Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Peruvian Rhapsody

Though some might find them a bit sketchy, I'm rather proud of my posts on Latin American classical music.  They may be a bit impressionistic but they've opened up whole new vistas for me (and hopefully for you), exposing classical traditions of considerable richness that the rest of the world seems oblivious to - to its great loss. I'm saving two of the most widely-explored musical traditions (those of Argentina and Brazil) for a later date, but I'm now about to indulge myself and explore the classical music of Peru.

The one 'fact' I used to know about Peru is that it's classical tradition was so bad that it didn't even have a symphony orchestra. God knows where I got that from as Wikipedia informs me that the National Symphony Orchestra of Peru was formed in 1938. It attracted major composers (from Copland to Stravinsky), major conductors (Sargent to Kleiber) and major soloists (Menuhin to Arrau). There's also, Google suggests, a Lima Symphony Orchestra and a Lima Philharmonic Orchestra - and more besides. How wrong can you be? (Answer: Very). 

Peruvian composers? Well, given the influx of Spaniards following the conquest by Pizarro & Co., a good deal of Spanish-style early music can be expected. There seems to have been something of a time-lag, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the kind of music being written in Peru and that written in Europe. Mid-Baroque composers like (the Spanish-born) Juan de Araujo (1646-1712) sound more like late-Renaissance composers, whether in popular or in liturgical pieces - see Hola, hala, que vienen gitanas and Los Coflades de la estleya for examples of the former and the Venetian-style Dixit Dominus a 3 coros and Magnficat a 11 for examples of the latter, both of the final pair alternating polyphony and plainchant. Though historically significant, this fact of that time-lag doesn't detract from the splendour of de Araujo's music, which is widely considered to be the crowning glory of early Latin American music.

His almost exact contemporary Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco (1644-1728) is another fine figure in early music. The nobility of his setting of the Lamentations and the Monteverdian grandeur of his Magnificat a 15 testifies to the majesty of early Baroque church music in Latin America. More popular pieces - those Christmas carols called villancicos, for example - abound in the composer's art e.g. Cuando el bien que adoro. Torrejón also stands as a crucial figure historically by introducing opera to the Americas. His La Púrpura de la Rosa is, however, an opera with bags of distinctive Latin American colour - in rhythm and scoring -, thus bringing qualities that many have continued to associate with the region's music to an essentially Baroque world of sound.

Roque Ceruti (c.1685-1760) moves us into a later phase of Baroque music. A contemporary (an ocean apart) of Bach and Handel, his Beatus Vir a 4 and Dixit Dominus a 4 are a fascinating mix of (late) mid-Baroque elements and (early) late-Baroque ones while his Missa de Lima is pure (early) late-Baroque, with shades of Vivaldi. Those shades come into the open in such delightful villancicos as Hoy la tierra produce una rosa. For lovers of the European Baroque, this music will prove fascinating. It should prove an agreeable listen for most music lovers. If you can resist such a piece as Al Campo sale María, then you are adamantine in character.

The main figure of 19th Century music is José Bernardo Alcedo (1788-1878). He wrote the national anthem of Peru in 1821, Somos libres, seámoslo siempre. This (coming at it from a classical music buff's perspective) has a distinctly post-French-revolutionary feel to it, owing a lot in its structure, melody and harmony to La Marseillaise. I think I can see where Alcedo from coming from there! "Vive la Pérou!!" Moving forward half a century, a setting for chorus and orchestra of the Miserere from 1872 has plenty of early Verdi - or, at the very least, early-Romantic Italian opera (or even Rossini) - about it. Just listen to the soprano aria and the soprano/tenor duet, for example. There also also more familiar European choral/orchestral strains of writing (as found in the choral works of composers from Mozart to Berlioz). The piece rather took me by surprise. I have a feeling you'll like it too. (I'm not sure what piece I'm listening to here - which shares many a trait with the Miserere - but I like that too).

Moving into the last century, we come to the fascinating figure of Daniel Alomía Robles (1871-1942), composer and explorer of indigenous music. Just as composers in the rest of Latin America were beginning  at the end of the 1920s to make orchestral music based on indigenous folk music so, it seems, was Robles. From the date of the performance in the U.S. of his Hymn to the Sun (1930), said to be based on old Inca melodies, he seems to be quite a pioneer in this regard. I think I knew the main tune already. I'm sure I last heard it in Durham City centre last year, being performed on panpipes and electronic organ by chaps in ponchos and bowler hats. That Robles was a pioneer is confirmed by the date of his most famous melody, El cóndor pasa ('The condor passes'), based on a folk song and written for a zarzuela in 1913. (I know for a fact that I heard that last year in Durham City Centre - and in other city centres over the years! - where it sounded more like this.) It became world-famous thanks to Simon and Garfunkel in 1970. ("I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail," Paul sings. Same here.) It is a beautiful melody. It sounds to me like a cousin of the tune of the Hymn to the Sun. (Are the two related?) You might also like to try Amanecer andino ('Andean Sunrise'). 

Ernesto López Mindreau (1892-1972) studied with a number of the virtuoso pianist-composers - Rachmaninov, Stojowski and Xavier Scharwenka - and a measure of the highly Romantic soundworld of the latter pair can be heard in his Prélude (dans le style ancien). Marinera y Tondero (two type of dance, if you were wondering) seems to be the composer's most popular piece. In its piano version it shows the composer combining his virtuoso style with nationalist melodies and rhythms. In its orchestral version it proves a colourful dance miniature. Its popularity is easy to understand. It would make a charming encore at a concert.

Peru's main Romantic lieder composer appears to have been Alfonso de Silva (1902-1937). His songs (generous selections of which you can hear here and here) and his piano miniatures (a selection of which can be heard here) manifest a considerable talent, especially for lyrical expression. They really are very attractive. There are also orchestral works by de Silva, alas none of which I've been able to hear. Alfonso lived a bohemian life by all accounts, hence his short-life span it seems. Inca melodies weren't his kind of thing.

Moving on (and reflecting a strong European influence just as much as de Silva), a particularly attractive example of post-Ravel/post-Debussy-style piano writing is found in the Suite Hospital of 1928 by Robert Carpio (1900-1986), with harmonies to match, as well as in the lovely, atmospheric La procesión. Something of that harmonic influence even adds scent to his pretty Aire de vals of 1938 (yes, a waltz!) for violin and piano. An orchestration of an early work of his - namely his Nocturno of 1921 - shows a more Romantic side but hints at what is to come. 

And talking of impressionism...we now come to Theodoro Valcárcel (1902-1942), who lived only a little longer than Alfonso de Silva. He appears (from my researches) to be held in high regard by Peruvian classical music fans. Listening to his music has proved why. If you know Carlos Chávez's fiercely beautiful Sinfonia India you might be expecting a piece called Concierto Indio - a work from 1940 - to sound as 'primitive' and 'exotic' as that great Mexican masterpiece. Valcárcel's concerto, however, is a much more Romantic affair - a lyrical violin concerto that might have met with Max Bruch's approval. It uses indigenous melodies, but sweetly rather than savagely. It is a lovely, highly accomplished piece that could be a worldwide hit if taken up by a star violinist. A song in much the same vein (aaah, lovely!) is Suray Surita (one of the composers Four Inca Songs). You can also hear a beautiful, impressionist-tinged piano version of Suray Surita at the start of a selection of piano miniatures by the composer here. All the piano pieces in that selection combine 'Indian' melodies with impressionist piano writing - a winning combination if ever there was one! (Other piano pieces in the same vein can be heard here. Other beautiful Valcárcel songs can he heard here and here.) This is very beguiling music.

Robbles's music reminds me of the Latin American nationalist composers of the middle decades of the 20th Century and what they were about to develop - and what Aaron Copland was to take up so keenly. One of the elder statesmen of Peruvian music Celso Garrido-Lecca (b.1926) studied under Copland. It's to him we turn next. His rich and varied music also shows a strong interest in Peruvian folk music when it wants to, as can be heard in his Danzas Populares Andinas for violin and piano (1981) and his likeable Retablos Sinfónicos ('Symphonic Altarpieces') of 1980. The latter has some rather Copland-like syncopations. His Dúo concertante is scored for guitar and charango (an Andean instrument of the lute family), another manifestation of his interest in indigenous music, though it also reveals a neo-classical side to the composer. His mainstream modernist side (non-serial) comes out in pieces like the Trío para un nuevo tiempo from 1986, though glimpses of Peruvian folk music peep through from time to time even here. Soliloquio III (1997) is an engaging piece for bass and percussion - an unusual combination for sure. This again blends mainstream modernism (usually from the bass) with indigenous folk influences (generally voiced by the percussion). Something akin to this fusion of modernism and folkishness can also be heard in his Soliloquio I for solo flute (Berio's Sequenza were probably at the back of the composer's mind, I'm guessing). Going back to an early work like the lovely Música para teatro for wind quintet (1956) shows where some of these trends came from. This is neo-classical music that clearly knows its Stravinsky but isn't averse to giving us a taste of Peruvian folksong-type tunes too. Dipping back even further to 1953 shows something unexpected - a piece that does show a Schoenbergian influence, Orden for piano. There's quite a bit of Garrido-Lecca on YouTube - including a fair few pieces I've not featured here. Celso Garrido-Lecca is evidently a many-sided composer and you will, I think, exploring his output further. 

Stravinskyan harmonies can also be heard in the Suite for Orchestra of 1956 by Enrique Iturriaga (b.1918), who studied alongside Garrido-Lecca - a debt you can hear being honoured in his Homenaje a Stravinsky for percussion and orchestra. Both pieces suggest a composer with a flair for writing colourful, rhythmic music. That he can put such flair to more traditional uses can be heard in his rather old-fashioned but  accomplished Sinfonía Junín y Ayacucho - a late-Romantic symphony about two of the key battles in Peru's War of Independence. A widely performed piano piece of his (if YouTube is anything to go by), Pregón y danza, returns us to Stravinskyan harmonies - though rather pleasingly they are now allied to  impressionist piano writing in the first piece and somewhat Bartok-like piano writing in the second. 

Armando Guevara Ochoa (b.1923) passed away around a week ago. His Vilcanota for string orchestra is rather in the style of Robbles's Hymn to the Sun. It is pleasing, colourful and heavily melodic in a distinctly indigenous-sounding Peruvian way. Quite irresistible. He is classed as a "neoindigenista" composer. Other numbers in the same vein include Cusco and his solo flute piece Yaraví, danza y huayno. His symphonic poem Kukuli draws on similar themes and gives them a cinematic sweep. (I believe the piece was derived from a film score). Those who love colourfully nationalist postcard-type pieces (and who doesn't?) will great enjoy Ochoa's music. His Danza Criolla is a particularly delightful piece of Coplandiana. R.I.P.

One of the revelations from my surveys of Mexican, Chilean and Venezuelan music is the extent to which those countries have developed a musical avant-garde. Schoenberg and Hindemith shared an influence as teachers on José Malsio (1924-2007), as you can hear from his Danza para orquesta of 1948. (Yes, those who loathe this kind of music aren't even safe in a post about Peruvian classical music!)

When we come to Enrique Pinilla (1927-1989) we find ourselves meeting a composer who worked in the electroacoustic field. His Prisma (1967) is, if I may say so, a typical piece of avant-garde '60s electronic music - sounding perfect for a seriously scary horror movie set set in outer space (with very unfriendly aliens determined to do terrible things to the poor, hapless humans). You may think that sounds a facetious thing to say, but it isn't really - as you'll hear if you listen to the piece.

Theodoro Valcárcel's nephew Edgar Valcárcel (1932-2010) keeps us with the avant-garde - for a while at least. Here were are, back in the 1960s, listening to spacy, spooky electronic music in Invención from 1966. Enrique Pinilla's Prisma was the only piece I could find by him so it shouldn't be used to define the man's music. There's much more Edgar Valcárcel on the internet. His Piano Sonata No.2 (1971) is certainly avant-garde and seems to show the influence of his own exploration of electronic music, but it's utterly magical and (to my ears) a strikingly original piece of piano writing. Six years before he died, Edgar wrote a violin concerto of his own called...after the example of his uncle...Concierto Indio. It is a most intriguing piece, having some of the same lyrical qualities and making use of indigenous melodies in much the same way as Uncle Theodoro but melding them into a mainstream modernist language. This is, like its model, a piece that deserves an international megastar to take it up and sweep it to the world's attention. By 2004, like much of the composing world, Edgar had evidently abandoned the avant-garderie of his younger self, and you can hear that process in action (with Peruvian melodies galore) in the richly-imagined Coral y Sikuri of 1994 (a fantastic piece) and, from slightly earlier, in the 1989 orchestral score Ácora. I was, in passing, pleased to see the title Homenaje a Duparc among the composer's worklist. That master of French song deserves homage.

Francisco Pulgar Vidal (1929-2012) pursued a more traditional path throughout, whether writing a rather Ravelian early string quartet - the String Quartet No.1 of 1953 - or a colourful symphony (shades of Chávez,  Revueltas and Stravinsky) with a strong Peruvian folk flavour - his Sinfonía Nasca (extracts only) of 1987. I enjoyed both pieces, as I did the large-scale cantata Apu Inqa of 1970 (manifesting many of the same influences as the symphony), with its chant-like choral writing, insistent rhythms and percussion-rich orchestration. This entertaining piece deserves to travel well beyond Peru. Pulgar Vidal's roots in Stravinsky, pretty apparent in the symphony and the cantata, become even clearer in Vallejiana No.7, "Los Nueve Monstruos" for soprano, vibraphone, timpani and piano from 1990 (like Les Noces meets Carl Orff).

There does seem to be a lot of fine Peruvian classical music out there. I'll end this post with a piece from 2000 by José Sosaya (b.1956) that seems to unite the spirit of the earliest music of Peru with its most modern (electroacoustic), his Voces. There are a lot of Peruvian voices (not just Juan Diego Florez!)

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