Luis Antonio Calvo is perhaps the must talented and - DOC by rogerholland


									Felipe Ruiz

                           Luis A. Calvo: a Colombian Voice

Luis Antonio Calvo (1884-1945) is perhaps the most talented and best known composer
Colombia has ever produced. During his lifetime he wrote about 320 works of which 160
are in the classical format, the rest are popular songs [1]. He was a great nationalist and
many of his works portray the Colombian spirit. Calvo lived his midlife years in a time
were the country experienced economic growth and lack of political turmoil (cite).
During this period, an artistic movement flourished in Colombia and Calvo was – without
a doubt – part of it.

Calvo was born to a poor family in Gámbita, a small town located in the province of
Santander. His father left the family when he was only 3 years old; consequently, his
mother was left to care for him [1]. Calvo was an only-child who grew up in solitude; he
was shy and never had many friends. However, from an early age, Calvo displayed
unusual musical talents. Before the age of 13, he had taught himself how to play the
violin and the bombardino, which is the Spanish term for a baritone horn [2]. During this
time, Colombia was going through civil war; the so called “the war of the thousand days”
brought and economic crisis [9]. Attempting to escape financial hardships, at the age of
20, Calvo enlisted in the National Army of Colombia where he played in a third class
military band. Because of his brilliant arrangements, he was quickly promoted and
ultimately studied formal composition at the Academia Nacional de Musica [5]. Calvo
lived a happy life for the following eight years. He married to Ana Rodríguez de Calvo
but never had any children [3].

During these eight year period, he became a nationally acclaimed composer for his “El
Republicano,” a piece that incorporates the Colombian popular rhythms of Bambuco and
his distinctive band orchestration within a classical format. He not only used Bambuco
rhythm, but a whole variety of South American, European, and – to a lesser degree –
African rhythms, which include Pasillo, Danza, Tango, Gavota, Vals, Hymn, Porro. etc.
“Noel”, and “Carmiña” are among his most famous works within this style.

During WWI, Colombia regained economic stability as it flooded with European
immigrants. This sparked an artistic development as never before seen or after in
Colombian history (cite).

Calvo’s music was part of a nationalistic movement that bridged the gap between
popularism and classicism. Because he lived in the lower as well as the higher social
class, he was familiar with both worlds; and his life reflects the thought of finding an
ideal center. Clavo’s music brought popular music to the concert hall, and classical music
to the masses. He was considered a populist artist [4]. Luís Alberto Acuña, Carlos Correa,
Alirio Jaramillo, Gonzalo Ariza, and Sergio Trujillo Margnenat were artist that wrote and
painted in this populist style during the 1910’s [7].. Their works are highly political
statements what portray the lives and cultures of peasants, indigenes, and blacks. Their
work brought glory to the everyday but unique culture of the Colombian lower class. This
was a movement that not only in occurred in Colombia but in the northern part of South
America and as far down as Buenos Aires [9].

Calvo wrote in other styles as well. These include “Cecilia,” which reminds us of a
highly romanticized Mozart, and “Arabesco,” which is reminiscent of the at-the-time
contemporary style of European impressionism.

At the age of 34, Calvo was diagnosed with “Mal de Hansen.” Clavo suffered from
leprosy, a bacterial disease that at the time had no cure. During his last 29 years, Calvo
was interned in Agua de Dios, a town exclusively built to contain and care for people
suffering from leprosy [1][2][3][4]. It was in this leper colony where Calvo composed
some of his most sorrowful melodies. Calvo wrote “Adios a Bogotá” (Goodbye to
Bogotá) before arriving at Agua de Dios. This piece marks a turning point in his life as
well as a drastic change of style.

By 1920, Calvo had created an entirely different style. “Blanquita” is an interesting piece
because it very clearly combines both styles within one piece. The later style includes 4
intermezzos of which Intermezzo No. 4 has an air of anger and sadness. This period is
characterized by emotional melodies and complex harmonies. After 1936, Calvo never
again wrote a popular song; he turned to a completely classical format largely due to the
creation of the “Escuela de Bellas Artes” [6]. Since 1933, the Colombian “Escuela de
Bellas Artes” – a school that resembles the European Ecole des Beaux-Arts – was formed
[8]. This school brought a back the ideals of classicism and high art as a reformation
against the depression. Beginning in mid 30s, populism was seen as an “internal evil.”
Conflict mounted between liberals, who wanted to conserve a middle social class, and
conservatives, who wanted to reverse populist movement. Ultimately, in 1948, “El
Bogotazo” occurred, a bloody violent riot within the capital between the conservative
state and the liberal masses as a result of the assassination of a presidential candidate

It was during this time of turmoil that Calvo composed Intermezzo No. 2, a piano piece
nicknamed “Lejano Azul,” which translated to English means “Distant Blue.” It is an
extremely emotional work that closely parallels Calvo’s internal emotional state of
sadness. Although Lejano Azul is only 36 measures long, it illustrates the capability of
this great composer to communicate and idea.

Lejano Azul, like many of his other works has a very defined structure. It starts with an
introduction, it is followed by section A – which repeats, then comes section B and
section C – which individually are half the length of section A. Sections B and C could be
paired as a single section but only section C reoccurs in the recapitulation. After sections
B and C are repeated, a short development section follows (section D). A very subtle
variation of section C comes back. And finally, a coda ends the piece. All together, the
entire work has this form: Intro;A;A;BC;BC;D;C’;Coda. Here are the according lengths:
Into= 4 bars; A=8 bars; B=4 bars; C=6 bars; D=6 bars; Coda=8 bars.
Lejano Azul begins with a four measure introduction. Here, Calvo introduces the main
melodic theme which is composed of seven notes, a triplet that makes up the first half
beat, two eights notes that make up the subsequent beat, and two quarter notes that make
up for the next two beats:

This rhythmic theme will be exploited throughout the piece. There is another rhythmic
motif that is only explored in section A. It consists of two 32nd notes followed by two
eighth notes and a half note.

There is an uncertainty of tonality in the introduction because there are very few
harmonic notes. It consists mostly of melody lines. In fact, there are two melodic voices,
which are hard to hear separately because they are interwoven in such way that it sounds
as if there was only one long melody. During the introduction, harmony does occur in six
places. Although the whole piece is centered around Bb minor, the introduction begins in
a diminished ii chord that easily moves to a V7. It resolves to I, but quickly moves to
IV7. It is why there is harmonic ambiguity. When we hear that dominant 7th chord, we
finally realize what the tonic is.

Section A further develops of the melodic motifs exposed in the introduction. The base
and accompaniment create an ostinato that runs throughout the entire section.

This ostinato passively gives the mood and the harmonic center for the section. This time,
however, the harmony is much more concrete. Harmonically speaking, section A is
probably the most stable section of the entire piece. It only wonders into a C7, which is
the dominant 7th of the dominant. Since this is the furthest departure from the tonic, it is
here that Calvo introduces a new rhythmic and melodic motif that foreshows what’s
about to come in the development section.
From this point on, the harmony finds its way back to the tonic. It does this by playing
with the melodic motifs that were exposed in the introduction. The first melodic motif
reappears in every measure at the end of the bar, while the second motif reappears at the
beginning. What is most interesting is that the first motif goes down stepwise – following
the Bb minor scale; the second motif also goes down but it does this chromatically. This
is a true technical challenge for both, composer and performer. In the final cadence of the
first section, Calvo changes the triplet motif to a 32nd note run for only one measure.

Although it feels awkward, it grabs even the untrained-ear’s attention. It is very
interesting. After the section ends it’s repeated once more. After this, we will not hear it
again for the remainder of the piece.

Section B has a predominantly major tonality. As most works with two themes, section B
is switches tonalities; but whereas most switch to the dominant, subdominant, or relative
major or minor, Lejano Azul switches to the major 7th degree. Calvo does this by adding
a single chromatic passing tone, an A natural.

The change is so drastic that it’s almost as if Calvo had received good news; maybe about
his health or about a political agreement. If this were true, then the glory was short-lived
because this section is very short. Nevertheless it is very energetic and it is here where
the Colombian in him appears. Colombians tend to be very hopeful, and this section – to
me – represents hope. Calvo makes this drastic change but continues using the ostinato,
which holds the contrasting sections together. We start experiencing some elevation is
dynamics, but it is not until the coda that Calvo makes his strongest point.

Section C could almost be called section A prime, but Calvo leaves the second melodic
motif completely out, which is so distinctive of the section A. This section reintroduces
the triplet motif but this time it’s almost as a lament, whereas in section A, it was more
formal. Calvo repeats section C three times throughout the piece, which is interesting
because it’s the section that is more abstract. Besides the introduction, this is the only
section where Calvo completely removes the ostinato. Section C is a very chromatic
passage that acts as a linking mechanism between sections. This section lacks any real
harmonic support; it is just two melodic lines conversing with each other. It is interesting
that – to the ear, it appears as if we are distancing ourselves from the tonic (Bb minor);
however, this is not the case – we are getting closer to it. The genius of Calvo comes
through in this section. Both, sections B and D end in F7, which is the dominant of this
piece. Since section C starts with only a melody, one assumes that it is in the key of F or
at least in a relative key. Interesting enough, when the listener finally gets a grip of a
harmonic structure, it is already in the distant chord of Eb7. A listener without perfect
pitch assumes that Eb7 is a relative of the tonic, which is not. Therefore, when the
melodies move closer to the real tonic, that of Bb minor, one is surprised because all of
this time the listener is thinking that we are moving away from the tonic. Whenever that
dominant passage at the end of the phrase arrives, it is hard not to ask ourselves: how did
we get here? And so quickly?

Section D is the development section. Calvo takes the two voice motif and experiments
with them. The second melodic motive of section A is replaced by a long note.

Now, the triplet motif instead of being a single melodic line, it is presented with a parallel
minor 6th interval. The second measure brings back the ostinato and the six note scale
from section A. These two measures repeat 2 more times but in different tonalities; for
example, during the third measure, the harmony wonders to the dominant 7th of the 3rd
scale degree.

As Section C returns for the last time, everything remains the same except for the base
notes. All the base notes are raised an octave higher. This means that there is not enough
will to send the hand down to the lower registers of the piano. I get the sense that Calvo is
giving up because by taking those base notes up, the piece begins to lose its power. There
is also a different ending to the section that helps it connect it to the coda better.

The coda is the final struggle. Big dynamic shifts appear. It starts with mezzo forte and
escalates to fortissimo. And finally, it dies down to a pianissisimo. It appears as if Calvo
wants to fight but the effort is worthless and dies in the attempt. The coda is longer than
most of the sections; however, the coda is not repeated or else it wouldn’t be a coda.
Brand new material is introduced here. The ostinato remains during the first part and
although the rhythm stays the same, it changes considerably.

By the fourth measure of the coda, the ostinato disappears but the main melodic motif
appears with out the last note. Yet, it doesn’t feel abrupt. Lejano Azul ends with a heavy
ritardando reminiscent of distant shades of blue. Calvo, by nicknaming this intermezzo
Lejano Azul, implies that calmness is nowhere near. And he was right.

Calvo has been compared to Lecuona and Albeniz for combining Latin idioms with
classical music. Often, he has been called the Chopin of Colombia for his romantic
harmonies. But he was both, a sentimental patriot, master of form. Sadly he is not at all
famous outside Colombian boundaries.
Works cited

(Most of the information comes from my aunt who is a music historian. The links below
are some references that support the accuracy of the information. The music files are
from my personal collection. I believe they are all tagged in case you need the
performer’s name).

Luis A. Calvo

6.) Obras Para Piano (H. Martina & H. Mendoza): CD booklet

Colombian Art History


Colombian history


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