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Inventing Inca Music: Indigenist Discourses in Nationalist and Americanist Art Music in Peru, Ecuador and Argentina (1910-1930)



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Wolkowicz, Vera 


The Latin American centennial celebrations of independence (ca.1909-1925) constituted a key moment in the consolidation of national symbols and tropes, while also producing a renewed focus on transnational affinities that generated a series of discourses on continental unity. At the same time, a boom in archaeological explorations, within a general climate of scientific positivism, provided Latin Americans with new information about their ‘grandiose’ former civilisations, such as the Inca and the Aztec, which some then argued for as an American equivalent to ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures. These discourses moved from the political to the cultural sphere, themselves shaping ideas about Latin American national and continental identity. In the arts, and particularly in music, artists as a result began to move from using European techniques and depicting European themes, to produce an art that could be considered Latin American. This dissertation explores discourses surrounding the Inca in particular as a source for the creation of a ‘national’ and ‘continental’ art music during the first three decades of the twentieth century, with a concentration on ‘nationalist’ composers of Peru, Ecuador and Argentina. Three main topics bind together my analysis: interpretations of the Inca musical system, the postcolonial style called yaraví, and the composition of opera. To this end, I look into early twentieth-century writings on Inca music and its origins, investigate attempts to reconstruct it, describe how certain composers applied ‘Inca’ techniques into their own works, and consider how this music was perceived by local audiences. Ultimately, I argue that faced with the difficulties of constructing national unity at the time, the turn to Inca culture and music in pursuit of such unity could only succeed within particular intellectual circles, and that the idea that the Inca example could produce a ‘music of America’ would ultimately remain a utopia.





Walton, Benjamin


Inca, music, Latin America, opera, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Musicology, Daniel Alomía Robles, José María Valle Riestra, Constantino Gaito, Enrique Mario Casella, Pedro Pablo Traversari, Segundo Luis Moreno, Sixto María Durán, Independence, Nationalism, Indigenism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge