Music Research in Puerto Rico
Published online: 1 October 1983
- PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374165
Music Research in Puerto Rico
Written by Donald Thompson
Symposium Volume 23
All descriptions of native music in Puerto Rico in Precolumbian times and during the early colonial period are derived from the writings of a handful of observers. The first of these were the Spanish cronistas, chroniclers who accompanied the earliest voyages of Europeans to these islands, beginning with those of Cristal Colón: Christopher Columbus himself. Later accounts reach into the eighteenth century, but in these the problem is to determine how much of the writer's material is based on observation and how much on earlier accounts.
The early chroniclers were as accurate in the details as their experience, their perceptions, and the pressures of the moment permitted, but vague in reporting locations. Where music is concerned it is thought that this vagueness is of little importance, for it is assumed that the inhabitants of the three Greater Antilles were of the same general ethnic group. On this subject I should like to quote Jesse Fewkes, author of an extensive summary of information concerning the aborigines of Puerto Rico and neighboring islands which appeared in the Twenty-fifth Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1907). Fewkes had been commissioned by the director of that agency to visit Puerto Rico in 1902, with subsequent visits in 1903 and 1904 which also included Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, and the Lesser Antilles.
According to Fewkes,
Documents specially describing the Indians of Puerto Rico are few, but as the same or a closely related race inhabited the neighboring islands, it is legitimate to bring as an aid . . . descriptions, which are many, of the natives of these adjacent islands.
For our knowledge of the ceremonies of the prehistoric Puerto Ricans we must rely wholly on early authors whose accounts relate to the Indians of Haiti rather than Puerto Rico. As all agree that there was close similarity in the inhabitants of the two islands we are justified in the belief that the descriptions given held good for the Indians of Borinquen, or Puerto Rico.
It is true, as Fewkes says, that the chroniclers themselves saw the inhabitants of the different islands as one group. One of the earliest observers, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, spoke specifically of similarities in worship, dances, ball games, agriculture, fishing, marriage traditions, and many other aspects of life and custom.
If we wish to speak of Precolumbian music and ritual in Puerto Rico, then, we must use as sources observations which were most probably not made there at all. This is certainly not the most promising way to launch an account of the research sources for music in Puerto Rico, but this is the way it must be until some hitherto unknown sixteenth-century chronicler is discovered.
The first of the writers to whom we are indebted was Fray Ramón Pané, a religious of the Order of St. Jerome who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the New World—the voyage during which this island was, in fact, first seen by Europeans. Already with Fray Ramón we confront a problem, not of authenticity but of provenance. Pané introduced his description of the indigenous Tainos' life and customs with the statement that his observations were limited to the island of Hispaniola. Nevertheless, his words have been taken as specifically descriptive of Puerto Rico.
Fray Ramón Pané's work was entitled Relación de la antigüedad de los Indios de la Española, and is known today only through its inclusion in other works, including the Historia apologética of Bartolomé de Las Casas. It is also incorporated into Fernando Colón's account of his father's life and travels, where at least one translation describes an instrument which Pané called mayohavau, as follows:
Made of wood and hollow; strong, yet very thin, an ell long and half as wide; the part which is played has the shape of a blacksmith's tongs, and the other end is like a club, so that it looks like a gourd with a long neck; this instrument is so sonorous that it can be heard a league and a half away. To its accompaniment they sing their chants, which they know by heart; and their principal men learn from infancy to play and sing to it, according to their custom.
An ell was forty-five inches and a league three miles, but what was this instrument? Nobody knows, nor is there even a basis in other descriptions of instruments which might permit some kind of educated guess.
Fernando Colón himself is credited by at least one modern writer with having described the indigenous babao or jabao, "a kind of guzla with three strings," the guzla being an eastern European instrument of the bowed-string family. The tracing of this undocumented reference to Colón's writing is worth a small investigation in itself, to say nothing of the larger question of what the instrument might have been, if indeed the object was a musical instrument at all. One thing is quite certain, however; a "kind of guzla" is about as likely to have appeared in the Antilles around 1500 as would have been a "kind of saxophone" in a Mozart symphony around 1780.
Already, the point becomes clear. Much of what is fervently believed about the music of the islanders in Precolumbian times and at the time of the Conquista may well be based on similarities which Europeans saw, or thought they saw, with European objects, complicated by later elaborations and foggy translations. In other words, the early sources themselves are highly problematical; on top of this they are seen nowadays only through layers of perhaps fanciful elaboration and creative translation.
What other early sources are there? Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566) was in Hispaniola from 1502, and spent parts of the next sixty years in the New World. His Historia general y natural de Indias contains observations of great musical interest, for he describes native dancing, singing, ritual, and musical instruments. Among these is the maraca, which he describes as a hollow bell (cascabel), very cleverly made of wood and containing pebbles. It has been surmised by anthropologists that Fray Bartolomé erred in describing the instrument as made of wood rather than gourd, for no other evidence exists for hollowed wood having been used in this way. On the other hand, very recent discoveries in Puerto Rico have included what appears to be nothing less than an ancient hollow carved wooden bell! At this moment, however, the object in question awaits study.
Another often cited observer was Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, who arrived in the Antilles not as a priest but as a government functionary. Oviedo's Historia general y natural de las Indias (1535-1557) and Sumario de La natural historia de las Indias (1526) contain a great deal of information concerning native customs, including music and dance. Of special interest is Oviedo's detailed description of a large wooden slit drum, the magüey, which accompanied the areito, the sung and danced communal ceremony which was apparently practiced throughout the Greater Antilles.
Another set of early writers includes Pietro Martire d'Anghiera (1455-1526) and Francisco López de Gómara (1510-1560), whose references to the areito and to musical instruments are often cited as if they were primary sources. They are not, for neither of these writers was ever in the New World. Based necessarily on the older accounts, their writing is already at least one step down the path of interpretation and elaboration, and, as we have seen, is not specifically descriptive of the island of Puerto Rico anyway.
Indeed, as Fewkes pointed out in his 1907 report,
There are in fact no extensive special descriptions of the Puerto Rican Indians earlier than the History of Puerto Rico by Iñigo, published at the close of the 18th century, and at that time the race had practically disappeared.
By the end of the eighteenth century the areito itself had long since disappeared along with almost all other traces of the indigenous Taino culture, so we are left with what we started with as the only sources for the earliest period and the indigenous music of the Greater Antilles—and not specifically Puerto Rican, at that: Pané, Las Casas, and Oviedo.
Knowledge of music and musical life in Puerto Rico during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries is limited almost exclusively to church music. The basic source of information is a set of San Juan Cathedral actas capitulares comprising 22 books and covering the years 1652-1850. The truth is that these books are no longer to be seen, having disappeared sometime between 1915 and 1940. How, then, can they be the basic source for anything?
Around 1913 the archivist Fray Antonio de Castillo painstakingly extracted summaries of the actas capitulares for publication in La verdad, a journal published in San Juan by the Franciscan Order. According to Robert Stevenson, an outstanding scholar in the field of Latin American music, on the evidence of these careful summaries the missing chapter records probably contained more data for Puerto Rican cultural history than any other known documents. It is indeed a tragedy that they are lost.
Fray Antonio's summaries have since been reprinted, in the Boletín de historia puertorriqueña for 1950 as "Indice razonado de las actas capitulares de la Catedral de San Juan de Puerto Rico." In addition, they served as the basis for his Historia eclesiástica de Puerto Rico, published under the author's civil name, Antonio Cuesta Mendoza. In the absence of the chapter records themselves, then, the "Indice razonado" and Cuesta Mendoza's Historia eclesiástica take on much of the weight of primary sources themselves.
Other important early sources have been letters and reports by ecclesiastical functionaries in Puerto Rico to their principals in Spain, accounts of voyages, military and naval records and reports (such as an account of the Dutch East Indies Company published in Leiden in 1644), and ecclesiastical records from such other places as Caracas and Santo Domingo.
Vast quantities of archival material are preserved at the Archivo General de Indias at Seville, dealing with all phases of official life in the American colonies. The ecclesiastical records housed there would be valuable documents for the history of music in Spanish America, simply because so much musical life revolved around the church.
Some general histories have also become important sources of information concerning music, such as Fray Iñigo Abad y Lasierra's Historia natural, civil y geográfica de la isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico (1788).
Abad arrived in Puerto Rico in 1771 as secretary and confessor to Bishop Manuel Jiménez Peréz, remaining here until 1778. Among other matters of interest, Abad quotes the old descriptions of maracas, observing that they were still in use at the time of his own stay on the island. Especially interesting are Abad's own descriptions of parties and dances, to both of which islanders at the end of the eighteenth century were much given, along with "strong and spirituous beverages . . . and other inclinations."
Another valuable source at the end of the eighteenth century is the naturalist André Pierre Ledru's account of his voyage to Tenerife, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Trinidad and Puerto Rico in 1797. This work was first published in 1810, and there have been many subsequent editions including a handy translation to Spanish of the section dealing with Puerto Rico.
Ledru's descriptions are in the way of travelers' observations, and must be read as if through the eyes of the traveler himself. For example, Ledru seems startled by the easy mixture of blacks, whites, and mulattos dancing at a party celebrating the birth of a child. He describes the event in some detail; the guests alternated African and Creole dances, to music provided by a guitar and the drum which, as he says, is popularly called the bomba.
The nineteenth century offers a broadening panorama of primary and secondary sources, for island life began to experience increasing commercial movement; bringing with it the amenities of secular cultural life and the pastimes of a literate and gregarious middle class. In addition to ecclesiastical records and reports the sources now include municipal records, reports of the insular civil authority, an increasing flow of travelers' descriptions, and of extreme importance, newspapers and magazines of both general and specialized interest. Also available is a steadily increasing stream of island fiction, reminiscence, essays and dramatic literature in which are imbedded valuable indications of customs, including musical usages. Island biographical and historical writing begins, and the printing and publishing business extends to include music and didactic materials. Of course, material originating elsewhere—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, Caracas—can also shed light on musical activities in Puerto Rico.
Where is all of this documentation for the island's musical life in the nineteenth century to be found? History, literature, biography, reminiscences and travel accounts are to be seen at the Puerto Rico Collection of the University of Puerto Rico Library (Rio Piedras), some at the Ponce Library (Ponce), some at the Puerto Rico General Archive at Puerta de Tierra (San Juan), and in private collections. According to Thomas Mathews' "General Survey of the Materials Related to Puerto Rico Held by the Library of Congress" (1956), the Library of Congress has the largest single collection of holdings on Puerto Rico outside of the Archivo General de Indias and the University of Puerto Rico Library. There is also material at the New York Public Library, the British Library, the National Library at Paris, and in the Latin American collections of various universities in the United States. Finally, many kinds of government documentation turn up here and there, including customs and immigration records.
Many runs of nineteenth-century newspapers are to be found at the University of Puerto Rico Library and at the Puerto Rico General Archive, and it is likely that other sets and collections of newspapers are moldering away in private homes along with boxes of printed and manuscript music.
Music by Puerto Rican composers turns up in collections from San Juan to Caracas and Madrid. For example, an extremely important piece of Puerto Rican music, the score to the opera Macías, by Felipe Gutiérrez (1825-1899), lies at the Biblioteca de Palacio in Madrid.
Twentieth-century sources are in pretty fair shape and getting better, as specialists locate, describe, and catalogue the existing materials. But what does exist?
Primary material for the study of the art music of the first third of the century, i.e., manuscript music, is in the same condition as for the previous period. Main locations are the General Archive at Puerta de Tierra and the University of Puerto Rico Music Library. Quantities of manuscript also exist in boxes in private homes, some of it finding its way through relatives, friends and visiting university students to someone who can identify it, catalogue it, and assess its importance. Doubtless, untold quantities have been lost forever or are by now past recovering.
This situation ends at midcentury, for since the 1950s composers have become increasingly self conscious, and their manuscripts are more likely being saved for publication or eventual donation to a library or an archive for research purposes. This is the age of the deposit copy, and a number of island composers already have copies of their works at one or another library on the island or abroad.
Recordings are now available of a number of works by contemporary island composers; these can be considered primary sources, for in most cases they were made under the composers' direct supervision or released with their approval.
For basic research into the conditions of eighteenth-century European art music, a prime source of data has been found in personnel and payroll records of courts and other noble or aristocratic establishments. We can be sure that today's Commonwealth government records will be valuable sources for anyone wishing to reconstruct certain aspects of Puerto Rican musical life since the 1950s, when the insular government began to take a direct hand in the conception and organization of musical events.
Newspaper runs are fairly complete for the twentieth century, and there is at least one general index to an island newspaper: the index to El mundo, maintained by the Puerto Rico Collection of the University of Puerto Rico Library.
Finally, for information concerning the island's musical life during the middle third of the present century there is an excellent source available but one which is usually overlooked until it is too late. I refer to the memories of persons who have themselves been directly involved in musical affairs over a long period of time. Lately this type of source has been dignified if somewhat dehumanized by the application of a ringing title: "resources for oral history." The point is, and regardless of what they may be called, such persons are extremely important sources of information and impressions. Until now, only folk music studies have made extensive use of this resource in Puerto Rico, but it has proven valuable indeed.
If these are the sources for music research in Puerto Rico, then, what use has been made of them?
There has been an increasing flow of writing about music in Puerto Rico during the past 50 years, and it can be divided into four general classes. First is general description, appearing mainly in feature articles in island newspapers and magazines. Second is critical writing concerning current musical events and the passing musical scene, also appearing in newspapers and magazines. Third is the repetition of someone else's general description or critical writing, often not wholly understood and very often elaborated, appearing in works of some scholarly pretension and/or didactic intent. Fourth is the result of careful observation and the study of relevant literature, and involves the careful recording of data, the due documentation of sources, and the formulation of conclusions.
This fourth class of writing is what musicologists do, or like to think they do. This type of writing, when made accessible through publication, becomes part of the growing store of secondary sources and useful guides in its field, subject to professional evaluation and available for further use in advancing knowledge, which when you come right down to it is what it's all about anyway.
What have we in Puerto Rico which falls into this high-powered category of specialized thought?
The systematic way of looking at music made its first tentative appearance at the beginning of the present century, for Música y músicos portorriqueños by Fernando Callejo Ferrer, published in 1915, must be recognized as the first attempt to make sense out of Puerto Rico's musical history. This work is a biographical and topical dictionary of music in Puerto Rico by a musician himself, offering a great deal of loosely organized information, mainly about composers and performers. Many of these figures were known to Callejo, and much of the information consists of impressions and reminiscences rather than hard data. But Callejo deserves all honor, for he was the first and only musician, to our knowledge, actually to examine the books of actas capitulares at the San Juan Cathedral, extracting information of musical interest and placing it in some kind of more or less formal order.
The first rigorous examination of Puerto Rican folk music was made by the North American folklorist John Alden Mason, who visited Puerto Rico a few years after the publication of Callejo's book. Mason and his aides collected a staggering number of folk song texts, publishing them along with an extensive and still valuable essay on the dissemination of Spanish folk song in the New World, in the Journal of American Folklore (1918). Spinoffs and secondary tremors from this work continued to be felt for decades as other authors followed lines first laid out by Mason. For example, as late as 1951 the Journal of American Folklore carried an article by Maxine Gordon, which went further into the specifically musical connections of some of Mason's previously published texts.
It will come as a surprise to no one that musicological research, like most other research carried out as a deliberate and organized pursuit, is most often conducted by persons connected with universities. Island musical research first became of interest to native academics in the early 1930s, when María Cadilla de Martínez completed her dissertation entitled La poesía popular de Puerto Rico for the University of Madrid. Possessing an excellent bibliography, this work also offers considerable information on folk music, serenades, dances, and street cries, much of it based on the author's own observations. As occasionally happens, the energy generated during this experience powered further work for another 20 years, for Dr. Cadilla de Martínez continued to write on many subjects connected with island popular culture until the early 1950s.
Another University of Madrid dissertation which is basic to the study of Puerto Rican folk music is Francisco López Cruz' La música de Puerto Rico (1953). López Cruz was—and is still—an extremely practical musician, directly connected with his subject as a performer. The most valuable element in all of his published work is that part which reflects his own experience. Dr. López Cruz must be recognized as a pioneer in the field of folk music studies in Puerto Rico, and one who actively continues in this work to the present day.
Also appearing in the 1950s was the first doctoral dissertation dealing with Puerto Rican music to be accepted by a U.S. institution. This was a work entitled Transitional Qualities in Puerto Rican Folk Music, by Ruth Allen Fouché, accepted at Chicago Musical College in 1954 as part of the requirements for the Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
This work was intended to "indicate a new and fertile field of musicological research," and was based on material recorded in the field and/or adapted from published collections. Unfortunately, the author became distracted along the way by a famous red herring which lies squarely across the trail of Taino Indian ritual and music: the spurious "Areito de Anacaona," of which I shall have more to say later.
Another piece of academic work dating from the 1950s and touching Puerto Rican folk music is Lisa Lekis' The Origin and Development of Ethnic Caribbean Dance and Music (Ph.D., University of Florida, 1956). Mrs. Lekis spent several years on the University of Puerto Rico faculty around 1950 where among other things she organized an extremely ambitious Caribbean Folk Festival. What her dissertation offers on Puerto Rico is of interest mainly from the point of view of dance, which was the author's principal field of competence. In addition, the work was quite valuable for many years as a bibliographic guide to its subject.
Not an academic work but also dating from the 1950s is Ricardo Alegría's pamphlet entitled La Fiesta de Santiago en Loiza Aldea, published in Madrid in 1954. While not mainly devoted to music this little work has become a much quoted source, for it includes a description of the music played and of the instruments used during the festivity.
Back to academe it is in the 1960s, with the first of a crop of folk music studies conceived along the lines of ethnomusicological research. This work is an M.A. thesis at Hunter College by Héctor Vega Drouet, entitled Some Musical Forms of African Descendants in Puerto Rico: Bomba, Plena and Rosario Francés (1969). In it, Vega Drouet traces specific characteristics of these island genres to West African antecedents, a line of investigation which the author developed further in his 1979 doctoral dissertation at Wesleyan University. This latter work is entitled Historical and Ethnological Survey on Probable African Origins of the Puerto Rican Bomba, Including a Description of Santiago Apostol Festivities at Loiza Aldea.
In connection with folk music it is appropriate to mention the contributions of University of Puerto Rico professor Marcelino Canino, whose work frequently touches upon island folk music although it is mainly directed elsewhere. His M.A. thesis (University of Puerto Rico, 1965) is entitled La copla y el romance populares en la tradición oral de Puerto Rico; his tesis de licenciatura (Madrid, 1967) is entitled La canción de cuna en la tradición de Puerto Rico, and his doctoral dissertation (University of Puerto Rico, 1969) was La poesía tradicional de Puerto Rico. The three interconnected works are well documented studies of popular literature, much of which is associated with music. The bibliographies are valuable aids, quite apart from the data and the conclusions presented in Canino's texts.
1978 saw the first extended island study in the field of urban folk-popular music, an M.A. thesis in psychology at the University of Puerto Rico entitled Estudio psico-etnográfico de la música "salsa" en Puerto Rico. The emphasis here is on the social significance of salsa texts although the author, Julio Víctor Montalvo, also examines some aspects of instrumentation and musical style which have social significance.
Recent studies in the field of folk music not connected with thesis or dissertation requirements have included Pedro Escabí's pioneer work, incorporated into his Estudio etnográfico de la cultura popular de Puerto Rico: Morovis: vista parcial del folklore de Puerto Rico. Published in 1971 by the University of Puerto Rico Social Science Research Center, this work was followed in 1976 by La décima: vista parcial del folklore, by Pedro and Elsa Escabí.
Folk music studies in Puerto Rico have profited by the application of anthropological methods of gathering and classifying data, plus the anthropologist's view of comparative studies across different ethnic groups, plus the application of sociological concepts of change and syncretism. Recently, and following the general trend of international ethnomusicology, this kind of study has expanded in Puerto Rico to incorporate a growing body of thought concerning urban, as contrasted to rural, folk music.
A very good example of this kind of study, and an important contribution to the understanding of Puerto Rican music, is Martha E. Davis' extensive article, "The Social Organization of a Musical Event: The Fiesta de Cruz in San Juan, Puerto Rico," in the journal Ethnomusicology for 1972.
Let us turn now to the field of concert music for a look at a few products of research and observation in Puerto Rico.
The fondly remembered Monserrate Deliz was a pioneer music teacher at the University of Puerto Rico, who was led by her enthusiasm and her musical curiosity into a gentle kind of search and a pleasant kind of writing. In addition to brief articles on the Puerto Rican danza, Miss Deliz is remembered for an extensive study of the official anthem of Puerto Rico, entitled El himno de Puerto Rico: Estudio crítico de "La borinqueña" (Madrid, 1957).
Other enthusiasts with good historical sense and the tenacious instincts of the successful researcher have included the composer Amaury Veray and the art historian Arturo Dávila. During the late 1950s and early 1960s Veray published a number of biographical studies of Puerto Rican composers which still stand as basic references. Arturo Dávila, in the course of his specialized research in art history, has turned up and published in the journal of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture some important material dealing with late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century musicians.
To many, María Luisa Muñoz' book La música en Puerto Rico, published in 1966 by Troutman Press, was a disappointment and a great source of frustration. The work, a critically needed historical panorama of the island's music, is unattractively put together, poorly illustrated, and almost entirely undocumented. However, here is a curious case. The dissertation on which this work was based, Music in Puerto Rico (Columbia University, 1958) is a much better job than the published book. The dissertation is more complete; its format is much more attractive, and it contains the documentation missing from the book.
Fernando Caso, still another member of the University of Puerto Rico Music Department faculty, achieved a breakthrough with his 1972 M.M. thesis at Indiana University: a breakthrough because this was the first extended study of any aspect of the island's contemporary art music. Entitled Héctor Campos Parsi in the History of Twentieth-Century Music of Puerto Rico, this work provided a useful summary of modern musical composition in Puerto Rico.
Recently accepted at the University of Paris VIII is a pioneer master's thesis by Ana María Rosado entitled Essai historique sur la guitare classique à Porto Rico. Offering a great deal of information concerning the guitar, guitarists and guitar music in Puerto Rico, this work will become an important addition to the growing repertory of secondary sources and compilations dealing with the island's music.
While not dealing directly with music but with sources of information, a recent dissertation in the field of library science has already taken its place as an extremely valuable research instrument in our field. This is Annie Figueroa Thompson's Puerto Rican Newspapers and Journals of the Spanish Colonial Period as Source Materials for Musicological Research: An Analysis of Their Musical Content (Ph.D., Florida State University, 1980). Among other features, this work provides an almost day-to-day guide to the musical coverage of all extant nineteenth-century island newspapers.
One more work will complete this survey of academic research in the art music field. This is Myrna Casas' doctoral dissertation (New York University, 1974) entitled Theatrical Production in Puerto Rico From 1700 to 1824: The Role of the Government and of the Roman Catholic Church. Here is yet another illustration of the fact that work in one field can be extremely valuable in another. This dissertation, while obviously dealing with theater, is based on archival material which also has relevance to music due to the close relationship which existed between the two fields in both governmental and ecclesiastical officialdom.
There has been no lack of theses and dissertations in the field of music education, directed toward correcting one or another ill in the teaching of music in the schools of Puerto Rico. Most of this literature is marginal to the subject of music itself. Still, the education thesis can serve a very useful bibliographic purpose, besides offering in historical chapters a chronological framework of musical events and occurrences.
Robert Fitzmaurice's 1970 doctoral dissertation at Florida State University is of this kind. It is entitled Music Education in Puerto Rico: A Historical Survey With Guidelines For an Exemplary Curriculum, but it goes far beyond its title. Fitzmaurice has incorporated in this work some valuable information on nineteenth-century military bands; in addition, the dissertation is concerned with government policies in public education over the years, which have naturally had important effects on the art of music (and on the perception of music) in Puerto Rico.
In non-thesis literature there have been some recent contributions, including a body of material collectively entitled "Music, Dance and Theater in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean" which spreads across three numbers of the Revista/Review Interamericana, a journal published in San Juan by Inter American University. The first of these special numbers (Winter 1978/79) contains three fresh contributions to musical scholarship in Puerto Rico.
The most extensive of these is by Robert Stevenson, and is entitled "Music in the San Juan, Puerto Rico Cathedral to 1900." Characteristic of Professor Stevenson's way of doing things, this is a densely compact piece of work which provides a great quantity of very valuable information.
Another article in this set is "Puerto Rican Musical Culture Following the Spanish-American War, 1898-1910," by Catherine Dower. Professor Dower's article sheds light on island musical life during a very important decade, light which tends to revise some fervently held views on the immediate effects of the U.S. occupation on the island's cultural life.
Finally, Gustavo Batista of the University of Puerto Rico offers a brief description, based on archival sources, of a music academy established in San Juan in the 1870s by composer Felipe Gutiérrez y Espinosa.
The second of these special numbers of the Revista/Review Interamericana (Spring 1979) contains a contribution by the present writer which has been found useful as a bibliographic aid to music research in Puerto Rico, and as such I offer it here. It is entitled "Music, Theater and Dance in Central America and the Caribbean: An Annotated Bibliography of Dissertations and Theses." And while on the subject of bibliography, I shall mention a work which serves as a readily available key to much of the research described in this presentation. The work is Annie Figueroa Thompson's An Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Music in Puerto Rico, published in 1975 by the Music Library Association. Although a second edition is now definitely in order, this pioneer contribution is an extremely useful aid in the field of Puerto Rican music bibliography.
What, then, is the state of music research in Puerto Rico at the beginning of the 1980s? Not bad, considering that there are only two entities which are consistently interested in it. One of these is the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, whose Revista has been an important organ for the dissemination of information. In addition, the Institute's series of recordings has provided valuable sonoral documentation in both the art music and the folk music of Puerto Rico.
The other institution is the University of Puerto Rico, where between the University Music Library and the Puerto Rico Collection of the General Library there can be found important primary and secondary materials in wholesale quantities. The same can be said, of course, of the Puerto Rico General Archive at Puerta de Tierra. The difference is that at the University of Puerto Rico there is a population of faculty and students in continuous contact with these materials, and a direct effect is felt in daily classroom activity. Several members of the University of Puerto Rico music faculty, apart from their other specialized interests, have conducted research in one or another phase of the island's music, as this survey has shown.
To close, then, how about some puzzles and a bit of professional gossip? Specifically, I propose to close with a notorious red herring (mentioned earlier), and a bottomless pit, and what appears for now to be a blind alley.
The red herring we may take as an example of how easily even those who should know better can be led down a tempting but false trail through not checking their sources.
In 1883 appeared the second edition of a work by the Cuban writer Antonio Bachiller y Morales, entitled Cuba primitiva. Therein is offered the text and music of what purports to be the authentic melody to the Song of Anacaona, the beautiful Queen of Hispaniola who was killed in 1503. The melody, in staff notation, treble clef, is in arpeggiated G Major, outlining tonic and dominant harmony. The piece displays the characteristic European eight-bar design, a rigid rhythm of eighth and sixteenth notes, and a text which, if anything, seems to suggest Afro-Spanish or Afro-French patois.
Bachiller had borrowed it from Henry R. Schoolcraft's Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (Philadelphia, 1852). Schoolcraft was careful to note his source: one Hamilton Pierson, who had been given it in Haiti around 1849. Schoolcraft also transmitted Pierson's explanation that he, Pierson, had received it from William S. Simonise of Port-au-Prince, a native of Charleston, South Carolina and for many years a resident of Haiti. Pierson claimed neither the musical knowledge nor the means of investigation which would enable him to opine on the piece itself, and simply submitted it as it came to him. Bachiller himself noted this sequence of indebtedness, and indicated quite properly that the piece's authenticity was far from proven.
But here is where things go astray. Later writers throughout the Antilles picked up the appealing story of the doomed Anacaona and her G Major tune but failed to heed Bachiller's precautionary note. Once the tale was in wide circulation, then, it became woven into the texture of romanticized Antillean historical lore and there was no stopping it. A respected Cuban composer, Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes, printed the tune in his book on Cuban music, Folklorismo (1928), and fervently defended its authenticity. Not stopping there, he based a symphonic poem on it as a monument of authentic Antillean music.
In the Dominican Republic another gentleman composer, Enrique de Marchena, agonized over the tune and favored its authenticity although in the end he refused to commit himself. In Puerto Rico more than one scholar followed the false trail. Pablo Morales Cabrera's Puerto Rico indígena of 1914 accepts tune, text, and legend right out of Bachiller.
We have seen that a doctoral candidate devoted a great portion of her 1954 dissertation to this tune, taking it as authentic. On the other hand, María Luisa Muñoz in 1958 refused to be taken in by it. In truth, by the early 1950s there was no need for anyone to be taken in by it anymore. The noted Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz, in his study La africanía de la música cubana (1950) had not only put to rest any connection of the by then famous tune with areitos or Tainos, but he also traced it in published sources to a work on Saint Domingue published in Paris in 1814. Here the piece was given as a song known among blacks and indeed appearing during then recent slave risings.
Nevertheless, the "Anacaona" tune pops up now and again in newspaper feature articles and romanticized accounts of Antillean folklore, which means that it also pops up in term papers on Puerto Rican and Antillean music. It will probably long continue to turn up as authentic in theses and dissertations whose authors—and the advisors of whose authors—have not done their homework. This is a dead red herring to be sure, but one whose fragrant trail still lies temptingly across the path!
For a bottomless pit I offer the entire subject of the Antillean areito, its music, and the instruments which may have been used in its performance. In this presentation we have tiptoed gingerly on the edge of this yawning hole, into which modern writers have thrown many cubic yards of verbiage in an attempt to establish a solid floor or at least one completely convincing account. They have not succeeded. This has been due in great measure to a romantic tendency to elaborate rather than critically examine the earlier accounts, many of which are themselves romantic elaborations. The result of this process is often an attractive web of fanciful "description," but one which may have very little to do with the facts of an age long gone. What's wanted, I think, is to start out again from scratch, beginning with the words of the cronistas themselves and avoiding the temptation to read precise modern meanings into the often vague sixteenth-century language. Until someone does this, I recommend that you stay away from the edge of this particular bottomless pit.
Finally, and on a more positive note, I offer what at the moment seems to be a blind alley, although there is probably a way out down at the end which someone will find sooner or later.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the first U.S. musician to gain recognition in the salons and concert halls of Europe. Born in New Orleans in 1829, Gottschalk became a brilliant pianist and a very able composer. Like many of his contemporaries he composed music for his own performances, either as a soloist or together with whatever skilled performers he might encounter on his endless travels. Wherever he went he met and worked with the best local musicians and incorporated local folk and patriotic music into his compositions, leaving behind when he left a trail of devoted friends, inspired piano students, and here and there a broken heart.
Gottschalk spent five years touring Latin America, including a full year (1857-58) in Puerto Rico together with the fourteen-year-old soprano Adelina Patti and her father and manager Salvatore Patti. Some of Gottschalk's activities in Puerto Rico were documented by the late Emilio Pasarell, working mainly with newspaper sources. Nonetheless, great periods of time are unaccounted for in the Gottschalk-Patti chronology. Knowing of Gottschalk's way of life and of the effects which he is known to have had on the developing concert life of other lands, a reasonable question might be "Did Gottschalk's long visit have any important effect on Puerto Rican music?" It is believed that it might have; reason insists that it must be so . . . , but there is not a scrap of evidence to support such a claim. This difficulty has not prevented two island writers, María Luisa Muñoz and Héctor Campos Parsi, from presenting just such a claim, the former in her La música en Puerto Rico (1966) and the latter in his volume, Música, of the Gran enciclopedia de Puerto Rico (1976).
How difficult would it be to solve this problem one way or the other? Perhaps not too difficult for a good pianist with the time to analyze a couple of decades of nineteenth-century Puerto Rican piano music and with enough interest in Gottschalk to arrive at a complete understanding of his style and its development. Too, our pianist would have to have the good fortune to find evidence linking Gottschalk with a few islanders in particular during his Puerto Rican visit. Of course, this is only half of it; the other half would be to determine what factors other than Gottschalk's visit might have accounted for certain very important stylistic changes which occurred in Puerto Rican concert music in the 1860s.
There you have it; today a blind alley, perhaps tomorrow an important contribution to our understanding of the island's music.
This is as good a place as any to end this panorama of music research in Puerto Rico, with the hope that we may all avoid bottomless pits and stay out of blind alleys unless, of course, we are willing to invest the necessary time and energy in finding our own way out. In addition, may we all avoid the distraction of the Great Musicological Red Herring (wherever it lies), whose tempting perfume can lead us away from the path of true understanding.
Last modified on Wednesday, 24/10/2018