin American rhythms. But don’t let its complex origins intimidate you – with micro studies and dedicated practice, you too can learn to play this intricate and beautiful work. In this guitar lesson, we’ll break down each piece and offer tips and techniques to help you master this modern classic. Let’s get started.
Black Decameron Updated Score
Leo Brouwer has updated the Black Decameron, in 2021, with three brand-new openings for each movement. So it is worthwhile getting your hands on the new scores, direct from Brouwer himself. Use the link below.
Black Decameron by Brouwer
Dedicated to Sharon Isbin the Black Decamerom (El Decameron Negro) is a triptych work that uses the collected stories of Leo Frobenius as inspiration. Curiously, Frobenius may have been influenced by an earlier work by Giavanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Both are a series of stories that deal with love, life and death. Brouwer uses nothing from Frobenius’ works, it is a work based on his imagination. The inspiration from story telling Africa of the 19th century & plague ridden 14th century story telling, intersects in Brouwer to form this afro-Cuban work. And it mirrors the history of the Cuban slave trades cultural legacy, found in the rhythms and note choices. (But that is just my humble opinion ;-))
This is a great article that covers a lot of ground on Brouwer and his music. Acoustic Guitar Magazine. And will help you gain some insight into his process. Along with the myriad of links peppered in this first paragraph, these will help you understand a little more of the inspiration to the Black Decameron by Brouwer.
Leo Brouwer’s Inspiration for the Black Decameron
Leo Brouwer’s guitar piece, “El Decameron Negro”, The Black Decameron is a musical composition, published in 1981, and dedicated to Sharon Isbin. It was inspired by Leo Frobenius ‘s “Der schwarze Dekameron” (The Black Decameron), which was published in 1914. Brouwer, a Cuban composer and guitarist, was likely influenced by the collection of tales in “Der schwarze Dekameron” and used the structure and themes of the book as inspiration for his musical piece. See this article in Acoustic guitar for more biographical details.
Der schwarze Dekameron
“Der schwarze Dekameron” is a collection of ten pieces, each with its own distinct character and style. Brouwer’s musical pieces in “The Black Decameron” range from fast and virtuosic to slow and meditative, and they draw on elements of Latin American music, including elements of Cuban folk music, as well as classical European musical forms. In this way, Brouwer’s “The Black Decameron” can be seen as a musical interpretation and tribute to Frobenius’s The Black Decameron, combining the ideas of the original literary work with Brouwer’s unique musical vision and cultural background. It would have helped celebrate his Afro-Cuban roots.
So who was Leo Frobenius? (See below after the first lessons to find out more)
Black Decameron Movement 1
The first movement to the Black Decameron is called the Harp of the Warrior, El Arpe de Guerrero, and it is in the unusual 5/8 metre. Brouwer exploits this wonderfully with the arpeggio, and melodic fragments in it. The lesson below steps through the first section to this movement. I will highlight how to set your right-hand for those fast runs, along with left-hand tips to get the fingers flowing fluidly over the fretboard.
The harp of the Warrior “El Arpa del Guerrero”
The exact source of Leo Brouwer’s inspiration for the title “El Arpa del Guerrero” is unknown. However, it is likely that the title was inspired by Brouwer’s interest in classical mythology, folklore, and Spanish and Latin American culture. In these traditions, the harp is often associated with warriors and heroes, and it is possible that Brouwer chose the title as a reference to this cultural symbolism.
Lesson 1: Opening
In this first lesson, we’ll dive into the opening 44 bars of the piece with detailed fingering, tips, and music. We’ll also explore how to count 5/8 and feel the music, so you can master this amazing Cuban guitar piece. You will need good left and right hand coordination and tone control for this opening. The music should also be felt in one beat, so each bar feels like a main pulse idea. This is very important to getting the music across.
Lesson 2: ‘Lirico’
Mastering the ‘Lirico’ Section with the Dark Side of the Nail. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the ‘Lirico’ section of “The Black Decameron” from bar 45 to 80. We’ll dive into the secrets of playing with the back side of the nail (cue your best Darth Vader impression), and learn how to nail this intricate section with precision and finesse. Melody is the main focus here, make it sing.
Lesson 3: ‘Tranquillo’ chords
Uncovering the Obscure ‘obscuro’ Chords of the ‘Tranquillo’ Section. In this third lesson, we’ll tackle the ‘Tranquillo’ section of “The Black Decameron” from bars 81 to 107. This section features new chord shapes and impressionistic modern harmony, but don’t worry – we’ll break it down step by step and provide tips and techniques to help you master it. Tone control, right-hand technique, is going to be the main challenge here. All those notes should soon even and well produced.
Leo Frobenius & Black Decameron
Leo Frobenius was a German ethnologist and archaeologist who is known for his extensive research on African cultures and art. One of his notable works is “Der schwarze Dekameron” (The Black Decameron). The book is a collection of ten short stories that Frobenius gathered during his travels in West Africa. In “Der schwarze Dekameron”, the stories are told by a group of West African men who are stranded on an island after their ship is wrecked. The stories cover a range of themes and topics, including love, morality, power, and the supernatural. Frobenius was interested in the cultural and artistic expressions of non-European societies, and “Der schwarze Dekameron” is an example of his approach to studying African cultures through their storytelling traditions.
The book is also notable for its use of local African dialects, which Frobenius included in the text alongside the German translation. However, it is important to note that Frobenius’ work has been criticized for its Eurocentric perspective and colonial biases, and his methods of collecting stories have been called into question by some scholars. Despite these criticisms, “Der schwarze Dekameron” remains a significant work in the study of African literature and folklore.
Frobenius himself acknowledged the influence of Giovanni Boccaccio’s work “Il Decameron”, on his own collection of African folktales. Like Boccaccio’s “Il Decameron”, “Der schwarze Dekameron” is also framed as a series of stories told by a group of people who are isolated from society, in this case, a group of West African men who are stranded on an island after their ship is wrecked. The stories in both collections cover a wide range of themes and topics, and explore the human condition through the lens of storytelling. The stories are framed within a narrative structure similar to Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”, where a group of people are telling stories to pass the time during a period of isolation. Let’s just briefly check out why they are similar.
Giovanni Boccoccia & Black Decameron
In terms of its structure and themes, Frobenius was influenced by Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Il Decameron”, which translates to “The Ten Days” or “The Ten-Day Novel” in English; It is called “The Decameron” in English translations. The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales told by a group of young people over the course of ten days, and each day the tales revolve around a specific theme. In terms of themes, Boccaccio’s The Decameron contains a mix of comic, moral, and fantastical tales that reflect the values and attitudes of 14th-century Florentine society. The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century.
Florence & Black Death
Set in Florence, Italy during the Black Death, the tales are told by a group of young people who have fled the city to escape the plague. Over the course of ten days, each character takes a turn telling a tale, with the themes ranging from love, trickery, and morality to more fantastical stories involving demons, magic, and the supernatural. The Decameron is considered one of the great works of Italian literature and is known for its bawdy humor, ribald wit, and social commentary on the human condition. The stories in The Decameron also have a strong influence on the development of the short story and the novella form.
La Huída de los Amantes por el Valle de los Ecos (Fleeing of the Lovers through the Valley of the Echoes)
Balada de la Doncella Enamorada (Ballad of the Maiden in Love)
Need More Brouwer?
Here is a great lesson on how to use Brouwer’s Elude VI harmony to play Giuliani’s 120 Right-hand patterns. This makes the practice of those 19th century patterns so much more enjoyable.