Bolivia // Santa Cruz and the Eastern Lowlands //

The Chiquitos musical renaissance

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Of all the European arts and crafts introduced to Chiquitos by the Jesuits in the eighteenth century, the one that gained most rapid acceptance among the indigenous tribes was music. Imported organs, trumpets, violins and other instruments were enthusiastically adopted by the Chiquitanos, who quickly learned to manufacture their own instruments, while the choirs and orchestras of the mission settlements were said by contemporaries to have matched anything in Spanish America at the time. Father Martin Schmidt, the Swiss Jesuit who designed the churches of San Javier, San Raphael and Concepción, was a keen composer who taught music and brought the first church organs to the region, while the missions also benefited from the presence of an Italian named Domenico Zipoli, who had been a well-known composer in Rome before coming to South America.

Like all the cultural accomplishments of the missions, their musical tradition all but disappeared in the centuries following the expulsion of the Jesuits, though its influence remained in the folk music of the Chiquitanos themselves. When the restoration of the mission churches began in the 1970s, however, researchers in Concepción discovered a substantial archive of liturgical and orchestral Renaissance Baroque musical scores, including works by Schmidt and other Jesuit composers. The rediscovery of this lost music inspired a musical revival in Chiquitos, and throughout the mission towns and outlying settlements you’ll come across children and young adults playing violins and other instruments.

In 1996 this revival inspired a group of music lovers to organize the first Chiquitos Missions Music Festival, featuring performances of the music recovered from the lost archives. Since then, the festival has grown into a major biennial event (in even numbered years), attracting dozens of orchestras and musical groups from around the world, and involving performances in all the mission towns of Chiquitos as well as in Santa Cruz. For further information, visit wfestivalesapac.com.

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