Alcides Lanza (1929-) is an Argentinean composer who has been living in Canada since 1971, when he joined the music faculty of McGill University in Montreal. His extensive catalog includes works for conventional instruments as well as for electronic media of various types.
I am familiar with only one of his compositions, his Tres piezas (1960, Three Pieces), which was composed for unaccompanied clarinet during a period when Lanza was working as répétiteur at the Colon Theater in Buenos Aires. Three years later he applied for advanced professional training in composition at the Torcuato di Tella Institute, which had recently been established under the leadership of Alberto Ginastera.
Like many Latin American composers of his generation, during the 1950s Lanza witnessed a pronounced tension that had been developing around two differing points of view as to the nature and essential characteristic of Latin American classical music. In Argentina, the country in which this tension was particularly pronounced, an antagonistic Juan Carlos Paz (1897-1972) confronted Ginastera and his followers by declaring that the latter’s folkloric approach to musical style was not fit for consumption outside of Argentina. Rather, Paz was convinced that only by adhering to universal vanguardism, such as Schönbergian atonality, would Argentina’s music come to be recognized and appreciated throughout the world.
Although today there no longer seems to be any enmity between composers in Latin America who may happen to follow different stylistic tendencies, more than sixty years after the publication of Paz’s Introducción a la música de nuestro tiempo (1955, Introduction to the Music of Our Time, in which Paz outlined his most strenuous defense of musical vanguardism), the question nevertheless seems to remain the same: what constitutes Latin American classical music? That is, what element or elements serve as undeniable markers of its Latin American-ness?
Interestingly, though, with but a few notable exceptions, the Latin American composers that I know nearly universally agree that there is no identifiable element; rather, as long as a composition has been composed by a Latin American, then that work is Latin American.
However, as someone who occupies the space between Latin American composer and North American performer, I would have to say that at times I get the impression that the performer’s answer—were the question to be asked—would be less decisive.
Why is that?