Theodoro Valcárcel

Theodoro Valcárcel was one of the most significant Peruvian composers in the first half of the twentieth century. He published a wide variety of works, including ballets, a violin concerto, a symphonic poem, piano pieces, chamber pieces, and many songs.

Valcárcel belongs to a group of Peruvian artists and musicians who, starting around 1920, turned to folklore traditions for inspiration. He was one of the first composers to use indigenous melodies as well as indigenous languages in his compositions. The Tahwa inka’j tak’y-nam (Cuatro canciones inkaicas, Four Inca Songs)—recorded especially for Art Song Augmented by soprano Camille Ortiz, pianist Gustavo Castro, and recording engineer Joseph Wenda—are a case in point. Drawn from a larger collection called Treinta y un cantos del alma vernácula (Thirty-One Songs of the Vernacular Soul), these four songs feature lyrics in Quechua, an indigenous language spoken by the Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes. Valcárcel himself was descended from the Aymara people, another indigenous Andean group; the Treinta y un cantos del alma vernácula also include songs in the Aymara language.

The Tahwa inka’j tak’y-nam use predominantly pentatonic melodies, a type of melody that Valcárcel himself identified as a hallmark of Inca music. Yet those pentatonic melodies are clothed in lush, dense, and sometimes strikingly dissonant harmonies. In other words, the songs fuse Valcárcel’s native heritage and his largely foreign training. (He studied in Milan with the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni, a composer who experimented with atonality and once wrote that “music is born free and destined to regain its freedom.”) It’s not known whether Valcárcel borrowed these melodies from actual songs he heard in the Andes or whether he partially or fully invented them himself. Regardless, as with so much if his work, these songs are vivid examples of music that deftly blends indigenous and modernist musical idioms.

Additional Resources

Did you know?

In 1935 Valcárcel was head of the Department of National Folklore in the Albedo National Academy, and in 1939 he served as a member of the Music Cabinet of the Peruvian Art Institute.

Video Recordings

Soprano Camille Ortiz and pianist Gustavo Castro perform Valcárcel's Tahwa inka'j tak'y-nam (Cuatro canciones inkaicas, Four Inca Songs), published in 1930. These recordings were created especially for Art Song Augmented. The Quechua texts and English translations can be found in the YouTube video description and also under Accessing Scores below.

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