Conference Morsel: Latin American Choral Music
Date: April 23, 2014
(An excerpt from the interest session “Unaccompanied Choral Music from Latin America,” presented by Cristian Grases during the 2014 Western Division Conference)
One of the most interesting aspects of Latin American a cappella choral music has to do with the different approaches in which composers write for the vocal ensemble. When setting religious texts, both in Latin and vernacular, we encounter examples of wonderful vocal polyphony in a Renaissance style from composers of the Colonial Period (1524-1810) such as Manuel de Sumaya and Juan Gutierrez de Padilla. Conversely, during the Contemporary Period (1900-2014), composers created sacred a cappella choral music influenced by many different musical ideas such as twentieth-century harmony, extended compositional techniques, minimalism, poly-metrics, serialism, atonalism, among many others. Some important composers are Venezuelans Alberto Grau and Cesar Alejandro Carrillo, Brazilians Heitor Villa-Lobos and Carlos Alberto Pinto Fonseca, and Argentinean Antonio Russo, among many others.
In the case of popular music, generally accompanied by traditional instrumental groups, composers and arrangers continue to explore the a cappella sound in diverse ways: creating unique vocal combinations, using the voices to imitate instruments, reconnecting with older compositional forms such as preludes and fugues based on folk or popular tunes, or even including eurhythmics and body percussion as compositional resources. The result is a fantastic rainbow of musical colors, combinations, ideas, and creativity; that constitutes the basis for a rich and tremendously varied body of choral literature that is not well known outside the regional boundaries.