Alejo Carpentier published in Mexico in 1946 a book entitled “Music in Cuba”.
Paradoxical was the fact we know from the author be part of a movement called magical realism, primarily for his books “The Kingdom of this World” and “The Age of Enlightenment”, make a whole dissertation on the state of music. Yes, Alejo Carpentier wrote about music in Cuba.
Due to an order from the editors of the Economic Culture Fund (Fondo de Cultura Económica), in 1939, he was asked to write a small volume of scenic and informative nature about the history of music in Cuba. It was a hard work as there was little documentation to evaluate this issue.
Only manuscripts of Serafín Ramirez and Laureano Fuentes were available. This led to the search for information, not only in the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional) and the Friends of the Country Economic Society (Sociedad Económica Amigos del País), two of the most important files on the island, but also in sacristies scores of temples looking beyond the capital. So he found in the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba the vast work left by Esteban Salas, being one of the greatest contributions of the trial.
Also, Alejo Carpentier‘s work has the merit of showing multiple music diversity that the Cuban archipelago had: Cuban Contradanza from the Frenchs settlers who brought refugees from Haiti, the Spanish tonadilla and Italian opera.
However, the work shows the author’s preference for certain authors and the exclusion of other, equally by their choice. Such is the case of Gonzalo Roig and Rodrigo Prat, composers and important figures of the opera with works like “Maria la O”, “Cecilia Valdes” and “Amalia Batista”. In turn, there are others that were just mentioned between the lines, as the example of Ernesto Lecuona and Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes.
It is said that Alejo Carpentier never made a thorough review of their trials in this book, even though there were new editions, first in Havana in 1961, then in 1972, again by the Economic Culture Fund and finally in 1979, again in Havana. This caused that today his work is subject to criticism and questions. In this work we see the Alejo Carpentier journalist and historian who is not far from his concerns, which for a scientist social science is bad, but that for a novelist is sublime.
For the Cuban musicologist Zoila Gómez, “It can be criticized its lack of rigor because although the final bibliography is extensive, not credited in the text enough sources where they take the information (…) is very aware of the action of the subject and therefore monographic chapters devoted to our most outstanding musicians. This leads to the establishment of what, according to the author, are the highlights of our musical history. Acceptable or questionable, merit is that they are raised”.
The greatest quality was the fact that for the first time it was possible to see a text in which not only the work of some notable composers will be evaluated, but where a historic approach is offered and quite unprejudiced successive synthesis of Cuban culture.
Until that time the African component of Cuban culture was quite overlooked, however, Alejo Carpentier brought out and showed. “Music in Cuba” he responded to a mass audience allowing them to know the musical history of his people.