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Sadiel Cuentas Antonio Gervasoni
Alvaro Ponce de León Nilo Velarde
Alvaro Zúñiga
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Musical Composition in Peru: the Generation of the 1950s.


The first attempt to establish a school for professional musical instruction in Peru dates back to the 19th century, when José Bernardo Alcedo, the author of Peru’s national anthem, presented to that nation’s congress a project for the creation of a national conservatory. However, it was not until 1908 that a similar initiative resulted in the National Academy of Music, which, in 1929 was renamed the Alcedo Academy of Music. Finally, in 1946, the Academy was converted into the National Conservatory of Music
, the name under which it still exists today.

It was in that institution, under the tutelage of the Belgian composer Andrés Sas and the German composer Rodolfo Holtzman, that around the beginning of the 20th century was born the so called “Generation of the 1950s,” which includes such composers as José Malsio, Enrique Iturriaga, Celso Garrido Lecca, Enrique Pinilla, César Bolaños and Edgar Valcárcel, among others. During the second half of the 20th century all of these composers traveled to various other countries, in a kind of diaspora that brought them in contact with the latest compositional trends of that moment.

Malsio went to the United States and between 1942 and 1946 incorporated himself into Schönberg’s group of students. Years later, between 1972 and 1973, he was director of the National Conservatory of Music.

In 1947 Iturriaga received the Duncker Lavalle National Prize for his work, “Canción y muerte de Rolando,” for voice and orchestra. In 1950 he traveled to Paris to study with Arthur Honegger. Garrido Lecca left for Chile that year to study with the Dutch composer Fré Focke, who himself had been a student of Webern. His 1967 work, “Intihuatana,” is one of the most important examples of Peruvian chamber music from the 20th century. Both composers were later directors of the National Conservatory of Music, between 1976 and 1979, and 1999 and 2002, respectively.

Bolaños is considered one of the pioneers in the area of electronic music in Latin America. In 1957 he realized studies in the Manhattan School of Music where he met Alberto Ginastera. Later, in 1963, he received a scholarship from the Torcuato di Tella Latin American Institute of High Musical Studies, where he had under his responsibility the design and construction of a laboratory for electronic composition. Upon his return to Peru in 1973 he dedicated himself completely to musicological research.

Valcárcel received a Guggenheim scholarship in 1966 and another in 1968 that permitted him to study in the Electronic Music Center of Columbia University in New York. He was later twice director of the National Conservatory, from 1979 to 1984, and later from 1991 to 1993.

Other important composers of this generation are Leopoldo La Rosa, Olga Pozzi Escot and Francisco Pulgar Vidal. La Rosa was in Europe between 1953 and 1960, where he was perfecting his skills as an organist and orchestral conductor. Pozzi Escot pursued studies in the Juilliard School of Music and in the Musikhochschule of Hamburg, and later taught composition at Tanglewood. Pulgar Vidal travelled to Colombia in 1957 and studied the fugue and twelve-tone techniques with the Colombian composer Roberto Pinedo Duque. Pulgar Vidal was the recipient of a number of important awards. His work, “Tres poemas líricos,” for a cappella choir, is one of the most important and well-known compositions within Peruvian choral literature.

Contributed by Antonio Gervasoni.

For more information about the music of this country, including links to conservatories, university music departments and other institutes and organizations, please see our country resource page for Peru.

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