Abel Carlevaro and the Music of the Rio de la Plata

By Dale Needles 

As we enter the second week of the Latin American Challenge, I am pleased that Martin asked me to write up a piece on the music of Abel Carlevaro and his place in the music of the Rio de la Plata.  I had the good fortunate to study with Maestro Carlevaro from 1978 to 1989, in both San Francisco during his frequent visits and in Montevideo, Uruguay where I spent 12 months studying with him between 1980 and 1983.  Additionally, I was the Maestro’s US artist representative from 1982 – 1989 and arranged his US concert appearances during that time. 

As we have seen thus far in the pieces that are being posted, there is quite an abundance of great music for the guitar from the Rio de la Plata region (Uruguay and Argentina). There is a rich and varied musical tradition that is unique to the Rio de la Plata and can been seen in the many outstanding composers and guitarists from there. 

While there is a plethora of guitarist/composers from the Rio de la Plata, the Uruguayan Master, Abel Carlevaro (1916 – 2001) reigns supreme.  Known for his virtuosity and innovative School of Guitar, Maestro Carlevaro also produced a large body of repertorie, including many solo and chamber works.  As a composer, Abel Carlevaro masterfully combined the folkloric rhythms of the Rio de la Plata with contemporary harmony and modern tonalities.  His early works, which are, for the most part unpublished, are beautiful tonal pieces written in a folkloric style and draws on the traditions of the milonga, candombe, vidalita and tango.  In the 1970s, his compositional style matures. producing two of his great masterpieces, Preludios Americanos, five preludes – reminiscent of Villalobos with whom Carlevaro studied, and Cronomias, a major sonata using modern musical language.   

In the 1980s, Carlevaro focused much of his time composing chamber music which resulted in three world premieres in San Francisco.  He premiered his Concerto for Guitar and String Quartet with the Kronos Quarter in 1983, his second guitar concerto, Fantasia Concertante with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players in 1985 and his Concerto No. 3 for Guitar and Chamber Orchestra with the Chamber Symphony of San Francisco in 1989.

Maestro Carlevaro always the teacher, published his 20 Microestudios in the 1990s, very much in the tradition of short studies ala Leo Brouwer’s Etudios Sensillos.  Carlevaro returned to his roots during this last period of his life and wrote two major suites, Milonga Suite 1 and Milonga Suite 2.  He also resurrected and reworked some of his early pieces, including Milonga Oriental and Aires de Malamba.

For those who may not be too familiar with Carlevaro and want to explore some of his compositions, I would suggest starting with his Microsestudios.  They are very approachable and a good representative of Carlevaro’s musical palette.  Additionally, you cannot go wrong with any of his Preludios, particularly Campo, the third prelude from the Preludios Americanos suite.

While I have focused on Abel Carlevaro, I would be remiss if I did not mention his brother, Agustin Carlevaro (1913-1995), who was also an important figure in the Uruguayan guitar world.  While an architect by profession, he was an excellent guitarist and is well known for his superb arrangements for solo guitar of tango music.  He arranged countless number of pieces including over twenty works by Astor Piazzolla as well as many other major tango composers. One of his most outstanding arrangements is Adios Nonino which Piazzolla is quoted as saying was his finest composition.

Abel Carlevaro’s publishers are Chanterelle (Publisher) in Heidelberg and Barry Publications in Buenos Aires.

Abel Carlevaro’s online library developed by Vani Carlevaro and Alfredo Escande can be found at Abel Carlevaro Library: Abel Carlevaro Library (bibliotecaabelcarlevaro.blogspot.com)

Agustin Carlevaro’s primary publisher is Editorial Lagos in Buenos Aires while his arrangement of Adios Nonino was published by Guitar Solo Publications in San Francisco.

“Abel Carlevaro, My Guitar & My World” published by Chanterelle

“The Rioplatense Guitar” by Richard Pinnell published by the Bold Strummer

“Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir” by Natalio Gorin published by Amadeus Press

Abel Carlevaro - Tamboriles, performed by Abel Carlevaro

Adiós Nonino performed by Agustin Carlevaro

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  • Martin Thanks for posting this and what a great photo you found of Maestro Carlevaro. 

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  • Martin  Dale Needles  thank you for sharing this! I should definitely post one of those beautiful prelude before the end of the challenge 😅

    • Blaise Laflamme Great. I will look forward to it. 

  • For those who are wondering about the unique guitar that Carlevaro is playing in the photo, it was designed by Carlevaro and built by Manuel Contreras in 1983.

  •  Dale Needles Thank you for sharing this great article with us. When I was young, my first and the only classical guitar teacher used Carlevaro's book to help me improve my left-hand technique. Those exercises helped me tremendously and even cured my finger joint pain due to long-term bad playing habits.

    I think those books were out of print already, but fortunately, we have a great course on Carlevaro's method here in Tonebase, hurray!~ 🎉🎉

    • Wai Thanks for your kind words.  You should be able to get the the 4 Cuadernos through Chanterelle Publishers.  If you want to go deeper into Carlevaro's pedagogy, then check out his book "School of Guitar" also published by Chanterelle. 

      Like 1
    • Dale Needles Oh thank you so much! I didn't even know the name of those books! Now I know they are called "Cuadernos" and I think the one my teacher showed me was no.3, I would definitely add them to my collection!

    • Wai Excellent. Cuaderno 1 is for scales, Cauderno 2 is for the right hand, Cuaderno 3 is for left hand and Cuaderno 4 is addional left hand exercises focusing on slurs and extension. There is also a great Tonebase interview with Alfredo Escande, who was Maestro Carlevaro's long-time assistant. 

      Like 2
  • Thank you, Dale! I'm from Porto Alegre, In Brazil, very near Montevideo and Buenos Aires. I started learning guitar at 12 and just my first teacher spoke Portuguese, the others all speak Spanish... Maybe you have met some, I studied with Nestor Ausqui and Eduardo Castañera (an Uruguayan and an Argentinian, to avoid problems...). 🙂

    When I started to read your text my eyes filled with tears and a huge homesick settle in my chest. We, the gauchos, are very proud of our culture, and you wrote in a so kind and affectionate way that connected me with La Pampa and El Rio de La Plata. And with Carlevaro, your beautiful music, and your masterful work of teaching. Thank you again. Fuerte abrazo!

    • Moyses Lopes So glad you liked the article. I was wondering where you were from but now I know. Unfortunately,  I never made it to Porto Alegre during my many visits to Uruguay, but I heard many wonderful things about your home city. While I do not know Nestor personally,  I did know he had studied with Maestro Carlevaro. I also know that Nestor commissioned Carlevaro to write "Estampas Concertantes" for guitar soloist and guitar quartet which Carlevaro premiered with Nestor's Sante Fe Guitar Quartet in 1998. Unfortunately, it is one of the few Carlevaro compositions that I have never heard. 

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    • Dale Needles Dale, please, let me know: how is your Spanish? This is a radio program with a recording of "Estampas Concertantes - Al Sur del Capricornio", made in the Nestor's House, in which on the solo guitar was Carlevaro. If your Spanish is a bit rusty, let me know! Enjoy without limits!

    • Moyses Lopes Muchas Gracias.  I know Alfredo Escande and have watched many of his TV programs but had not seen this one.  Fantastic to hear the Estampas Concertantes performed by Maestro Carlevaro and the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet.  What a great piece!  Gracias for sharing.

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    • Moyses Lopes that is super Moises! I had not heard this one neither (while ironing)!  And I did not know the piece for the cuarteto "Al sur de capricornio" . It is great! By the way.... do you know what means "sale con fritas "? typical of a popular parrilla in Montevideo or in Buenos Aires... it means "the grillmeat" or whatever (un asado for instance or un bife de chorizo) comes with fried potates , that is " it goes or it comes with fries". Gracias!

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    • Nora Torres-Nagel I'm glad you liked to listen to the cuarteto. Don't talk to me about parrillas... I miss them so much!! 😋 Regards!

  • That was a great read, Dale. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I have known about maestro Carlevaro for a while. Attended a concert in Amsterdam, was really new for us, his VL unforgettable. Then, tried two of his Preludios Americanos. I also intended to work with his technical studies, but that was too much for me at the time. Only recently, I discovered the microestudios. They are great, I often use them for warming up, to adjust finger position and clear attack. I can warmly recommend them!

    Btw apparently this Carlevaro model is for sale in Amsterdam. Do you know of other guitarists who play them?

    • joosje So glad you liked the article and do keep working on those Carlevaro Microestudios.  They are really a great set of small studies. As far as the Carlevaro model guitar, there a few floating around.  Mostly former students of Carlevaro play them, and while I have tried them and liked them, I am still old school and have kept to my traditional Anthony Murray guitars.

  • guauuuu you have studied with him!!! y en Montevideo tambien!!!! I was on hollydays and first today I could go into our comunity. Very interesting...thanks!

    • Nora Torres-Nagel Yes, I was very fortunate and truly one of the high points of my life was to get to study with and get to know the Maestro as well as his brother, Agustin. Montevideo is a very special place and I loved staying in Pocitos, close to the beach. 

  • thank you so much for  bringing all those treasures to us!

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