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CR: The New Centennial Review 5.2 (2005) 215-226

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The Other Time

Reflections on The Piano Works of Aurelio de la Vega

University of Kentucky, Lexington
The Piano Works of Aurelio de la Vega. Martha Marchena, pianist. MSR Classics, 2003.


I write about this collection principally as a lover of the arts, as the occasion calls for addressing the art of good friends like Aurelio de la Vega and Martha Marchena, who are celebrating the launch of de la Vega's long-awaited CD. I cannot claim that I know much about serious or classical music beyond a layman's rudiments. My training is mostly in literature, which I teach at the university level, and so I tend to view the arts under the lens of poetry, the one art form that is linked historically to music through its various and numerous melic affinities. I would therefore like to propose a layman's intuitive reading of The Piano Works, which I read experimentally and, indeed, lacking certainty of critical success.

I should like to begin by claiming (waxing bold) that I read de la Vega's piano works as a single piece, that is, as a large symphonic poem composed over a period of 60 years, a life's master work to say the least. I am not [End Page 215] claiming, of course, that the totality of these pieces displays a structure analogous to a symphony's—that it begins, for example, with an initial allegro movement, followed by one or two scherzos, and so forth. My claim is based, rather, on the comprehensive nature of the collection—ten works like the ten fingers called forth to play them—even though this CD includes far from the entirety of de la Vega's opus. But given that de la Vega's earliest works, included here, were in fact piano pieces, and that the collection was launched exactly 60 years after they were written, the idea of unity over time appears quite inescapable. In his very perceptive CD jacket text, Luigi Bardi remarks how de la Vega's piano works, like Ravel's or Schoenberg's, "delimit their most radical innovations or changes of technical or aesthetic procedures." I couldn't agree more. By gathering together the sum total of these changes, the listener can now perceive a broad picture or overall statement that those changes outline over time.

Yet another way of identifying the collection's inner unity would be to say that it constitutes a musical autobiography of sorts. Perhaps the idea of musical pieces amounting to an autobiographical narrative might scandalize the purists. But I am referring to the implicit metaphorical identity, from the naive 1944 pieces to the major radical work of the 1980s, that The Piano Works delineates as we listen to them together. Octavio Paz, whose poetry I study constantly and whose views I shall recall here more than once, used to say that a poet actually has no biography: his poetry is his biography. He also said something else, perhaps more radical: that the poet (or in this case the composer) is never the same person as the one who writes or creates. Art is never a natural process, and so, without totally realizing it, in his/her work the artist invents someone else who speaks on his/her behalf. As writing poetry or composing music requires the same thing—creating an aesthetic mask—so the artist is always someone else whom s/he imagines him/herself to be. If all this is true, then we can also say that each of de la Vega's ten piano works can be read as aspects of an imaginary musical autobiography, which the artist has now chosen to gather together and, as we shall see, to provide with a peculiar structure. I am not, of course, saying that these pieces are literal episodes from the author's life, in the manner of a succession of life chapters. I prefer to view them...


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