The Sweet Penance of Music: Musical Life in Colonial Santiago de Chile. By Alejandro Vera. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. (Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music.) [ix, 436 p. ISBN 978-019094-021-8 $99]
Alejandro Vera's The Sweet Penance of Music offers a holistic overview of colonial Santiago de Chile's music across the religious, private, and public spheres. This comprehensive, sweeping work addresses the musical continuities and changes that occurred in the cathedral of Santiago, convents and monasteries, public festivals, and the domestic sphere during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Centering the stories of both key performers and composers as well as lesser-documented musicians, Vera concentrates on a broad range of genres, with repertoire extending from plainsong, polyphony, and villancicos to keyboard sonatas, dances, and theatre works. As such, the book vividly depicts the musical practices of a city often overlooked in musicology and is a crucial contribution to English-language musicological scholarship of the Americas.
The Sweet Penance of Music is a testament to the substantial yields of careful, extensive archival research, as well as the humbling fact that historical synthesis is never complete. Conducting research primarily in Santiago, but also in historically linked cities such as Lima and Seville, Vera consults an impressive range of primary sources, including musical scores, ship entries, wills, inventories, ecclesiastical council agreements, and account books. He describes the process of archival work and is explicit about what data he can confirm and what is cautious speculation; he nuances his conclusions and clarifies errors through cross-referencing data across various documents. He consistently converses with twentieth-century Chilean scholars, particularly Eugenio Pereira Salas and Samuel Claro Valdes, to support their claims or refute previous assertions using his own archival findings, and he builds on growing trends in Chilean urban musicological scholarship and broader monographs about music in the New World. Historical explorations are bolstered with musical score analysis, though perhaps not as many as a reader would desire, primarily due to the lack of space in an already sizeable work. Despite this, the musical analyses, present in each chapter and accompanied by transcriptions, effectively enable the reader to comprehend how compositional techniques reflected theological and cultural values and connected to genres across musical traditions and periods.
In the Introduction, Vera uses eighteenth-century harpist Josefa Soto's expression 'sweet penance' as a conceptual springboard off of which to theorise duality, or 'the union of "two different...