How Latin America conquered European classical music

februari 2005 -

'The difference between European and Bolivian baroque music can be summed up in one word: happiness,' says Cecilia Kenning de Mansilla of APAC, the Asociación Pro Arte Y Cultura. 'After all, in Europe, baroque music was a product of the Reformation, which meant that it wasn't as exuberant as its Latin American cousin. In Europe, it was really that the glory of the Lord was being exalted. And there is one more difference: Bolivian baroque music is usually less technically complicated, as Latin Americans didn't have such good instruments and musical training as in Europe.'


Bolivian Baroque - it's a unique project. In 2001, several thousand baroque music scores were discovered in two former Jesuit missions in southern Bolivia ' in Chiquitos and Moxos to be precise. Since then, the local APAC organisation, with the support of the Prince Claus Fund, the DOEN Foundation and others, has been busily unlocking the secrets of this unique cultural legacy. Not only are some of these works now part of the repertoire of the illustrious British baroque ensemble Florilegium, who bring it to life again with the help of a talented quartet of Bolivian vocal soloists, but these pieces have also now appeared on CD on the prestigious Channel Classics label, again with the assistance of the above-mentioned organisations. On Monday 31 January, this Bolivian baroque music made its debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw concert hall and was well received.

The scores are a real cultural treasure trove. In fact, they are almost a musical equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even though it is still the case that little is known about the precise who, what and when of the scrolls, as few of them are signed or dated. 'Some musicologists believe that some of this Bolivian music was composed by the native Indians, while others doubt this. What we can say is that one of the music scores bears an Indian signature,' says Kenning de Mansilla. 'In fact, people were composing in other Latin American countries around this time too, but much less of that material has survived.'

And there's another exciting aspect to all this, says Kenning de Mansilla. 'In Italy, musicologists had reached a dead end with their research into the baroque composer Domenico Zipoli, who appeared to have just vanished from the face of the earth from one day to the next. Well, it now turns out that he emigrated to Argentina at that time, where he carried on writing music, and we've found copies of this music in Bolivia.'

For the CD recordings, the British ensemble Florilegium worked with Bolivian vocalists, who thanks to the Prince Claus Fund and the DOEN Foundation were able to follow a special crash course in baroque music. 'It's a very important step for their career but also for Bolivia as a country,' says Cecilia Kenning de Mansilla. 'In this way, we can show the world an important part of our cultural heritage. So often, it is claimed that the Latin Americans were defeated by the Europeans, but this unique music shows that we took some spoils from the Europeans too! And that is a very important victory for our part of the world.'