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.
- Arróspide de la Flor, César; revised by J. Carlos Estenssoro. “Valcárcel, Theodoro.” Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root.
- Wolkowicz, Vera. Inca Music Reimagined: Indigenist Discourses in Latin American Art Music, 1910-1930. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2022. [See especially chap. 2, “‘We are the Incas’: Discussing Indigenism in national musical discourse in Peru.”]
- Caicedo, Patricia. The Latin American Art Song: Sounds of the Imagined Nations. New York: Lexington Books, 2018. [See especially the discussion of Valcárcel in chap. 1, “The Sounds of the Imagined Nations.”]
- Hoover, Maya. A Guide to the Latin American Art Song Repertoire: An Annotated Catalog of Twentieth-Century Art Songs for Voice and Piano. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. [Includes a chapter on Peruvian song.]
- Latin American Art Song Alliance