Method: Antonio Lauro’s ‘La Negra‘ Grapples with the Polymeters and Hemiolas of a Vals Venezolano
BY RHAYN JOOSTE | FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
La Negra, by Antonio Lauro (1917–1986), is a lyrical vals venezolano (Venezuelan waltz) composed in 1976. This lesson will explore its polymeters and hemiolas, Romanticism, right-hand control, and left-hand stretching.
Now considered among the foremost 20th century South American composers for the guitar, the Venezuelan Lauro began his musical studies on the piano and violin. However, in 1932, after witnessing Agustín Barrios perform in Caracas, Venezuela, Lauro focused his musical efforts on the guitar. It was through Lauro’s guitar teacher, Raúl Borges (1888–1967), and his circle of students (especially Alirio Díaz), that Lauro’s music was disseminated internationally, cementing his reputation. La Negra forms part of Triptico, a set of three pieces that were collected together for, and dedicated to, Andrés Segovia, and published in 1983.
Lauro was a passionate nationalist, and the majority of his output was in the service of folk music and its identity as vals venezolanos. These are derived from the moment the European waltz landed in Venezuela, around 1810–12. The waltz was subsequently transformed by local musicians into a uniquely Latin creation, which at its heart has a syncopated accompaniment (see Waltz vs. Vals fig.).
In this piece the right hand is utilized in two ways: first, to highlight the melody above the bass and accompaniment, which requires control; and second, to rhythmically clarify the syncopations. La Negra (UE 29172) has two syncopation devices: a large hemiola—3/2 across two 3/4 measures; and a second small hemiola—3/4 over 6/8 in a bar (commonly referred to as a sesquiáltera). These hemiolas are combined in a variety of voices and are often found underneath or across one another in La Negra. The hemiola, which is an essential aspect of Lauro’s musical identity, is the result of creolized Spanish Renaissance dances imported into the New World during colonization, and is a stylistic marker in some types of South American music.
Micro Study 1 is a didactic study for the RH that elucidates the small hemiola and highlights the large hemiola. It has a wide variety of aims apart from syncopation practice, such as thumb rest stroke, RH control, and digit synchronization.
Due to the proliferation of the large hemiola, it could be argued, as Frank Koonce pointed out in his essay Rhythm vs. Meter, that it’s best described as a polymeter (two crossed time signatures), as opposed to a short effect. The large 3:2 hemiola, and its many variations (see micro studies), are easy to spot. As a general guide, locate where the music has inflections across two bars on beats 1 and 3, and then on beat 2 of the next measure.
Micro Study 2 utilizes some of the main rhythmic patterns from La Negra and has been designed to practice a RH melody. Aim for a clear three-part texture: melody, accompaniment, and bass. Experiment with various strokes, rest or free, in both the bass and melody. Proficiency can be improved by further isolating each bar. Bar 1 has Lauro’s variation on the main accompaniment vals figure, this time in the melody. This eighth-note displacement of the second beat is the main indicator of a Latin-derived waltz. Contrast it to the generalized European version—think Tárrega (Gran Vals), or Barrios (Op. 8 No. 3). (Waltz vs. Vals eg.)
La Negra has an AABBA structure. Lauro employs a three-note “pickup” idea (bars 0, 20, and 42) to begin the melody in section A, and another pickup idea (bars 25, 33, and 41) to instigate section B. These, according to Dr. Elliot Frank in his thesis The Venezuelan Waltzes of Antonio Lauro, generate a “momentary instability” to be resolved on the next bar’s downbeat. They form an additional part of Lauro’s harmonic language, which is rich with minor 9ths, dominant flat 13ths, and augmented chords. This European Romantic influence is another musical marker. However, Lauro never leaves the calle real (main road), so there are no severe modulations—another stylistic trait.
The first section, in E minor, is relatively straightforward (apart from bar 10), with a mixture of large and small hemiola patterns; the main LH challenge is barre chords. Micro Study 3 is intended to improve barre chord strength and LH mobility. Practice it slowly, aiming for clear notes. The two-bar idea should descend one fret at a time using the fourth finger as an anchor when shifting. This downward movement, toward fret one, will incrementally increase the challenge and advance the LH barre mechanism.
La Negra’s B section offers more interesting technical issues, the mainstay of which is LH stretching. Micro Study 4 is aimed at improving the ability to hold one position and stretch out past the normal four or five frets. Taken from La Negra, it incorporates parts of bars 36 and 37 and then addresses bar 10’s fast half-barre shift; it also highlights a prevalent large hemiola figure. Interestingly, the B section, bars 38 and 39 aside, is made up of the large hemiola pattern beginning at bar 26 and repeating every two bars until bar 41.
Even though it is not explicitly stated, some of the notes in La Negra should run over one another, campanella, thus adding to the piece’s Romanticism. The first bar is a perfect place to begin: the A# should clash with the open B. Bar 4 has a wonderful minor 9th at the start; this particular dissonance is one Lauro favored, and is found in many of his pieces.
The majority of Lauro’s pieces have some personal reference—in this case it is a nickname. However, taking into account the music from Triptico, La Negra in many ways could be paired with the first piece in the group, Armida, which is named after his sister, La Negra’s mother. This work is a gentle yet challenging entry to Lauro’s music, with its rich, romantic harmony and characteristic polymeters. All in all, it is a beautiful piece to celebrate Lauro’s centennial.
Listen to Nicholas Petrou play La Negra all the way through: