for two harps, arranged from the solo harp version by Parker Ramsay
This set of four pieces was inspired by the work of Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002), Mexico’s greatest photographer of the 20th Century. Not just a regional or even national figure, he was one of the most important and influential artists in the history of the medium. He worked in virtually every genre, including portraiture, landscape and nature, abstract, anthropological, and historical/social. Keenly aware of his times and surroundings, he was one of the most important chroniclers of the turbulent Mexico of the 20th Century. Many of his works have political overtones, sometimes overt, sometimes subtle.
Some years ago my wife and I attended an extensive retrospective of his work at the Centro Cultural Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, and I thought at the time that I would like to base a piece on his work someday. I have chosen four of his images as inspirations for these movements. There is no connection among them, other than their authorship, and no narrative thread; I have simply chosen four photos that speak to me, albeit in very different ways. Bravismos is a word I coined, with a little advice from my friend, Mexican singer and scholar of Latin-American literature, Nelda Nelson.
The Earth Itself (La tierra misma) is one of his best-known photos. It shows a young indigenous woman, with an unreadable expression, wearing a long shawl but with breasts exposed, leaning against an adobe wall. Somehow she does indeed seem to represent all of humanity, and the adobe wall the entire earth.
Scratched Glass (Vidrio raspado) is among most abstract of Bravo’s works. Without the title it would be very difficult to discern what the subject is. A piece of glass on a very dark background is etched with a brilliantly contrasting form that resembles—to my eyes at least—a comet’s tail.
Crown of Thorns (Corona de espinas) shows a small wooden statue of Jesus, dressed in Mexican costume, with a crown of thorns on his head. As is often the case in Mexican religious art, it is very graphic, with dramatic bloodstains on Jesus’s face and blood flowing from his other wounds.
Pinwheels (Los rehiletes) is a relatively rare color image, with a young pinwheel vendor walking down a street. The pinwheels on their sticks radiate out from a central point and resemble, perhaps, a giant prehistoric flower or the explosion of certain types of fireworks.
Bravismos was written at the request of Carol McClure, my colleague at the University of Louisville School of Music. It was composed while I was in London on sabbatical in the fall of 2009. It exists in two versions, one for solo harp, and one for two harps, arranged by Parker Ramsay, who gave the premieres of both versions.