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The Caribbean and the Avant-Garde: Luciano Berio's Rhumba-Ramble



The Caribbean and the Avant-Garde:

Luciano Berio’s Rhumba-Ramble


Orlando Manuel Calzada

Doctor of Philosophy in Music

University of California, Los Angeles, 2015


With the establishment of the first Spanish settlement in Las Am?ricas called La Navidad – in what is today Dominican Republic – Cristobal Col?n established official domination of Europe over the newly discovered land. A new era of worldwide exchange started to reshape territories, societies, cultures and relationships between peoples around the globe. Early in the 16th Century, as Charles C. Mann explains in his book 1493 , “slaves from Africa mined silver in the Americas for sale to China; Spanish merchants waited impatiently for the latest shipment of Asian silk and porcelain from Mexico; Dutch sailors traded cowry shells from the Maldive Island in the Indian Ocean for human beings in

Angola” while “tobacco from the Caribbean ensorcelled the wealthy and powerful in Madrid, Madras, Mecca and Manila.”

The musical arena was not exempt from the dynamic phenomenon created by this globalization. Slaves brought, from Africa, a strong and sophisticated sense of melodic rhythm and percussive tradition and the European colonizers imposed their overpowering structural and harmonic tendencies. Although the Ta?nos were eradicated in a few years after the beginnings of the colonization, they also contributed to this cultural amalgamation with prototypes of musical instruments commonly used in Caribbean music today.

Because of the historic socio-political situation from the 16th through the 19th Century, the importation of European music to the Caribbean concert halls was emphasized over the exportation of the Caribbean popular music to homogeneous venues in Europe. Yet, by 1850’s, the New Orleans pianist and composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk took on the mission of composing music full of Caribbeanism with the purpose of presenting it in the concert hall. Inspired by his experiences in Cuba and Puerto Rico, Cocoy? (1853) and Souvenir de Porto Rico (1857) were early prototypes in the development of the influence of Caribbean music on classical composers. Since then, Caribbean music has become part of the influences embraced by classical composers around the globe. It has been a fountain of inspiration in pieces where the composer’s style interweaves with its elements and its character. Hector Berlioz, Georges Bizet, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saens, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Hans Werner Henze and Gy?rgy Ligeti, all adopted Caribbean elements into their music while preserving their own styles. In Rhumba-Ramble, Luciano Berio, as did his fellow composers, embraces Caribbean elements and its substance, allowing them to become pillars of the piece while still being truthful to his own compositional voice. This analysis of Rhumba-Ramble will identify and discuss the specific ways in which the composition serves Berio as a vehicle to manifest his idiosyncrasy in perfect integration with traditional dance Caribbean music.

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