to accompany the publication in 2021 of the three Divertimientos concertantes opp. 43, 52 and 59 edited by Gabriel Schebor with Tecla Editions
The discovery of the original manuscripts of composer Pedro Ximénez in Bolivia in the early 21st century is certainly one of the most important discoveries in Latin American musicology of the last few decades. More than 600 works, of different sizes and formats, by one of the best regarded Latin American composers from the late colonial period, appeared overnight, when previously we only knew a few details about him from the press and from mentions by his contemporaries. Today, one could say that Pedro Ximénez is one of the most prominent historical composers in Latin America. Whereas most of his contemporaries and predecessors composed only for the Catholic Church, he went beyond his job as chapelmaster in Sucre, Bolivia, between 1833 and 1856, to leave us with dozens of symphonies, sonatas, solo pieces, string quartets and songs. How can we explain his decision to work in all these forms, at a time when there were no professional orchestras, public concert seasons or professional musical printing in Latin America?
Pedro Ximénez was born in 1784 in Arequipa, the largest city in the southern part of Peru. He was a member of some of the most aristocratic local families at the end of the Spanish colonial period: his father was a Ximénez, his mother was an Abrill, and the Tirados were his godparents. Because he was born outside marriage, he had to use the Tirado surname for many years, but later in life he also included his other surnames in his signature, most of his scores being signed as Pedro Ximénez Abrill Tirado.
We know very little about Ximénez’ infancy and youth in Arequipa. During this period between the 1790s and 1820s he lived with his family, dealt with several businesses, and composed mostly instrumental music for his pleasure and that of a small gathering of family and close friends. He was certainly very close to Andrés Bolognesi, director of music of the Cathedral in Lima, as well as several other musicians in Arequipa such as Lorenzo Rojas. It seems likely that an important number of his symphonies (most probably a third of them) were written during these years, as well as most of his chamber music and some guitar music. During the 1820s Ximénez organized concerts at his home, publicly announced in the newspaper, and some works from this period were also performed in Lima and elsewhere in the Andean region.
At the same time, this must have been an undeniably difficult period to write and perform music. Between 1810 and 1826 Peru was consumed by the wars of Independence. Mariano Melgar, the celebrated Arequipenian poet and a friend of Ximénez, was murdered by Spanish royalists. Ximénez himself wrote several patriotic songs as well as one tonadilla, a short theatrical piece with music, entitled The Retired Soldier and the Patriot Shepherdess. The tonadilla, which might have been composed for the visit of Simón Bolívar to Arequipa in 1825, ends with a patriotic song entitled “Viva la libertad”: Hail liberty.
It was in this period of social chaos, economic crisis, the movement of armies, and the loss of lives that Ximénez composed an important part of his music. After Independence was gained, Ximénez’s family had lost much money, and he got new posts as a music teacher in Arequipa. He was involved in the founding of the university, and became a well-known member of intellectual and artistic circles in the city. Then his life changed. Andrés de Santa Cruz, a local politician, was seeking to unify Bolivia and Peru into a single great nation. As part of this project, in 1833 he invited Pedro Ximénez to become director of music of Sucre cathedral (Sucre being the capital of Bolivia), as well as of the schools in Sucre. But the Santa Cruz project was dissolved in 1839 after he lost the war against Chile, and the final division between Perú and Bolivia left Ximénez in a complex political situation.
Nevertheless, Sucre was important for Ximénez for other reasons: he had many students, and made new friends that would mark his later life. One of them, the Spanish violinist and composer Mariano Rosquellas, who had come from Buenos Aires to Bolivia in 1834 and was a pioneer of Rossini in the Americas, became one of his closest friends. Ximénez, who had become a predominant figure in Bolivian cultural life, decided to stay in Sucre and he never returned to his native Arequipa. He lived as director of music of Sucre cathedral until his death in 1856. His son and many students of his became key figures in Bolivian musical life until into the twentieth century.
Since there was almost no music printing in Latin America, music circulated in manuscripts, which means that little music has survived from the period other than church music. Thus, the discovery of Ximénez’s music is a wonderful surprise. The symphonies, 40 in total, were composed throughout his life. The earliest ones are slightly galant and baroque in style, while later ones become more classical in spirit, and the influence of Rossini becomes explicit in the very late ones. His sacred music includes short pieces as well as large ceremonial works and 50 masses. His chamber music, which is particularly intriguing, original and personal, includes several string quartets, as well as quintets and sonatas.
Since he was himself a guitarist, the guitar occupies a very important part of Ximénez’s music. It is there, in his guitar music, that his cosmopolitan style dialogues more forcefully with the music, the melodies, the rhythms of the Andean region, like the yaraví, the triste or quick dances like the gallinacito. As well as more than 200 solo works for guitar, including two sonatas for the instrument, his three divertimenti for guitar and small instrumental ensemble are some of his most intriguing original works. These works take an important place in the repertoire of guitar music between the classical and romantic eras. One can only lament that, sadly, at least three other divertimenti with the guitar have been lost, as well as other intriguing pieces (a quartet with guitar, sonatas for guitar and cello) of which we only know from an inventory which the composer made of his own works.
Ximénez’s musical style, while clearly cosmopolitan, combines in very original ways local and European influences. We know part of his private library of European music, which has survived, and which allows us to understand the music that influenced his style. Ximénez, like his contemporaries, admired the music of Haydn as the essential reference. But on the other hand one can see more specific interests in Ximénez music, including his admiration for the music of Adalbert Gyrowetz, a very direct influence on his style. The influence of Pleyel, and in general of the “concertante” French style is also very important in his music, including the works of Davaux. He admired Fernando Sor, but we know he often tried to go beyond Sor’s music and technique. Finally one should also consider the importance that Italian opera had in his music, including the works of Cimarosa and Paisiello, as well as Rossini in his later works.
Ximénez can be recognized today as one of the key composers of Latin America in the early 19th century. His music and his life transit between the classical and the romantic eras, between the composer as chapelmaster and independent creator, between serving the Spanish colonial regime and the new republican ideals. Travelling between Peru and Bolivia as new Latin American nations, the music of Ximénez connects the Andean region, giving it a voice shaped by modernity and cosmopolitanism, combined with local melodies, rhythms and aesthetics, as indeed he himself comments when he writes “al gusto peruano” or “en estilo americano”. Today, 200 years later, Ximénez goes beyond the Americas, into other regions, becoming part of the repertoire of western concert music.