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Carlos Chavez, Mexican composer and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry for 1958, hinted last night at the direction twentieth century music is taking, and sketched the pedigree of Latin American music at "A Latin American Composer," the first of the six Norton Lectures.
The twentieth century is shifting its "musical center of gravity" from "extra-musical" reactions to those "purely musical" Chavez noted. He elaborated this idea by saying that in the nineteenth century "we were too human" and now "we are human in spite of ourselves."
Despite this change, the Mexican composer emphasized, music is still a language that is not exactly equivalent to any other language, and an artist is still "nothing but a messenger."
Indian and Mayan artists had developed the musical art to a high degree before the Spanish invasion, Chavez noted, and so were able to absorb the European musical ideas as they were brought over with the conquistadors and priests.
The church gave the Indian music the gifts of polyphony and the Gregorian chant which have since been absorbed into the Latin American music, he added.
The independence of the Latin American countries in the 1820's caused musicians to turn to folk material of their individual countries for inspiration, Chavez said. However, he pointed out, folk material is limited.
Chavez underlined the fact that art is still an individual expression and although an individual is molded by his country's traditions, it is the "genius of individual composers that bring forth a country's music."
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