Latin American Classical Notes

by John Walker

Segment 1: Overview.

    More than anything else, this is a series about national identity. Not only from the standpoint of how the inhabitants of a particular nation may collectively identify themselves, but also the way in which that identity is outwardly manifested to our fellow citizens of the world. For some of us, this identity may be a characteristic that requires very little individual effort, if any at all. For others, however, creating a national identity separate and apart from that of other nations may represent a real struggle.

    The purpose of this series, however, is not to argue the perceived advantages or disadvantages of a given national identity, or, to make principled comparisons between the identity of one nation versus another. Rather, this series is designed not only to create a lens through which we may appreciate how and why a national identity develops over time, but also to look into a mirror whereby this same process may help us to illuminate how we think about our own national identity.

    Although it may seem counterintuitive, Latin America provides a good starting point from which to begin. It is true that this region shares a similar history (mostly) of colonization at the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese, and the majority of its inhabitants are Catholic. Nevertheless, since becoming independent states during the 19th century, the individual Latin American countries have struggled to answer a very simple question: what makes their country different from the one right next door?

    More than anything else, the answer can be found in the classical (or art) music that developed in each Latin American country. But that answer is by no means monolithic: some, believing the constructs of classical music to be yet another form of colonialism, actively sought to create a kind of anti-European classical music. This kind of music, called indigenism, is the subject of the next few segments of this series. Others, however, embraced European musical formulations and sought to compete on the same field as Europeans and North Americans. We’ll consider this, as well as folkloric, naturalistic, and several other kinds of classical music in Latin America.

    Latin American classical music, much like the people who create it, perform it, and enjoy it, is quite diverse, and not at all as uniform as one might think. Please join me as we take a closer look at the art music of the other Americas.