OCTOBER 2023 | Paraguayan Composers of the Early 20th Century by Marta GeymayrOCTOBER 2023 | Paraguayan Composers of the Early 20th Century by Marta Geymayr
This essay and album, Primeros Compositores Paraguayos Del Siglo XX, which I also recorded, in 2002 are the result of an independent academic investigation I led from the years 1998 to 2000. They seek to help disseminate some of these remarkable works for piano, many of which, until then, had remained unpublished.
In the initial years after the end of the War of the Triple Alliance (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay, 1865-1870), Paraguay was in chaos with a decimated population. Cultural institutions had disappeared, although little by little they were gradually rebuilt. Distinguished music teachers from Italy, Spain and Argentina traveled to Paraguay to teach at the Police Band, the Instituto Paraguayo (Paraguayan Institute, a school of music) and other institutions, which eventually shaped later generations of Paraguayan musicians.
The first Paraguayan composers of the post-war period were folk musicians with no formal musical education, which is why many remained anonymous, but not so the melodies that emerged from their creative minds. Examples include the Campamento Cerro León, which lifted the spirits of the troops during the war, and dances such as Guaimi Pysape, Mama Kumanda, and Ani-ke repe, among others whose names have been forgotten. These popular dances were passed on from guitarist to guitarist, or hummed by serenade singers, but never in written form.
By the 20th century, some self-taught and exceptionally gifted musicians emerged from the countryside.
Many renowned Paraguayan musicians such as Agustín Barrios, José Asunción Flores, Remberto Giménez, Félix Perez Cardozo, Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo, Florentín Giménez, and others, were from humble origins. As children, they were sent by their parents to the Police School, which was a boarding school, for further education and upbringing, where they could participate in the Police Band. As they received formal education, they also became acquainted with the fundamentals of music theory.
As they grew up in Asunción, they also learned about socialist principles. Some adopted a bohemian lifestyle and became critical of the ruling regime, which led to their exile to Buenos Aires. While living in Argentina, they acquired further knowledge of musical theory, harmony and composition, as well as forming small folk ensembles. Their teachers were impressed by the innovative poly-rhythms introduced by the young Paraguayan musicians. One of these teachers was José Bragato, a well-known Argentine composer, who became a close friend of Flores, Cardozo Ocampo, and others. Each one of them eventually went their separate ways.
The case of José A. Flores is remarkable. Flores’ genius was recognized by the Russian masters. His symphonic poem Maria de la Paz and others were premiered in Moscow by the Bolshoi orchestra and choir, an honor bestowed upon few composers. His kyre’y (a type of fast polka), named Gallito Cantor, became the musical background for Radio Moscow broadcasts in Spanish and Guaraní to Latin America.
The composer Agustín Barrios toured Latin America and Europe with his guitar under the name of Mangoré (the name of a Guaraní cacique or chieftain). It is said that a friend and patron who lived in Montevideo locked him up in his house for two weeks, with instructions not to let him leave until he put his works on paper. We don't know how many valuable compositions of this genius were lost. Danza Paraguaya and Confesión, two memorable works by Barrios, were transcribed for piano by José Bragato and are included in this album.
Remberto Giménez was a professional violinist in Europe. He is the author of the current version of the Paraguayan National Anthem, and founder of the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Asunción (OSCA), the Cuarteto Asunción and the Escuela Normal de Música. One of Gimenez’ gems of composition, named Mbaraka’i (Small Guitar), was transcribed by Marta Geymayr and is also included in this album.
Juan Carlos Moreno González was an excellent pianist, and a harmony and composition teacher at the Ateneo Paraguayo. He educated several generations of pianists. Moreno received advanced formal music training in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. His best-known works for piano are the Danzas and Aires Paraguayos, inspired by popular motifs of anonymous authors of the post-war period. Notably, the main motif of Moreno’s Danza Paraguaya No. 1 piano composition is itself derived from traditional folk songs from unknown authors. This motif is also used in the popular Polka a la Virgencita de Caacupé. Moreno was also the father of the Zarzuela Paraguaya, and of important works for piano, not only in the popular but also in the classical genres.
Don Herminio Giménez, with his great talent, created memorable symphonic works, such as El Canto de mi Selva. Its reduction for piano, arranged by the composer himself, is included in this album.
Much more could be told about these brilliant composers of Paraguayan music who, despite humble origins, were able to reach worldwide recognition.
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