It is well known that the Latin American geography and landscape are characterized by their exuberance and diversity, the music is expressed in multiple ways and forms and this in itself is a strength. This vision of music gives us clues of what it represents for the creators of Art in Latin America the coexistence with a nature that dominates any feeling; an experience that goes far beyond even the European romanticism, by the same quality and heterogeneity of the landscape.
Two will be the slopes of the plentiful Latin American musical torrent. The so-called academic music, that which is studied in schools and conservatories, that which is fed from European sources and that which is created by the peoples as a symbiosis of the indigenous, the African and in which the European is also integrated, which in the end is called popular or folkloric. On the other hand, the music denominated ethnic is equivalent to another profuse torrent that demands particular attention and study. Ethnomusicology will take care of it, but that is another matter.
Antecedents of classical music in the continent
European music reached the Americas through the Catholic Church's dissemination of it. Thus each region, however different it may be, will end up being integrated into a single theological conception, the one imposed by the religion coming from Europe, a task in charge of the Jesuits and Franciscans through the "missions" or "indigenous reductions". With the evangelizing activity, from the XVI to the XVIII centuries, a powerful musical movement was generated in most of Latin America, culminating in the "American Baroque", a movement is also known as "American colonial music". The cathedrals of countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, and Argentina, preserved in their archives valuable examples of music from these centuries. These are works dedicated to the human voice, especially vocal polyphony.
This invaluable information has been found in archives such as that of Santiago de Chiquitos, in the Cathedral of Quito, in Chimborazo and Riobamba in Ecuador, or the Cathedral of Oaxaca in Mexico. In the National Library of Lima, for example, the oldest American choral work is preserved: Hanac Pachap cussi cuinim, that is, a Credo in Quechua on a base of Gregorian melodies. Works by the composers Cristóbal de Morales or Tomás Luis de Victoria, among other Spaniards, have also been found in the cathedrals of Oaxaca, Mexico and Puebla. Their style was admirably assumed by native composers such as Juan Xuárez, Lázaro del Álamo, Juan de Victoria and Hernando Franco.
On the other hand, as for the compositional structures most adopted in America, the Motet, the Mass, or the Villancico, are the European forms of greater use in the conquered lands. Regarding the most used instruments, towards the XVIII century, the organ will occupy a preponderant place in the churches. At the same time, the harp, the guitar and its derivatives -such as the tres and cuatro and the charango, to mention a few-, will end up being part of the popular and folkloric culture of the peoples of America, spreading rapidly throughout the continent: vihuelas, shawms, sacabuches, flutes, and clarinets came from these first luthiers of America, instruments used in the performance of secular music.
To conclude this sketch of the musical and compositional antecedents of Latin American music, we must point out that at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, the clear influences of European classicism can already be perceived in the compositions of Latin Americans. From this period, the Minas Gerais School in Brazil with the composers J. J. E. Lobo de Mezquita and M. Coelho Netto and the Chacao School in Caracas, Venezuela, with a first generation of composers headed by José Francisco Velásquez the Elder, José Antonio Caro de Boesi and Juan Manuel Olivares stand out. Later came José Ángel Lamas, Juan José Landaeta and Cayetano Carreño. All of them perfectly assimilated the aesthetics of the pre-classical composers. The orchestras reach an internal organization similar to Haydn's orchestra, that is to say, strings, oboes, and horns. The Tones, the Sonatas, the Symphonies, as well as the masses, are the recurrent forms in these schools.
Romanticism is another of the stylistic movements of European roots that will germinate in the American continent. Works by Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schubert, among many others, were incorporated into the repertoire of the theaters and family gatherings of the Creoles of America. Being the piano the instrument that gave the greatest prestige to a family, soon, many of them would organize gatherings and family reunions in which they interpreted at the piano: polkas, mazurkas, waltzes, cuadrillas among other dances.
Paradigmatic Composers of the 20th Century
In a letter sent by musicologist Alejo Carpentier from Caracas to French composer Edgard Varèse -author of the famous Les Amériques- the Cuban described with a certain pessimism the development of the movement of composers from South American countries, highlighting only certain countries as depositaries of a culture, an education and a musical production that could be rescued.
This pessimism does not lie so much in the inexistence of their productions, but more than anything in the naivety of the themes and the insertion of structures and languages of post-Romanticism or European neoclassicism of the first half of the 20th century, which, far from constituting a transgression, simply emulate creative inertia imported from the old continent. Likewise, the proposed indigenous themes and plots appear evoked in idealistic, sweetened, and inane terms, without treading any new musical path or facing any added creative risks.
All in all, Carpentier rescues the work of some of the creators who have most profoundly marked the musical evolution of the continent, laying the foundations of identity, no less Latin American for being syncretic. Without pretending to be sacral, this list is not a systematization but a proposal. We speak of Ginastera in Argentina, Villa-Lobos in Brazil, Alejandro García Caturla and Amadeo Roldán in Cuba as well as Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas in Mexico.
When speaking of the compositional panorama existing in Argentina in the 19th and 20th centuries, a country traditionally a producer of composers, we cannot ignore a series of names in charge of contributing pan-Americanist, indigenist and criollo airs such as Alberto Williams (1862-1952), Julián Aguirre (1868-1924), Carlos López Buchardo (1881-1948), Felipe Boero (1884-1958), Luis Gianneo (1897-1963) or Gilardo Gilardi (1899-1963). In relation to the indigenist movement and only as a brief example we must mention the operas Huemac and La Novia del Hereje by Pascual de Rogartis (1880-1980), Ollantay by Constantino Gaito and El Oro del Inca by Héctor Iglesias-Villoud (1913-1988), all premiered at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
But perhaps the highest peak of Argentina's classical-contemporary composition is embodied by Alberto Evaristo Ginastera. Not only because he emerges as a unitary creator, but also because he contributes profound originality in the works that, slowly but resolutely, he composes throughout the 20th century. His work covers three stages, the first one, the folklorist one, to which his first ballets, Panambí and Estancia, are attached and in which he emphasizes the strong rhythm of his country.
The second one is concentrated in the fifties and marks a progressive opening towards the new contemporary forms, among which dodecaphonism stands out. A sample of this fervent stage will be masterpieces of sound poetry as Concert for Harp (1956) or Cantata for Black America (1960). His third stage leads to a kind of conceptual harshness, since his works are no longer pleasant or playful, but slide towards a more serious and aggressive language, denoting a stage of the search for the essence of man in a convulsed world.
The musical Brazil of Heitor Villa-Lobos serves him to quintessentialize a novel way of composing, which even, paradoxically, leads him to influence, himself, in the way of creating the new popular music that leads to the tropicalism born at the end of the sixties and in force for 20 years. For this eclectic and multifaceted creator, his message was never nationalistic but universal. Of course, it was always circumscribed to specific forms. His importance lies in having reformulated the concept of nationalism, being also responsible for bringing musical avant-gardism closer to the Latin American scene.
In his prolific compositions, he shows great spontaneity, giving way to the development of improvisation and presenting an enormous instrumental coloring. All this is palpable in the extensive piano work developed (Prole do Bebê for example) and in later works such as Impressoes Seresteiras, Festa do Sertao, or his famous Choros (of which the best known is Choro Nº5 Alma Brasileira).
Pre-revolutionary Cuba contributed two priority names in the field of cultured music: Alejandro García Caturla (1906-1940) and Amadeo Roldán y Gardes (1900-1939). For having appeared at the same time and for having shared similar ideas, these two composers form an inseparable duo in the history of Cuban music. They would be the first Cuban composers to achieve a true synthesis between the ethnic elements that make up the Cuban national identity and the symphonic-compositional plane brought from Europe.
A disciple of Pedro San Juan and Nadia Boulanger, Caturla developed an enormous work of which the following stand out Tres Danzas Cubanas, Bembé, Obertura Cubana, La Rumba, the opera Manita en el Suelo -with text by Alejo Carpentier- and the compositions for choir, Canto de los Cafetales, and Caballo Blanco. In turn, Amadeo Roldán, violinist and composer, winner of the Sarasate Prize, has to his credit countless works, the best known of which is La Rebambaramba (1928), described at the time as a "multicolored musicorama" that turns an Afro-Cuban fiesta into a magnificent display of Caribbean melorhythms, including an incidental glissando with a donkey jaw.
Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez (1899-1978) and Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) are the two composers who, at the end of the 20th century, still dominate Mexico's musical panorama. These two popes of Latin American creation have been stereotyped according to their ideological preferences: "Revueltas, the uneducated and brilliant bohemian; Chávez the dictator of the official culture; Revueltas the hero of the left, Chávez the villain of the right; Revueltas, the musician who writes for the people and expresses their pain, Chávez the arid and cerebral composer who triumphs in the USA and ignores the Mexican people", but the reality is never so Manichean. Both were great admirers of authors such as Stravinsky, Milhaud, Hindemith, or Aaron Coplan, not to mention the fact that the style of both musicians exalts the absolute primacy of rhythm as the generator of composition.
As for the repertoire of works, Carlos Chavez composed among others, Polygons for Piano, Exagons for Voice, and Piano or Energy for nine instruments, within a section that we could call scientific and abstract music. Then came his well-known Sinfonía India (1936) where we can glimpse a strengthening of the celebratory mood and rampant Mexicanism. Finally, he also elaborated 10 preludes for Piano and a ballet entitled Caballos de Vapor. Revueltas, on the other hand, saw his life cut short at an early age, but his oeuvre is unusually rich. It ranges from pieces for small ensembles such as Ocho por radio (1933), to works for large orchestras such as Janitzio or Sensemayá. Also symphonic poems such as Cuauhnáhuac, Esquinas or the ballet El Renacuajo Paseador.
In the last thirty years of the 20th century, a phenomenon of essentialization of the Latin American entities takes place, at the same time that languages and instrumentation change, in such a way that some creations are submerged in the electronic world, without losing their contemporary vocation. The strength of the creative movement is gaining weight once the 21st century is entered, a moment in which the musical movement in all Latin America is evidenced in the proliferation of its choral, orchestral, soloist, and composer groups. The latter, covers the widest range of trends and aesthetic currents, without abandoning the old dialectic between the universal language and the defense of proposals with contents of regional identity. That is to say, what today is translated in economic and geopolitical terms as Globalization and Mundialization.
By Ezequiel Paz. Source: Inclusion