Juan Pablo González:
Towards a Collective Poetics of Contemporary Chilean Composers
The absence of a tradition in Chilean art music is recognized by several Chilean composers and even proclaimed by some of them. What has not been clarified however, is of what tradition we are talking about. Art music has been performed, composed, and taught in Latin America since colonial times, establishing a tradition of art music practice in the region. However, the existence of a Chilean or Latin American compositional thought and a music stylistic school are more difficult to determine. The models of many Latin American composers are rather in Europe than in America. Cirilo Vila, professor of most Chilean composers from the 1970s to the 1990s, states (all quotations are my translations):
Despite this lack of a musical tradition, a scholarly tradition has been established among Chilean composers during the 20th century as a result of the process of teaching and learning composition. This tradition started at the beginning of this century at the National Conservatory, and continued in the University of Chile from 1929 to 1981. The changes that occurred after the Coup of 1973, produced the discarding of the degree in composition at the University of Chile in 1981. As a result, private teaching increased during the 1980s, and the Catholic University from Santiago and Valparaiso started courses in composition. 
Music in Chile is mainly taught at universities, both at graduate and conservatory level. The high attention given in Chile to academic musical training has been a positive factor in the development of art music in the country. A great demand for musical instruction has been satisfied by intense pedagogical activity. The growing number of Chilean orchestras and chamber groups during the 1980s, and the activity of young musicians in Chile and abroad, is a direct consequence of the development of institutional teaching in the country during the 20th century. The continuous teaching of composition in Chile, has not only produced a tradition in itself, but also in the musical approach of Chilean composers, and in their musical thinking, as expressed in their poetic discourse.
Within the teaching network of Chilean composers, some have contributed to the musical training of many of them, becoming a kind of musical nodes in this tradition. Enrique Soro (1884-1954), Pedro-Humberto Allende (1885-1959), and Domingo Santa-Cruz (1899-1987), are the first three nodes, starting the systematic teaching of composition in Chile. They taught composers from the 1920s to the 1950s. Alfonso Letelier (1912-1994), Jorge Urrutia-Blondel (1903-1981), and Gustavo Becerra (1925), learned from them and trained composers from the 1950s to the 1970s. Juan Lèmann (1928) and Cirilo Vila (1937) taught most composers from the late 1970s and 1980s. Alejandro Guarello (1951), Andrés Alcalde (1952), Eduardo Cáceres (1955), and Gabriel Mathey (1955), have been teaching composition since the late 1980s. 
Discussing their teaching and compositional practices, Chilean musicians have developed a discourse on philosophical, artistic, aesthetic, pedagogic, and socio-musical matters. This discourse is dispersed in interviews, lectures, and articles published in Chile and abroad. During the 1980´s, the world presence of Chilean musicians and the amount of writings produced by or about them was larger than in any of the previous decades. This paper will focus on articles and interviews of the nine Chilean composers who were more published and received more press cover during the 1980´s: Luis Advis, Andrés Alcalde, Gustavo Becerra, Eduardo Cáceres, Alejandro Guarello, Juan Orrego-Salas, Sergio Ortega, Carlos Riesco, and Cirilo Vila.
Chilean active composers during the 1980s can be grouped in seven decades from the 1920s, to the 1980s.  The classification of a composer within a decade has been determined by the time in which his or her music started to be publicly and regularly performed. Composers who have been living and working abroad for more than the half of their 1980s productive career have been listed under the heading "Outside Chile". The groups of composers are the following:
Composers selected in this paper, have musical, generational, and ideological similarities and differences. This collective poetics has been put together on the basis of common threads and has been comparatively discussed and thereby enriched by considering the different individual views of these musicians. The main issues addressed by these composers during the 1980s are presented, contrasted, and discussed under the headings of "Universalism", "Identity", and "Composing".
The assimilation and renewal of Western European traditions in the practice of Latin American composers are recognized by Orrego-Salas, Vila, and Ortega. They have great respect for tradition as a force which sustains composition and is renewed in it.
After the apparent departure from the Western European influence through the national movements of the first decades of the century, Latin American composers embraced an universalism which also had Western European influence. They participated in the international movement of contemporary music created in the Western world after World War II. According to Orrego-Salas, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile were the most open countries to the cosmopolitanism that flourished in America at the beginning of the 1950s. This openness may have been favored, Orrego-Salas states, by the weak nationalism of the composers of these countries in the previous decades (1977: 188).
The universalism practiced in Chile during the 1950s, as in most Latin American countries, was more an imitation of the last compositional trends developed in Europe than their assimilation and renewal.  The so called universalism, Orrego-Salas says, stocked many Latin American composers in technical matters, producing the interruption of the expression and flow of music until today (1984: 73).
During the last quarter of the 20th century, a new sense of universalism seems to have grown among Chilean composers. They feel themselves part of a whole formed by an art music created all over the world in which the Western musical tradition is now developed and renewed both inside and outside Central Europe. According to Gustavo Becerra, who lives in Germany since 1971, art music development occurs now in the so called fringe areas of the world (González 1985: 8). At the same time, Eduardo Cáceres, a composer from the 1980´s who lives in Chile, gives an equal status to art music created in Europe and in America during the late 20th century (Muñoz, 1987).
The position of Chilean composers from the 1970s and 1980s illustrates this renewal of universalism. Western European music is not imitated but it has been integrated as part of a common heritage. Alejandro Guarello, for instance, a composer from the late 1970´s, expresses his openness to any useful influence on his thinking:
Riesco, Vila, and Orrego-Salas recognize the independent universalism of recent generations of Chilean composers. This universalism is non imitative, free of prejudices, informed, and eclectic.
The new generation of Chilean composers are clearly distinctive from the former generations. They criticize the thematic, discursive, and lineal conception of music held by their predecessors, and also condemn composers of their own age who continue making music in canonized styles, a kind of academic stagnation, as Cáceres states. To Alcalde, there is little adventure and experimentation in Chilean composition. Composers still write their music based on a theme and talk about counterpoint, he says.
After the unconditional following of and opposition to specific trends of composition, an open position is found among Chilean composers. Freedom of choice is recognized by Becerra and Vila. To them, all procedures and trends can coexist and be merged in contemporary creation. None is better or worse in itself, each one is just a possible syntax for the composition of music. To Becerra, any of the music styles in history has the same value. (González 1985: 4). Vila advocates the end of the prejudice that dodecafonism is good or bad in itself. The quality of a work, Vila states, depends on the quality of the composer, who may create great works either in D major or with any series (Cruz 1985: 31). Orrego-Salas himself shares Vila's late 20th century aesthetic validation of tonality:
The several and coexisting influences that build up culture in Latin America offer different and opposed sources of identity. Indigenous, African, European, and North American influences form parallel realities within Latin American society. This spectrum of cultural influences, and the variety of opinions about the problem of identity in our region are well illustrated by the Chilean musicians' discourse of the 1980s.
Being initiated in the European art music tradition by a detailed study and practice of 14th to 20th century European music, Chilean musicians have been exposed to a heritage of five centuries of artistic and social prestige. They recognize the strong influence that European art tradition exerts among them.
Living in a society which is not the one that produced the cultural heritage which feeds their artistic creation, many Chilean and Latin American composers have lived isolated from their social and cultural reality. The romantic idea of the artist alienated from society is still alive in the 20th century, both from conservative as well as progressive aesthetic perspectives.
Latin American composers who have isolated themselves from society, defending their independence as artists, have contributed to create an elitist music, Orrego-Salas states (1984: 73). This is a music without social identity, because it is not shared by a community beyond the interested professional musician and the committed audience with whom each composer surrounds himself.
To Becerra, it is fundamental for a composer to know where he or she is living, which means to be aware of the social and cultural reality of his or her region.
The fascination that European art music produces among Chilean composers is regarded by Cáceres as a prolongation of a colonial cultural relation.
To be a Chilean musician within a Latin American and Western frame is a question that composers often ask themselves. Living in Germany since 1971 has not been an impediment to Becerra to consider himself a Chilean composer. He recognizes his bilingual musical tradition; art music is easily polyglot, Becerra says (Foxley, 1988: 38).
Identity is one of the principal topics in Becerra's discourse. His social vision of art, and his detachment from the immediate reality of Latin America, have made of Becerra an authorized voice in the development of a socio-musical thinking on Latin America. To him, the presence of exclusive cultural elements in a country and region does not constitute the main source of cultural identity. National and regional identity are rather given by the social use of elements of any cultural origin by the members of a community (González, 1985: 10). This use also means taking possession of external elements, including the Western-universal ones.
José Seves, a member of the New Song group Inti-illimani, stresses that Pablo Neruda did not use, with regard to form, Chilean popular poetry. He rather took possession of the forms of the "universal" culture (Rivera, 1980: 31-34). This taking up a position seems fundamental to the development of a national culture in the "fringe" areas of Western society.
On the other hand, stressing the relation between the community and the self, Vila regards identity as the imprint that a particular social and cultural environment leaves on the self during childhood. "One is from the country where he or she has grown up" Rainer-Maria Rilke says (Torres, 1988: 73).
Vila attributes the permanent concern for identity of Chilean composers to their isolation from their indigenous traditions. As a matter of fact, indigenous culture is scarcely considered as a factor of identity by Chilean contemporary musicians. The existence of a Chilean indigenous tradition has been even negated by the more Western oriented sectors of Chilean society.
Chilean musical identity has been circumscribed not only to the presence of folk music materials, but to the use of melodic features derived from the Chilean way of speaking, the use of literary elements, the presence of a sad and melancholy mood, and the description of landscape.  Orrego-Salas, for instance, sees the image of the Andean mountain range reflected in the contrasting volumes and different densities and textures of the contemporary music of Andean countries (1987: 191).
A particular compositional approach, or personal attitude in musical practice, and the presence of formal principles and performing practices of folk music also make music to be "Latin American". To Becerra, the factors for cultural identity in music are the social use and function of music, not the presence of folklore or the reference to landscape. He regards Latin American music from a socio-realistic perspective, as the music that expresses, reflects, influences, and has a function and purpose in Latin American society (Bocaz, 1978: 97). We may guess how many Chilean works would remain as "Chilean" as before if we used this criteria to define their national identity!
Explaining their compositional practices, Chilean composers have developed a musical discourse focused on formal rather than expressive matters, and on the relation between composing and performing. 
Structure has again reached an artistic status, and has been in the center of the discourse of many contemporary composers since the starting of dodecafonism. Structure seems to acquire a composing role, creating its own conditions of existence and dictating them to the work. Guarello recognizes that his music makes itself and he is only a controller of this process of self-making ("Alejandro Guarello ..." 1989: 4). For Orrego-Salas, selected musical elements will guide the composer in the elaboration of the entire work (1988: 19). Even composers more devoted to song, as Luis Advis, manifest their concern for structure.
Structure manifests its influence inside and outside single works, specially in Alcalde's music, who practices a complex and obscure process of derivative materials, procedures and titles among his works. For instance, three structural intervals of his work Monthe are used in Der Mondbach II for violoncello and double string quartet, which is also based on structural relations from Der Mondbach I for solo violoncello (Jéldrez 1987: 16). Furthermore, notes not used at the end of Der Mondbach II provide the basic material for his next work, Fugi I, a work with a title formed with the missing vowels of Der Mondbach. Doing this, Alcalde re-invents an European idiom, both in language and in music.
In Vila's music, the idea of derivation is reversed in the idea of generation. The link is with the future instead of being with the past. This idea comes from James Joyce's concept of "work in progress", applied by Vila to music composition. With this idea, Vila links his future works to his current composition practice. The material employed in his work Germinal, which includes three dodecaphonic series together with the color of the venerable major triad -Vila states-, permits the growth or future germination of a major work. The present work is a seed, or just a hypothesis ("Creación musical ...", 1989: 116).
Performance of new music in Chile is an issue often discussed by Chilean composers. Composition is affected by performance at least in two ways: by setting technical and expressive limits to the musical work, and by controllling musical gesture.
Technical and artistic limitations of performers restrict the performance of contemporary music. Many times, performers do not know how to play new music because of the non existence of a method to learn how to do it, as Vila states (Petrovic, 1990: 44). When the performer is not able to play modern music, Guarello says, musical creation remains limited and music becomes dull.
Sometimes, performers do not want to play modern works because they find it too un-idiomatic for their instruments. After being aware of this, Alcalde is worried about the plastic relation between the instrument and the composition (Naranjo 1987: 55). Nowadays, despite the rhythmic complexities of Alcalde's music, performers like to play his works.
By stimulating or not the performance of new music, and by providing or not the material conditions for musical practice, society determines the composer's creation. There is not scoring paper with more than 24 staves available in Chile, Vila states. If there is not a request, to compose for orchestra is simply filed away, he says (Saavedra, 1989).
Chilean orchestras are not always willing to include the works of Chilean composers. In fact, younger composers, not like it was before, compose more chamber music than symphonic music (Riesco 1989). According to García, 60 Chilean symphonic works were performed in Chile from 1961 to 1973, whereas from 1979 to 1994 only 25 Chilean symphonic works have been played in the country (1996: 45).
Assembling a collective music discourse, and making explicit an implicit thinking on music, we have wanted to contribute building up a critical tradition and a poetical network among Chilean composers. The views of the composers selected in this paper, roughly related to the formalism of the 1940s, the modernism of the 1950s, the vanguardism of the 1960s, the rupturism of the 1970s, and the postmodernism of the 1980s, have much to do with their artistic production. These "isms" are useful to give stylistic labels to contemporary Chilean music.
This music may also be characterized by its reference to an identity pattern. One of the stronger patterns of identity in Western music has been "the national", specially since the mid 19th century. The immediate source of "the national" has been folklore; the music of the original inhabitants of the new nation states of the last century. This relation has been maintained by many Latin American composers during the first half of the 20th century. Chilean composers have replaced national identity by local and social identity, or by not identity at all, pleading for the universal status of art and the freedom of the individual. This freedom of choice is recognized by Olivier Messiaen, professor of Riesco and Vila, as the artstic path of someone who does not bear a tradition.
Answering Riesco's question of what it means to be a Chilean composer, Messiaen said:
Freedom of choice has been one of the main characteristics of composition in Chile since the beginning of the 20th century. However, in many cases this freedom has not contributed to free Chilean society from its strong Western European influence.
© 2004, Juan Pablo González