Since 1938, Latin America's composers have turned repeatedly to the flute as a vehicle not only to explore its artistic and technical possibilities but also as a way to push the boundaries of their compositional styles when applied to a medium as intimate as that of the solo wind instrument.
The Historical Background
Although there was virtually no interest in concert music for the flute until the first decades of the 20th century, the pronounced partiality for the flute that began some 78 years ago may be due to three historical factors. First, although it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations about the music of indigenous populations prior to the Spanish conquest, flute-like instruments were not only used throughout that region but were probably highly respected; evidence suggests that in many pre-Conquest cultures the flute was "considered the closest representation of the human voice." (1)
Second, Catholic missionaries undertook an enormous effort to evangelize the indigenous population of Latin America by establishing missions and schools where they taught the indigenes to play the flute and other European instruments. During the mid-16th century in Ecuador's San Andres School, for example, the indigenous musician Juan Bermejo rose to such prominence as a flutist and keyboardist that "upon his reaching maturity the cathedral drafted him as organist and chapelmaster." (2)
Lastly, the flute continued to be cultivated in Latin America during the late 18th century and into the 19th, principally by musicians of European origin, such as Juan Daniel Ericourt, who from 1783 to 1814 was not only a highly respected flutist in Lima, Peru, but also trained many fine students; and later, by peripatetic musicians such as Francisco Pennella, who advertised his services as an instructor of flute, piano, and harp in the newspapers of Curasao, Guayaquil, Ecuador, and San Francisco, California (and perhaps in other areas as well) from about the mid-1840s until around 1860.
Seeking an Authentic Voice
Although the beginning of the 20th century witnessed the incorporation of the flute into various chamber music compositions--one of the most important of these is Heitor Villa-Lobos's Sexteto mistico (1917, Mystic Sextet)--it was the German-born composer and flutist Hans Joachim Koellreutter (1915-2005) who introduced the concept of writing for the flute as a solo instrument to Latin America. Because his own family denounced his engagement to a Jewish woman, in 1937 he was exiled to Rio de Janeiro, where the following year he began teaching in the Brazilian Conservatory of Music. His work for unaccompanied flute, Improviso (1938), however, came on the heels of a period of stylistic reorientation in instrumental composition in Latin America. Indeed, not long after the first examples of this kind of music began to appear, from about 1915 until 1945, Latin American composers began to look for ways to disassociate themselves from European music and create an authentically Latin American musical language.
This movement manifested itself in several different ways. For example, many of the early works of Brazilian Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) relied on folklore, ambient sounds articular...
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