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Reviewed by:
  • Alejo Carpentier and the Musical Text by Katia Chornik
  • Alira Ashvo-Muñoz
katia chornik. Alejo Carpentier and the Musical Text. Cambridge, UK: Legenda / Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing, 2015. 139 pp. ISBN: 978-190-96-6217-9.


Alejo Carpentier and the Musical Text by Katia Chornik analyzes thematic associations of musical and cultural allusions in several novels by Alejo Carpentier in two ways, the form and performance, providing a unique contribution on the works of the creator of "lo real maravilloso." Intermittently over the years, music was a major referential source in his literary endeavors. This book includes a facsimile of a previously unpublished work by Carpentier, the essay "The Origins of Music and Primitive Music" ("Los orígenes de la música y de la música primitive"), a valuable resource [End Page 127] for scholars. It also provides relevant information on intertextuality from the fields of musicology and ethnomusicology as a backbone to his writings, and as he himself expressed in this title: Ese músico que llevo dentro.

Chornik employs a wide range of scholarship to demystify previous assertions that used musical forms in some of his writings. She has included definitions of musical terms for correct usage in texts. Throughout the given selections of Carpentier's writing, music is formative, in form and performance, and a repository for his musical ideas. Chornik sheds light on the background from which his artistic and intellectual outburst sprouted.

The included facsimile presents a paradigm of cultural evolution based on Darwinian ideas, stressing the impact of the verbal as the foundation of poetry, verbal art in literature, and in a more technical development, in the juncture of music and literature, which is useful for composers and writers. The chapter "Music as Form" analyzes musical structures in El acoso and Viaje a la semilla, paralleling their structure to elements internalizing form and performance. Chornik adds possible meanings for clarification of textual incongruities, now ironical, when presenting conflicts between revolutionary ideas and commercialism.

An error appears in reference to Vivaldi's lost opera Motezuma as found in Berlin in 1999, but the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris previously had it. Also, in 1992 it was recorded by Astrée (AUVDIS/ E 8501). All other information presented here is relevant for further research.

The chapter "Music as Performance" stresses the use of Beethoven's Eroica regarding form and performance in the novella El acoso, as well as Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring for La consagración de la primavera, signaling embedded revolutionary ideas in the text. Juxtaposition of connotations leads readers to be skeptical about the significance, even though the plot, according to the author himself, covered the same time frame as the performance: forty-six minutes for the Eroica. Other compositions were intertwined, such as Eugène Porttier's L'Internationale, a militant anthem significant for Enrique, the protagonist, who is on a journey to the Spanish battlefield, where foreigners fought alongside Spaniards in the Spanish Civil War. The novel presents an ironic twist when he hears the anthem trivialized in a cabaret version and questions it:

¿Sabes lo que acaba de tocarse aquí? ¡La internacional!

(Do you know what has just been played here? L'Internationale!)


This applies Brecht's concept of defamiliarization (Verfremdung) in reverse—a contradictory social reality is use to alienate the reader or viewer. Carpentier paralleled the musical form to the temporality in the scenes to [End Page 128] depict performance. In El acoso he used Beethoven's Eroica symphony, intrinsically tying historical times to the prevalent revolutionary ideas of the Cuban revolution. Thus, events inside and outside the novel mirror each other. The defeat of capitalism and possible moral changes predicted in his writings did not take place with political developments, which provides an ironic touch.

Chornik concludes that Carpentier used canonical pieces textually performed inside and outside historical contexts to formulate and resolve ideological conflicts, its use: "a formative, as form and as performed—featured prominently in his quest for intellectual and artistic identity" (84).

Chornik's book is useful for further scholarly research on Carpentier.

Alira Ashvo-Muñoz
Temple University


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pp. 127-129
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