In honor of Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month, celebrated from September 15 to October 15, we’re highlighting the lives and work of a few prominent Hispanic and Latinx composers. We know that the Western classical music canon is made up of works written mostly by European men (with only a handful of works by European women). Expanding our musical knowledge to give these six talented Hispanic and Latinx composers their due offers a chance to experience unique perspectives and artistic voices.
A note on language: The term “Hispanic” refers to Spanish-speaking people in the Americas, but can exclude indigenous, Brazilian, and other non-Spanish-speaking groups. Latinx is a newer term based on geography rather than language, and includes anyone from Latin America, including Mexico, Central and South America. The “x” at the end of Latinx creates a term that is also inclusive of gender-expansive and gender non-conforming individuals. We have used both terms in this post and have included composers from Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru.
Luis Abraham Delgadillo (1887-1961)
Luis Abraham Delgadillo was inspired often by his homeland of Nicaragua and incorporated his nation’s folk music into his compositions He began his musical career studying at the Milan Conservatory before being made the director-general of musical culture. He then went on to teach in Mexico City and later Panama City. Towards the end of his life, Delgadillo created and directed Nicaragua’s National School of Music and National Symphony Orchestra. He composed primarily for piano, having composed over sixty pieces for the instrument. Prelude No. 2 is a lovely example; sensual and ominous in nature, it’s an exquisite piece of piano repertoire.
Eduardo Fabini (1882-1950)
Eduardo Fabini was an influential yet surprisingly unknown Uruguayan composer and musician who was involved in classical music from a young age thanks to the musicians in his family. Throughout his childhood, Fabini studied violin in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, before winning a scholarship to continue his work in Europe at the Brussels Conservatory. He also learned to play the harmonium (pump organ), guitar, piano, and accordion. Fabini ultimately returned to Uruguay after returning to Europe to study composition for a few years. His symphonic poem, Campo, garnered the most notoriety at the time, even being performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Richard Strauss’ baton. Other pieces you may have also heard of are his Tristes No. 1 and 2 or his études. His music is simplistic and whimsical, a blend of Uruguayan nationalism and impressionism. One composition that exhibits Fabini’s unique style is his Fantasia: with a wistful melody, the composer is able to achieve an ethereal balance between the violin soloist and the orchestra.
Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)
Born in Berkeley, California, Gabriela Lena Frank frequently pulls upon her mixed American-Peruvian descent for inspiration in her compositions. She has said, “I think the music can be seen as a by-product of my always trying to figure out how Latina I am and how gringa I am.” Frank has studied with some of the preeminent composers of our time including Paul Cooper, William Albright, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Michael Daugherty, and Samuel Jones. While her works are scored for traditional western ensembles, her music evokes sounds and textures of traditional Latin American instruments such as the Peruvian pan flute or charango guitar.
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s works were often characterized by his use of traditional folk tunes; he drew great inspiration from one of his homeland’s national symbols: gauchos, or free-spirited horsemen. After spending the majority of his life in Buenos Aires, the composer then moved to the United States, and later Europe. Aside from composition, Ginastera also worked as a professor, one of his students being the famed tango composer, Astor Piazzolla. Inspired by the sprawling low grasslands that cover Argentina’s southeastern provinces, Pampeana No. 2 is a remarkable piece of cello repertoire: its dramatic, yet articulate melodies are wonderful depictions of Argentina’s rich culture. The beginning of the piece imitated the calls of the gaucho, before it transitions into a slower, more reflective section. Lastly, it launches into a movement that calls upon the energetic nature of the malambo, a type of folk dance from the gauchos.
José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830)
Afro-Brazilian composer José Maurício Nunes Garcia beautifully showcases the influence of Classical-era compositions in the Americas. He wrote with heavy influence from the first Viennese School, which was made up of composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. Nunes was able to complete a rigorous music education, despite having been left fatherless at a young age. Later, he went on to join the priesthood, leading to the creation of his many religious works such as his Requiem, written in 1809. It’s foreboding and desolate in nature. Mozart’s influence can be seen in this work, with parallels to his Requiem.
Teresa Carreño (1853-1917)
Hailed as the “Valkyrie of the Piano,” Teresa Carreño was a Venezuelan pianist, soprano, composer, and conductor who boasted a career spanning over 54 years. Born to a musical family in Caracas, Venezuela, Teresa began her lessons from an early age with her father José Cayetano Carreño. At the age of eight, she made her debut at Irving Hall in New York City performing a concert of piano works by Hummel, Thalberg, Dohler, and Gottschalk. After that, she began her extensive concert career. During her lifetime, Teresa composed approximately 75 works for piano, voice, chamber ensembles, and orchestra. Today she is considered a cultural icon in Venezuela and a cultural complex, named in her honor, is the current home of the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra.
Interested in exploring other works by composers from underrepresented groups? Check out the Institute for Composer Diversity, run by the State University of New York at Fredonia’s School of Music. The ICD hosts an ever growing database of composers from underrepresented groups. You can browse the database and search for composers or works by gender identity/sexual orientation, demographic, genre, instrumentation, and even location!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Abigail AuYeung is a cellist in CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra. This is her third season with CYSO. She’s currently a sophomore at Hinsdale Central High School. In her free time, Abigail enjoys reading, baking, and playing the cello, of course!
Shirley Xiong is a cellist in Symphony Orchestra. Although loving cello, she is (a bit) more of a piano enthusiast. She is currently a senior at New Trier High School. Some of her hobbies include collecting stuffed toys, using Photoshop, and baking.