Short history of music in Mexico

Music in Mexico is rich in variety of genres, rhythms and themes. Photo: Pixabay
Music in Mexico is rich in variety of genres, rhythms and themes. Photo: Pixabay

It is likely that musical instruments already existed in Mesoamerica from the Upper Palaeolithic (40000-10000 B.C.), as bone flutes dating from this period have been found. These are bony whistles with a perforation that were used by hunter-gatherers to imitate sounds of animals in the hunt. Bone scrapers, tortoise shells and conch skeletons are also thought to have been used to emit sounds in ritual activities. However, these are only hypotheses that lack verification.

Archaeological excavations have shown that in late Pre-Hispanic times idiophones and aerophones were used for ceremonies, sacrifices, battles, city foundations, births of rulers, seizures of power, funeral processions and rituals, and the images that pre-Columbian peoples have inherited from us prove that there were dance forms and numerous musical instruments widely spread throughout the pre-Hispanic world. This is demonstrated, for example, by the mural paintings of Bonampak, where on one of the walls there are musicians playing trumpets, turtle shells, percussion or rubbed with deer antlers and drums. Likewise, the texts of the Spaniards speak of songs that were taken from books to be intoned and danced.

With the arrival of the Spaniards in America, religious, profane and warrior music also arrived from the Iberian Peninsula. Along with them, instruments such as wooden flutes, ivory or wooden cornets, trumpets, shawms, horns, sacabuches, bassoons, guitars, violins, violas, harps, psalteries and organs entered Mexican territory. In the 16th century, great cultural and artistic centers emerged which, in addition to painting, sculpture, and literature, taught music. In the 17th century, the baroque style prevailed in music and musical forms such as carols, motets, and madrigals. In the 18th century, American music was consolidated, which was increasingly cultivated within civil society and not only in temples. This century saw the emergence of forms of theatrical music such as tonadilla and zarzuela.

Among the main composers of the Colonial Era were the Iberian composers Juan Xuárez, Lázaro del Álamo, Juan de Victoria and Hernando Franco and the Novohispanos Fabián Pérez Ximeno, Francisco de Vidales, Francisco López y Capillas, José Loaysa y Agurto, Antonio de Salazar and Manuel de Sumaya. Hernando Franco (1532-1585), chapel master of the cathedral of Mexico, was one of the most important composers of the virreinal period. His Codex Franco, a manuscript containing a collection of Magnificat, stands out.

In the early years of independent Mexico, associations and organizations were created that promoted concert music education, such as the Philharmonic Society, the Philharmonic Academy and the Academy of Music. However, in the first half of the 19th century, musicians still had a close bond with the Church; such was the case of José María Aldana, José María Bustamante, and Mariano Elízaga. However, the latter two were also the first to compose some of the first opera works of the 19th century, such as México libre (Bustamante) and La Italiana (Elízaga).

In the second half of the 19th century, musical production in Mexico focused on opera, of great Italian influence. José Antonio Gómez, Cenobio Paniagua, Melesio Morales, Tomás León, and Aniceto Ortega were the most distinguished composers of Mexican music of this period. Ortega was the most relevant of them all, highlighting his piano compositions Invocación a Beethoven and Recuerdo de Amistad, the Guatemotzín opera and the waltzes Enriqueta and Brillante.

During the Porfiriato, Mexican cultured music sought a national identity, although it received strong influences from late French and German romanticism. At this time, opera was displaced by piano composition, waltzes, orchestral and chamber production, and folklore. The most outstanding composers of Porfiriato were Juventino Rosas, Gustavo E. Campa, Ernesto Elorduy, Felipe Villanueva, Guadalupe Olmedo, and Ricardo Castro.

By Mexicanist

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