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  • La música de dos orbes”: A Context for the First Opera of the Americas
  • Louise K. Stein (bio)

It could be argued that the history of music in colonial Latin America has been written only as a history of the progress and successful implantation of the music of the Catholic Church, and that the musical “history” of the colonies (and here I refer especially to colonial Peru, the largest of the administrative units in the New World) has been steered by the evangelizing project.1 Musicologists have found it difficult to draw forth secular voices—indigenous, criollo, or Iberian—from the first two centuries of the political and social history of the former colonies, and have met with limited success in attempting to recover performance traditions of any sort. The churches, cathedrals, convents, and missions in Lima, the administrative center of the viceroyalty, were the institutions whose evangelizing practices not only affected which musical repertories would be preserved, but also how the region’s musical history might be recorded and interpreted. Music was a catechistic art that lent itself to the evangelizing project, and both material musical forms (the music written into choir books, for example) and audible, aural ones (such as instruction in European musical instruments and religious song) were engaged to bring native musicians and listeners into the cult of the Eucharist.2 Music heard, sung, played, and listened to was intended to enhance the “exposure to the natural appeal of Christian truths and teaching,”3 though indigenous musicians and listeners did not necessarily assign the intended significance to what they sang, played, and heard.4

While it is easy to understand that the evangelizers attempted to stamp out indigenous dances that had spiritual content, the suppression of profane music of Spanish or criollo extraction is a story that we know little about, but one that surely influenced the history of music in colonial Peru. Profane music, even the amorous romances in Spanish and lively urban bailes, could be misinterpreted and tainted with indigenous meanings or magical associations when performed in public. Just as the attempts to translate Christian doctrine from Latin into Spanish and then into indigenous languages called for careful oversight because of the risk that heresies might slip in through the vagaries of translation, vernacular musics may have prompted strict control to prevent contamination with indigenous ritual through the vagaries in oral transmission.5 [End Page 433]

Chronicles of Spanish and European travelers to the Andean region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries offered European and Iberian readers a strong link between indigenous music and dance, exoticized pagan ritual, and what was seen as the innately sinful, lascivious character of the indigenous women who danced.6 A number of texts suggested that “Indian” elements had been adapted into the dances that were seen and heard in public in colonial cities such as Cuzco and Lima. Profane music—especially the popular bailes, with their capacity to communicate through bodily gestures and without the mediation of an authorized translation—was thus excluded from the officially sanctioned and officially reported culture of the relaciones, because of its linkage, real or imagined, with indigenous practices.7 Certainly the native Andeans had a “passion for spectacle in all of its manifestations.”8 But the early presence or invention of bailes such as the chacona and the zarabanda in Peru is not reported in authorized descriptions of sponsored public events, but through letters, social critique, travelers’ reports, satirical and erotic texts, poems, and plays that circulated in manuscript.9

Peninsular Spaniards and other Europeans viewed the musical culture of colonial Peru not as the source of particularly devout music, but as the source of racy dances that were later transformed and tamed within the European mainstream.10 But the earliest musical sources of secular vocal music from Peru known today were copied in the eighteenth century.11 For reasons both historical and material, then, the history of written sources for secular music in Peru, the tangible evidence for secular music, and the history of opera in Peru commence roughly at the same time. Moreover, it is hardly coincidental that the intellectual and social climate that encouraged the invention and development...


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