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The grand-nephew of the famous Cuban pianist/composer Ernesto Lecuona, Leo Brouwer was born into a musical family and encouraged from early youth. He made his public debut on the guitar in 1955 and began to compose then as well. In 1959 he came to the U.S. to study guitar at the University of Hartford and composition at Juilliard, where his teachers included Vincent Persichetti and Stefan Wolpe. Returning to Cuba, he began active work in film music; he has scored over 50 films, including international hits such as 1992’s Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). In 1981 he was appointed principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba.

Brouwer’s wide-ranging concert music includes 11 guitar concertos and a host of solo and ensemble pieces, many of which have become repertory staples known to guitarists of every style and genre. Randy Rhoads, for example, quoted the sixth of Brouwer’s Estudios Sencillos as the introduction to the song “Diary of a Madman,” the title track of Ozzy Osbourne’s 1981 album.

In the mid-1960s Brouwer was intensely involved in the Cuban avant garde, inspired by the music he heard at the 1961 Warsaw Autumn Festival. In 1980, however, he turned to what he called a “new simplicity,” incorporating minimalist elements with a return to Afro-Cuban roots, creating what he describes as “national hyper-romanticism.”

His Sonata for solo guitar, composed in 1990 for Julian Bream, is a characteristic example. After a prelude, the main section of the first movement combines the Spanish fandango with the Cuban bolero in an edgy sonic puzzle. There is a quotation from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony near the end of the movement, and Brouwer likens his form to that of the first movement of the “Pastoral.” The Sarabanda does conjure something of late Scriabin mystery, but it also suggests Satie in its floating reveries and ostinatos. In the finale, Brouwer quotes and remixes Bernardo Pasquini’s Baroque “Toccata con lo Scherzo del cucco” (Toccata with the Scherzo of the Cuckoo) in a dramatic and sardonic context of patterned arpeggios and violent snap pizzicatos.