Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    The guitar in nineteenth-century Buenos Aires: towards a cultural history of an Argentine musical emblem
    PLESCH, MELANIE ( 1998)
    This study examines the role of the guitar in Argentine culture through an in-depth analysis of historical, musical, pictorial and literary documentation from nineteenth-century Buenos Aires. Esteemed as an instrument of art music and simultaneously stigmatised by its relationship with the gaucho during the first half of the nineteenth century, the guitar was promoted, towards the 1880s, to the status of "national instrument." However, at the same time that it was celebrated as the musical emblem of the nation, the prestige of the classic guitar diminished, and it was relegated to a peripheral position within mainstream art music. This apparent paradox, it is argued, is deeply entrenched in the process of identity construction and nation-building that took place in Argentina during that period and is the result of discursive practices that present and represent the instrument (as well as Argentine culture) in an endless play of binary oppositions. The monolithic image of a unified "Argentine guitar" is questioned, and it is proposed that the physical object that we call guitar was regarded as at least two different cultural artefacts between which a continual slippage of meaning occurred. Accordingly, the binary opposition "classic guitar/popular guitar," is considered analogous to the forceful antinomy "civilisation/barbarism," a well-known dichotomy that has had a profound influence on Argentine and Latin American thought since it was coined in 1845 by Domingo F. Sarmiento in his influential Civilizacion y Barbarie. This dissertation is organised in two sections. The first examines the situation of the guitar from the revolution of May 25, 1810 until the end of Juan Manuel de Rosas's government in 1852. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the social map and the political history of this period, addresses the ideological agenda of the elite groups that came to power after the May revolution and presents the dichotomy civilisation/barbarism. Chapter 2 focuses on the gaucho guitar. Literary and pictorial representations are scrutinised in three levels, focusing on their role in the elite's construction of the Self and the Other, their importance in the genesis of a dominant discourse on the gaucho, and assessing the actual information about the gaucho's musical practices that they convey. Chapter 3 explores the classic guitar tradition in Buenos Aires during the first half of the nineteenth century in the form of a documentary history, demonstrating the presence of the guitar in the music-making of the upper-classes and its prestige and esteem within the porteno musical world. Critical biographies of the major guitarists and guitarist-composers of the period are provided, and the extant music composed in the area is described and analysed. The second section of the study is concerned with the guitar from the fall of Rosas up to the centennial of the May revolution in 1910. Chapter 4 sets out the historical and theoretical background for this period, focusing on the nation-building process and the debate on "Argentineness" generated by the unwanted effects of mass immigration and the rapid modernisation of the country. This situation gave rise to the so-called "resurrection" of the gaucho and the appropriation of his cultural universe as the essence of Argentine identity. The role played by representations of the guitar in this process is examined in Chapter 5, drawing attention to their most salient characteristics: distancing and nostalgia. The images of the gaucho guitar in literature, visual arts, advertisements and piano music are analysed and it is argued that the manner in which the guitar was incorporated into these discourses discloses the ideological agenda of the nation-building project. Chapter 6 concentrates on the classic guitar tradition during this period and, in that respect, it can be regarded as a mirror of Chapter 3. Although the instrument was still cultivated by the middle and upper-classes, it experienced a substantial loss of prestige, and it was no longer deemed at the same level as other art music instruments. As in Chapter 3, the spaces for performance are explored, critical biographies of the main guitarists of the period are offered, and the extant repertory is described and analysed. A catalogue of the guitar music composed in Buenos Aires during the nineteenth century is presented in the Appendix, providing a thematic index, publishing data, and location of copies where available.