April 2012

The Piano:

Between the Hall and the ‘picanterias’

According to Teresa R. de Stahlie, in her article ‘El Piano’ (El Diario, 6-XVIII-1975. Seventh Section), during the colonial period, Spanish people brought keyboard instruments, chiefly harpsichords and clavichords. This researcher affirms that there were local luthiers who built these instruments, and whose evidence is in the museums of La Casa de la Moneda (Potosi) and Charcas (Sucre). On the other hand, during the Republic (1825), arrived the first wave of pianos, mainly English. She says: “Two of them (the Broadwood brand) are preserved at the Charcas museum. Later, this brand was called Clementi after the great pianist and first genuine composer of piano works Muzio Clementi, who devoted half of his life to the manufacture of pianos in the city of London in his company Clementi & Co. which later, after his death, became Collard & Collard.”

By Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the sons and daughters of wealthy families learnt to play with this brand of piano, a lot of them working hard at an education linked to art. This is the case of a woman ahead of her time: Modesta Sanjines Uriarte (La Paz, 1832; Pau/France, II.1887) considered to be the first woman pianist in Bolivia and an outstanding composer. Her biographers say that she was an unrivalled interpreter of the works of Weber, Beethoven, Liszt, Rossini, Schubert, Bellini, Mozart, Strauss, and as a composer in piano works, she is considered the representative of Bolivian romantic nationalism. Another prominent pianist and composer was Adolfo Ballivián (La Paz, 15.11.1831; Ñucchu/Sucre, 14.11.1874), son of the General José Ballivián, president of Bolivia from 1841 to 1847; and he was president, like his father, in 1873. His works for piano arrive at Opus 53. Most of them are pieces of music hall or military marches, polkas, galopas and fantasies about opera arias; many of these scores were published in Paris. Influenced by the spirit of the time, his work finds its sources in the European and especially French music. Both artists reveal that the piano was not only an instrument to be executed in times of tranquillity, but it was linked to artistic work and creation.

The second wave of arrivals produced pianos from 1870 and this was marked by two important facts: on the one hand, a new international context regarding the dynamics of this instrument and, on the other, at a national level, its popularization was due to increased money – income from many sectors of Bolivian society. In the first case, it should be noted that globally there are three prominent In manufacturers who install industrial production facilities in different parts of the world. For example, Heinrich Steinweg, a German who emigrated to the United States of America where he founded ‘Steinway and Sons’ in New York, meanwhile, Julius Blüthner created his factory in Leipzig and Carl Bechstein made his own in Berlin. In 1863, Steinway designed and built in modern upright piano with crossed strings and one soundboard.

In the national context, the reemergence of the mining industry generated an economic boom in the country as well as the presence of new banks that allowed miners and landowners in the major cities to have access to credit, leading to increased use of the high availability of monetary funds, influencing further the acquisition by the elites of this instrument. According to Stahlie Rivera, the pianos arriving in Bolivia on that occasion were manufactured in the USA, “At that time, the Steinway came (to Bolivia), as it can be checked in newspapers of that time. They brought pianos, giving preference to grand ones to the wealthy families with spacious rooms, where a piano shines.”

These pianos come from Pacific Ocean ports on “pack mules”. There were two mules which were used to carry the weight, only on one side, and the other side was supported by its partner. These pianos were both brought by wealthy people from the major cities of Bolivia and also sold by so many retailers among local musicians, especially those related to the church (chapel masters or musicians associated with the church or the army).

These relative popularizations of the piano lead to this instrument being used by sectors not linked to the wealthy elite. Such is the case of Simeon Roncal (Sucre, 1870 - La Paz, 1953) in Sucre, who, at the age of seven, began to study piano with his father musicologist, Don Juan Roncal, and then with foreign professors such as the Spaniard, Emilio Gott. Endowed with great virtuosity, he began working at the age of nine, first as an organist of the Metropolitan Cathedral in the city of Sucre. Although, his compositions were mainly linked to the genres in fashion among the elite as the cueca, of which he composed more than twenty works for piano.

Another virtuous pianist and composer was Miguel Ángel Valda (Sucre, 1885- Sucre, 1957). Although his virtuosity led him to be a performer of European musical romanticism works, his compositive work is related, likewise, to the cueca and khaluyo. These cuecas and rhythms “of the land”, were danced by the elite of Chuquisaca and, doubtlessly, also by the upper classes of Cochabamba City. In Cochabamba, emerged Teófilo Vargas (Quillacollo, 3.11.1866; Cochabamba, 3.II.1961), chapel master of the Cathedral, violinist, organist, composer and remarkable performer of piano. He was also one of the first Bolivian ethnomusicologists, collecting and compiling folk music of the time to be played on piano, among which stands out the cueca, the little dances of the land, the carol, the yaraví.

It is also important in this process of strengthening the piano from these academic musicians, the emergence of the portable organ pedal. Many church musicians brought one with them to different chapels to distract the audience with popular music after playing religious music, among which stood out cuecas, wayñu and little dances of the land.

This presence of popular music played on piano – and portative organ – by master musicians of academic training, which starts the link between the piano and popular music at the end of the 19th century, will have a high impact in areas of the city, creating changes for mestizo-cholo music. In this sector, musical instruments were introduced until considered as belonging to the Creole sector. Including the piano, other instruments managed to replace Spanish and Mestizos instruments in the accompaniment of various musical genres. Manuel Rigoberto Paredes, who in his book: ‘El Arte Folklórico de Bolivia’ (5th. Edition. 1977, pp. 115) is explicit about this change: “In public entertainment, known under the names of chicherias and picanterías, in which people drink beer, eat spicy foods, and dance, the guitar, the charango and mandolin have been superseded by the piano. These stringed instruments are used only in certain occasions, such folk clubs and outdoor dances and provincial festivals. ”Thus, the piano being incorporated at the picanteria and chicheria created a new identity sonorous in popular music mestizo-cholo in Cochabamba.”

From this moment, the piano will coexist, in different places and will be associated with different contexts and different identities in the music of Cochabamba, although the boundaries between them are very permeable. On the one hand, as an instrument of the landowning elite, it will be associated with “highbrow” music, concerts, or the private hall, but also recreational music, like fashion and dance of urban youth, in versions for tango, schottische, mazurka, waltz, etc. On the other hand, sound cholmestizo identifies sectors of workers, artisans and manufacturers of province and city, by running rhythms “of the earth” as the cueca and the bailecito etc. in places like the picantería and the chichería.

At the end of the19th century, the arrival of the famous French Pleyel, and other European piano brands, closed this circle being implemented fully and accepted as sonority. As noted musicologist and pianist Teresa Rivera Stahlie states: “We are enjoying the pianos that our grandparents brought.”



Gabriela Siles de la Barra
Gabriel Rodríguez

Spaceman Africa

Calendario ABRIL 2012

> Ciclo de cine “Tras bambalinas”
El último verano (director Jacques Rivette)
2 de abril
Molière (director Laurent Tirard)
3 de abril
Los actores (director Bertrand Blier)
4 de abril
> Exposición de Arte AISB “Interculturalidad”
(artistas Kareem Abbassi,
Angélica Flores y Ricardo Arnez)
Lunes 9 - miércoles 11 de abril
9 de abril – 19:00

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