CHANTS OF CONQUEST


It was the New World cultures with the greatest wealth -- and with the greatest strength to resist the forces of conquest, that ambivalent process -- that provoked European invaders to the greatest effort in matters of architecture and musical indoctrination. When the peoples to be subjugated possessed the strength, wisdom, or industry to build a Tenochtitlan (as in Mexico), or to plan a fortress like Ollanta (as in Peru), the mason and cantor sprang into action as soon as the men of war had fulfilled their mission. Once the battle of bodies had ended, the struggle over signs began. The cross has to be raised above the Aztec teocali; over every demolished temple, a church. Liturgies of great pomp were devised to eclipse the splendor of finely wrought idols. Against songs and traditions that could still foster a dangerous spirit of rebellion, the spiritual force of golden legends and Christian antiphonal chant were marshaled. In brave and prosperous lands, the conquest built bell towers high against the horizon and set its choruses to singing. But in gentler lands, whose inhabitants readily accepted the authority of a king unknown only the day before, the newcomers did not have to work so hard. As a result, the artistic and musical productions of the sixteenth century were of very poor quality, especially in countries whose mytho- poetic heritage did not pose a threat to the Europeans.

[From Alejo Carpentier's "La musica en Cuba" (1946), as translated by Alan West-Duran in "Music in Cuba" (University of Minnesota, 2000) and excerpted in "Transition" 81/82, pp. 172-230; posted on BYZANS-L on 4/23/00]

Back to the "garden"