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‘Imagine all the people...’: polyphonic flowers in the hands and voices of Indians in 16th-century Mexico

AutorRos-Fábregas, Emilio
Palabras clavePedro de Gante
Renaissance polyphony
Motteti del Fiore
Amerindian singers
Cantares mexicanos
Xochicuicatl (‘flower-and-song’)
New World chroniclers
Fecha de publicación2012
EditorOxford University Press
CitaciónEarly Music (40) : 177- 189 (2012)
ResumenThe testimony of Pedro de Gante (1479?–1572), considered the first music teacher in the New World, and that of many other 16th-century New World chroniclers clearly indicates that Indians in Mexico learned how to copy and perform European monophonic and polyphonic music. However, historiography of Western music has ignored, or seems reluctant to accept, the image of Indians singing from music books at that time. Since there are no extant music manuscripts from Pedro de Gante’s period of activity in Mexico (1523–72), the musical accomplishments of Indians during those 50 years seem to have been underestimated. The secondary role assigned to Indian musicians in later periods has tainted the perception of what they accomplished during the 16th century. As a consequence, the Indian musician has been imagined as an ‘Other’, incapable of understanding polyphony or even characterized by a voice unfit for stylistically acceptable performance. A 1589 inventory of music books at Mexico Cathedral, however, suggests that some mid-16th-century printed books could have been used earlier in the century, and therefore could have been in the hands of Indian singers. The confluence of music traditions made it possible that, in the presence of Pedro de Gante, Indians sang both cantares in their Nahuatl language and Western polyphony in the same ceremony. The ‘flower-and-song’ (xochicuicatl) of Indian musicians in Mexico constitutes a powerful image that may help change our perception regarding their performance of polyphonic music.
Versión del editorhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1093/em/cas043
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