Listen to a sample of the recording of Marimba Estudio by Miquel Bernat
Given the quality of its sound, the use of a bow is a common technique on an instrument like the marimba, which has a short resonance that makes it difficult to sustain the vibrations in order to connect sounds. Writing for the bow is much better suited to the vibraphone, which can sustain the vibration thanks to its pedal. For this reason, the result, besides being a very complex challenge for the performers as far as technique is concerned, has a certain pointilliste quality to it: the notes remain as if isolated and the instrument ́s sound diverges significantly from what we are used to hearing. It definitely does not sound like a marimba. here, the bow delivers the bass line over which the harmonies and thematic elements develop.
This is another of those works written to stretch both the instrument ́s and the performer ́s possibilities to the limit, in some ways taking them a step further. The work is highly harmonious, to such a degree that it warrants consideration as a covert harmonic etude, hidden beneath the instrumental techniques mentioned in its title. Composed for a five-octave marimba, the extensions range from the lowest to the highest pitch in the register. the bow is entrusted with the sustained notes and the sticks take care of the pointillist melody, leading to a deeply poetic result rather than an etude. The piece resembles a dreamy nocturne in its aesthetics and structure.
Apart from its neo-classical aspect – explained by the underlying classical harmonics and the return to a romantic form – here we catch a glimpse of some of Rueda’s non-musical references, such as painters like Delvaux or Chagall, who share a marked surrealist and dream-like style.
In this unusual work, the expressive contrapuntal play of sound generated by the mallets contrasts with the long, static lines of the bow.
The challenge of this piece resides in maintaining the stable, continuous line of sound created by the bow at the same time as the long phrases produced by the mallets as they flow and move across the lower and, sometimes, the upper keyboard of the instrument. The stillness and sonic continuity of the hand and arm using the bow contrasts with large leaps and runs made by the other hand holding the mallets. I recommend soft mallets in the left hand with the bow, and a soft mallet in the right hand.