by Carlos Vega (1966)
Translated by Gilbert Chase and John Chappell.

Scanned in from Ethnomusicology, 10/1: 1-17 (January 1966)

1. Characterization

  1. Nomenclature
  2. Mesomusic
  3. Dynamics
  4. Theory
  5. Education
  6. Economy

2. History

  1. Prehistory
  2. The Contredanse
  3. The Triste

3. Conclusions


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Apologies for eventual errors of OCR (optical character recognition).
For complete and correct original version in Spanish, with annotations, click here.



Music is here with us, every day, yet we are slow to examine and to understand it. Let us not speak of traditional musical history, which thus far is a fragmentary history of fine-art music; let us not speak of a philosophy of music, nor of the realization of acoustical theories, nor of teaching methods, nor of the sociology of interrelations, nor of techniques... It behooves us to examine music in other ways: to turn it this way and that, to see if by such a careful scrutiny we may find something that merits consideration in the music itself.

1. Nomenclature. There are many kinds of music and few words of sufficient general validity to distinguish among them with the precision required by unrestricted study. The concept of "fine-art music" (música superior) refers to the loftiness of the thought, to the depth of feeling, and to technical mastery; it alludes chiefly to the large forms and evokes by association the higher social strata. The expression "learned music" (música culta) is related to the effort of study and likewise indicates an elevated hierarchy with emphasis on technique. Fine-art music that has become generalized is commonly called "classical music," in a general sense that includes a link with the idea of "enduring paragon," worthy of history.

The expressions "modern music," "contemporary music," "music of the future," and "new music," are chronological; they are associated with the most recent conceptions of a particular moment, and they clearly allude to the most advanced groups, technically and sensorially. In summary, the ideas associated with "fine-art, learned, classical, modern, contemporary, new," directly concern the music that is technically and conceptually most advanced; they allude also to the group of performers and music-lovers identifiable as an elite, and to the moneyed social group (initiated or not) which supports and subsidizes the latest art movements as well as other dominant cultural trends. In any case, we are talking about a high-level activity.

To these high-level specifications is opposed the expression "popular music." The term "popular" has multiple meanings, but in nearly all its acceptations it relates to the middle and lower social strata and even to rural groups and what are called the "folk." Insofar as it is contrasted with the educated classes, it alludes to semi-literate and illiterate groups-common, simple, uncultivated. In Spanish, moreover, "popular" is also synonymous with "plebeian" (as opposed to gentle or noble), and both "pueblo" and "plebe" are on occasion equivalent to "populacho" (populace or rabble), which is the lowest class of all. The roots of the Spanish "vulgo" (vulgus) and of "folk" appear to be the same.

The term "popular" is often used disparagingly, in the sense of "inferior." In the musical order it signifies mediocre ideas and techniques, and, if {1-2} the intention is pejorative, suggests means and elements of minimum quality.

The expression "musica popular" in Spanish (but not the French "musique populaire") also means music that is widely diffused; and it is in this usage that we get the outmoded meaning of "pueblo" that includes all the inhabitants of a region or a country. This meaning has political connotations that are foreign to our purpose.

The expression "popular music," in the sense of a widely diffused music, does not determine a hierarchy. Certain classical music can be "popular," i.e., widely accepted. "La donna è mobile" is both "classical" and "popular,"' but it is not mesomusic; nor is it folk music, even when we call it "popular music," music of the people. We repeat: the term "popular" lacks the precision necessary for musicological studies.

The expression "vulgar music," if it refers to that of the vulgo (Latin, vulgus), defines a music that is still lower than the others: ordinary, plebeian, debased, of rudimentary technique, with emphasis on bad taste. On the other hand, "light music" signifies a pleasant melodic character, a medium technique, and uncomplicated genres or species.

From the foregoing it appears that this generalized method of discrimination- empirical and traditional-distinguishes more or less vaguely the following:

a) High-art or fine-art music (música superior). Creations that are manifested at the highest artistic levels: the experimental, the avant-grade, and the viable schools of the past (modern, classical, historical in general), all in relation to the sensorial elite and to the upper (moneyed) classes.

b) Popular music. Minor creations strongly linked to the vague idea of "the people" (middle and lower classes, the less educated classes, and also, by extension, the rural classes; that is to say-in most cases-the folklore groups).

c) Light music. This does not precisely define a degree of value, a hierarchy, but rather a selection of brief creations, between the fine-art and the popular: expressive, pleasing, joyful, sentimental.

Although the above acceptations are those of the Spanish language, we believe that they coincide, at least in substance, with those of the principal Western languages. In any case, we do not intend to examine the shades of meaning in other languages, since the investigation of the linguistic aspect is not of importance to our problem.

This poor vocabulary, suspended between the cultural and the social, is not sufficient either for the specialists, or for the professionals, or for the educated public. True, in the absence of verbal precision we all understand each other with the help of the context. Nevertheless, there is need for a good general method of discrimination among the kinds of music both per se and in relation to professional groups, to social classes, to cultural classes, etc.-as well as for an ordering of the corresponding nomenclature.

2. Mesomusic. The author believes that he has succeeded in distinguishing with some precision a class of music of which the constant production and wide consumption throughout the centuries permits us to observe in perspective its social and cultural function, the successive diffusion of its species, its aesthetic and technical characteristics, its relation to the groups of creators, executants and listeners, and its links with commercial, industrial, informational, and educational enterprises. Its history is already millennial.

{2-3} No claim is made for this as an absolute discovery. Inasmuch as this music surrounds us at every step, we all know it, we hear it, and we name it; but, as a rule, we have not stopped to think about it, to determine its limits, to examine its values, to measure its importance, to unfold its implications, to learn its history. We refer to a class of expressions that we have called mesomusic, and which forms the subject of the present communication.

Mesomusic is the aggregate of musical creations (melodies with or without words) functionally designed for recreation, for social dancing, for the theatre, for ceremonies, public acts, classrooms, games, etc., adopted or accepted by listeners of the culturally modern nations. During recent centuries, improvements in communication have favored the dissemination of mesomusic to such a degree that today the only exceptions to its influence are the more or less primitive aborigines and the national groups that have not yet completed their process of modernization. But, since mesomusic is not an exclusively Western music but rather a "common music" of mankind, there can exist eccentric foci with dispersal over wide areas of the world.

Mesomusic, then, coexists in the minds of urban groups along with fine-art music, and participates in the life of rural groups along with folk music. Thus:

Example 1

In the same manner as art music (opera, symphony, cantata, oratorio, suite, ballet, etc.), mesomusic is manifested in its species. Strictly speaking, only the music is expressed in its species. The species of the dance are designated by the same name as the entire dance complex (choreography plus music): contredanse, minuet, waltz, polka, fox trot, etc. The species of songs usually lack a particular name to characterize their form; they are generally called simply "song" (canción), and the initiated understand what is meant. In many cases, however, they receive a distinctive designation. The Spanish species that flourished around 1900-and which left several little masterpieces, such as "Mimosa"-was called tonadilla; the Neapolitan song of the same period was called canzonetta: it lives on in such gems as "Catarí." In every case, the unit-the single piece-has, as we know, its own name, as demanded by the exigencies of performance and consumption, first of all; and secondly, by the need for identification.

In former times there were many dance melodies which, provided with {3-4} a text, became detached from their choreography and circulated as songs with the generic name of the corresponding dance: waltz, allemande, bolero, etc. This kind of dance song also exists in our own day. In South America there were pure lyric species, like the yaravi and the triste, dispersed throughout the continent.

3. Dynamics. The species under discussion are constructed on the basis of locally available elements-they are often the continuation or the modification of other species-, are sent forth into the world, and at the end of half a century, or perhaps a whole century, they make way for new species which repeat the triumphant cycle of their predecessors, as required by the identical functions of recreation, of "escape," or of complemental activity.

With respect to their average duration, the species of mesomusic obey the regime of fashion. Various successive centers of diffusion, in some cases contemporaneous, establish themselves in certain large cities: Florence, Madrid, Paris, New York, etc. These centers receive local or foreign elements and, once the indispensable requisites have been fulfilled, they adopt, name, and launch new lyric and dance species (galliard, corrente, canarie, sarabande, fandango; minuet, gavotte, contredanse, quadrille, lancers; waltz, polka, mazurka, schottische; fox trot, tango, etc.), in which are reflected the musical and choreographic traits of many Western nations. Paris ruled the world of mesomusic and dance for some four hundred years.

A system of subcenters of diffusion-usually in the national capitals adopts the products of the "universal" capital and distributes these novelties through the network of provincial capitals, to all the towns and villages of the country. Very often the subcenters transform the imported products and produce new types of the same songs and dances, or else they develop other forms that are sufficiently removed from the model to be regarded as different species.

4. Theory. Mesomusic, as a whole, is technically and aesthetically conservative. Melodic and harmonic traits of at least seven centuries are retained in its repertory to the present day; it also receives influences from many periods and accepts both primitive and modern elements.

The principal instrumental medium of mesomusic is the small orchestra, with or without voices; the typical singer provides his or her own instrumental accompaniment; but the composer generally writes for harmonic solo instruments and for every kind of small ensemble. Its typical expressions are melodies accompanied by harmonic means that are not advanced or experimental but rather represent the prevailing "modern" norm; even more general is the accompaniment consisting of an elementary harmony, very often empirical. In the productions of the West there is usually modulation.

The tonality of mesomusic embraces all the Western major and minor modes, including those of Oriental origin and those that did not flourish in art music during the so-called classical period (1600-1900). In those continents which have produced, through metastasis, extra-European manifestations of mesomusic, the local development usually adopts various regional scales.

The rhythmic basis of mesomusic is the Western foot (not the rhythmic modes), in its two forms (binary and ternary), and in all its formulae, as shown in Example 2.


Example 2

But in the case of mesomusic, the juxtaposition of these formulae in the mental elaboration of ideas obeys a strict system of symmetrical structures. Art music, on the other hand, juxtaposes the feet with complete freedom, and only because of the influence of that archaic system does it occasionally present symmetrical melodies. This is to say, that in art music symmetry is optional or occasional. That is why we often say that mesomusic speaks "in verse" and that art music is more and more commonly conceived "in prose."

The system of juxtapositions in mesomusic is founded on a special class of ideas. Each idea consists in the association of two opposing motional (sic, from "motion") states of feeling: one is desire, tension, conflict, and is generally manifested rhythmically in the "movement" produced by short sounds; the other is satisfaction, relaxation, resolution, and is generally expressed in the "repose" simulated by slow motion, by long sounds (Example 3):

If the notes which translate each state are placed between two dividing lines, we shall see them isolated within a space similar to that of the traditional measure. We too shall agree to call that space a "measure" (compás), but with this new meaning in mind: the measure always contains expressive elements. The two opposing complementary measures, nearly {5-6} always juxtaposed in the order "movement-repose," constitute the minimal musical idea, the musical thought, the phrase. And this idea is presented in eight primary forms and in several combinations of its elements, as may be seen in the accompanying table (Example 4):

Example 4

Of these eight forms, only the first three binary ones and the first two ternary ones are used with any frequency: 2x4, 4x6, 6x8 (binary); 3x8 and 6x8 (ternary). The principal combinations of these elements are those that we reproduce in our table of secondary phrases (by combination), Example 5:

Example 5


That is to say, the first measure of one form is united to the second measure of another. It should be understood that each of the feet in all these models may be replaced by any of the formulae presented in the first table (Example 2), but, in every case, in the order of binary with binary and ternary with ternary. The mixture of these does not exist. Through the juxtaposition of four or eight of these phrases, mesomusic constructs its periods. Sometimes it also constructs with odd numbers: 3, 5, 7, and 9. See the table of the common mesomusic periods, Example 6.

Example 6


All of these forms have been written, not only on the basis of the eighth note as denominator or unit, but also on the basis of the quarter-note, so that we shall always find in the notations these two series of time-signatures which, at the same speed, are read in an identical manner:

2×8, 3×8, 4×8, 6×8 ternary, 6×8 binary, 8×8, 9×8, 12×8.
2×4, 3×4, 4×4, 6×4 ternary, 6×4 binary, 8×4, 9×4, 12×4.

Composers of the last century occasionally wrote works that had some measures based on the unit of 16 (semiquaver, or sixteenth-note), and the ancients used the unit of 2 (half-note).

These are the conclusions that we reach through the musical analysis —musical, not graphic— of many thousands of mesomusical melodies. Nearly all-the percentage would be within the range of 90 to 99-are subject to these traditional norms that go back to musical prehistory.

Mesomusic does not share its forms with modern avant-garde music, nor with the archaic music of the primitives; on the other hand, nearly all its structures are the same as those of folk music, for the simple reason that mesomusic conduces them to the locus and to the condition of folklore when its species complete the urban-rural cycle. Of this we shall speak further, in Part II of this paper.

5. Education. Mesomusic is the civilizing medium par excellence, not because it is artistically the best-it is not-, but because its functions assure its prodigious and gratuitous distribution wherever and whenever it is most necessary and effective. And indeed, mesomusic is actually the best for this purpose-for sensorial training-because it is, genealogically, a lower rung of expression suitable for the individual from the age of two or three years, and it is absorbed from the environment by the spontaneous selection of the listener. There is, moreover, an empirical domestic pedagogy.

Although we believe that mesomusic surpasses the capacity of the infant, the lullaby that he hears in the cradle-still incomprehensible and expressive for him-introduces him to the world of sounds, awakens, exercises and develops his psychophysiological system, and deposits seeds of sensibility in his subconscious. Later the child begins to participate, as singer and as listener, in the mesomusical repertory of the kindergarten and the primary grades. During the period of puberty the youth feels mesomusic with the intensity of an adult, and, generally, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen the gifted ones aspire to be instrumental performers of mesomusic and to create it, now with the intervention of extra-musical impulses characteristic of their age group. Without discounting the numerous cases of precocity, it is around this age that the average adolescent is initiated into the conscious appreciation of "classical music," and that the chosen consecrate themselves to the latter.

During his whole life the common man feels the civilizing influence of mesomusic, for, no matter how much the intolerant high-brow "music lovers" may disdain this "middle-brow" expression, its level must be regarded as extraordinarily suited for such a mission, besides being environmentally obligatory and socially inevitable.

We must insist that, genealogically, mesomusic represents an elementary level that harmonizes with the sensory possibilities of the average person. The attempt to develop the individual's capacities solely on the basis of art music (even when historically graded) is bound to fail by surpassing the level {8-9} of receptivity of the common mentality. Therefore, we repeat, mesomusic, more than any other of any kind, is the civilizing instrument par excellence.

6. Economy. Mesomusic is the most important music in the world; not the greatest, from a Western point of view, but the most important. It is the music that is heard most, to such a degree that, sinning by an excess of moderation, we have attributed to it-historically and contemporaneously-an average of 80 per cent of all the music performed. Our paleographic studies have revealed and classified an enormous repertory of troubadour monody (12th and 13th centuries). A certain number of these songs belong to the realm of art music or stand on its borders; the rest, including the chansons de geste and the dance tunes, are mesomusic. Although only a probable 5 per cent of the total estimated repertory has reached us in notation, the five thousand versions that were written and have been preserved suffice to infer the extraordinary magnitude of the current of "middle music" during the past thousand years.

Whatever idea we may form of this volume, the probabilities are that it was even larger than that of the present day, proportionately, because each city, each capital, each town, had to create, in those times, and to transmit without notation, a large part of what it consumed. Today, printed editions, recordings, radio broadcasting, disseminate a large portion of the urban production and take the place of the musical creator in the smaller cities and towns.

Let us now try to form an idea of the sum and scope of contemporary mesomusic.

Mesomusic supplies innumerable publishing enterprises which fill the consumer needs of millions of students and "fans" (aficionados) and of numerous soloists and players in professional orchestras; mesomusic sustains the large recording industries and the manufacturers of recording and reproducing devices; mesomusic maintains the greater part of the radio and television programs and the correlative production of the manufacturers of receiving equipment for public consumption; mesomusic supports the performing profession, and there are, moreover, many performers who also play with symphony orchestras (i.e., who perform art music as well); it vitalizes the teaching profession which trains the future concert performers who end up playing in small orchestras; it sustains the manufacturers of musical instruments and the publishers of vocal and instrumental methods; it requires regular sections in the newspapers for commentaries and reviews; it furnishes the repertory for public spectacles, movies, theaters, and, as music for social dancing, it nourishes the dancing schools, the public dance halls, and the entire auxiliary production of the most diverse kinds (including coin-operated machines, the printing of catalogs and publicity, programs, announcements, etc.), and the managerial services that public consumption demands. Finally, mesomusic installs in large modern buildings the entities charged with administering performing rights and authors' royalties.

In Argentina alone these rights amount to some 300,000,000 Argentine pesos annually, including something like 3 per cent which corresponds to art music. The case of Argentina is not common, because its Teatro Colón is one of the largest lyric theaters in the world, and it maintains regular seasons of opera. Dedicated entirely to art music, it takes in at the box office some 50,000,000 pesos each year, of which some 5,000,000 pesos go to authors' royalties and performing rights. If to this sum we add some 3,000,000 {9-10} pesos for concerts in the entire country, we can calculate about 8,000,000 pesos for authors' rights in the field of art music, as compared with the 300,000,000 for mesomusic (in both cases including an indeterminate amount for the texts). These figures, vague as they may be, and referring only to authors' rights, support in certain measure the previous statements concerning the general importance of mesomusic. But let us not forget to consider the incalculable: the music, "live" or mechanical, that is performed in private; that of domestic singing and whistling in the street-for which no rights are paid!

One of the most significant consequences of this entire musical world vivified by mesomusic is the benefit that its potentiality extends to art music; and this benefit is so great, that it alarms us to think what might happen today if it were lacking. On the other hand, we must recognize the value of the great prestige that art music confers upon all music, simply because of the hierarchy that it has known how to command in the world as a unique and pure product of the highest culture. The number of creative geniuses attracted to art music has raised the level of human greatness.


Mesomusic is constituted by large currents of minor creations that have their remote origins in musical prehistory. (In music, "prehistory" is understood to be generally up to the 12th century.) It was then, during the period of the troubadours, that, by order of the princes, thousands of songs and some dance tunes were written for the first time; many of these, as we have remarked, belonged to the level of mesomusic and illustrate the torrential pace of this immense current. In addition to the paramount type which, according to Grocheo, "is called ecclesiastic and is consecrated to the praise of the Creator," there already existed at that time a music that was polyphonic- and therefore a type of art music-founded on secular polyphonic compositions and on traditional troubadour melodies extracted from their preharmonic instrumental context, and subjected to the polyphonic treatment of the period. The polyphony of art music, by reason of its churchly functions, demanded a notation and a history, both of which almost entirely excluded mesomusic.

1. Prehistory. There is a general history of music which for centuries has merited the attention of brilliant and vigorous intellects and the contributions of innumerable monographs; there are many musical dictionaries that have contributed to the knowledge of our art, its representatives and its elements; but this admirable labor deals only with the "superior" manifestations known as art music (or high-art, or fine-art music). There are thousands of Western theoretical treatises that are devoted solely to tonal and rhythmic questions of art music-almost the sole exception being that of Johannes de Grocheo (c. 1300). Only with other ends in view, in a manner ancillary and incidental, do we find a few observations on mesomusic; and we must reach recent times in order to find printed repertories for performances. Throughout all the centuries of learning, mesomusic has remained outside of History.

After the Middle Ages, mesomusic continued its gross oral existence without notation-and carried on its lyrical and choreographic functions, ever widenings its channels, ever better defined as a class of "secondary" music — {10-11}artistically and technically. We are not forgetting the old collections-the bulky recueils-filled with dead material; but whatever the exceptions, the hard fact is that mesomusic does not have a definitive history because there always lacked a full awareness of its importance and significance.

Since dances need music, it follows that general histories of the dance have included chapters which, indirectly, permit us to imagine the mute life of the music that served for accompaniment. There are various histories of this sort; but we must reach the present century before finding, in a great work by Curt Sachs, Eine Weltgeschichte des Tanzes (Berlin, 1933), an exact, systematic, and valuable documentation and interpretation of the mesodance. Even later is the pathfinding work of Paul Nettl, The Story of Dance Music, which devotes many meaty pages to music in its choreographic function. Although they do not limit themselves to our topic, these two eminent authors exhaust the available historical documentation, especially with respect to Central Europe.

Our purpose is to create an historical and contemporary awareness of mesomusic in its spatial and temporal transcendency and in its diverse functions; and in order to give clarity and precision to this aim in its historical aspect, we are going to take two examples: the first concerns a "universal" dance, the second a lyric song of South America. Of these two cases-and of several dozen more-I have written in several books; now it is a question of summarizing the commentary and the documentation on the dance and the song selected for our present purpose: the Contredanse (Spanish, contradanza) and the triste.

2. The Contredanse. Historians of European music teach us that the Contredanse appears in England shortly before 1600 and that its elements apparently come from the remote times of musical prehistory. Dancing masters bring it to the French salons, and its first dispersion begins from Paris prior to 1700. The penetration of the Contredanse toward the East reaches at least as far as Russia; toward the West, it reaches Spain. This rapid spatial diffusion coincides with a gradual displacement to all classes of society: "Even at the court, at least during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it (the Contredanse) was danced by masters and servants together" (Curt Sachs, World History of the Dance. New York, Norton, 1937, p. 420). The European historians report migrations through adjacent countries, and changes in form; and with regard to the Contredanse itself, they give us to understand that it died around 1800-1830, as such and with that name. Nevertheless, this is precisely when its "secret" universal history begins and continues the unwritten history of mesomusic in the dance.

The Contredanse arrived in Spain with the Bourbons in 1701, and the documents testify that many countries of Spanish America became acquainted with the new dance. Backed by such evidence, and invoking the corresponding sociological rule, we can affirm that within the first or second decades of the 18th century, the upper-class salons of all the cities in America knew the Contredanse.

José Marti (writing in the latter part of the 19th century) tells us of a ceremonial ball in the United States, at which the places of honor in the cotillion were reserved for persons of the highest social rank, the test being that they must be descendants "of the families that danced the Contredanse at the home of the Frenchman Moustin-the celebrated Contredanse of the first presidential inauguration, when General Washington came out dressed in {11-12} velvet, without a sword, to perform the figures of the dance to the sound of the violin...

Around the middle of the 18th century, the Chilean gentleman Vincente Perez Rosales arrived in California with all his hopes set on finding gold. He relates that in Monterey, "the lady who does not smoke tolerates smoking with pleasure. After the contradanza, played on the piano by the sexton of the nearby chapel, the ladies of the party went out by twos to stroll in the corridors ..." -and to smoke a cigar.

Ruben M. Campos gives us a detail on the vitality of the contradanza in Mexico (quoting a chronicle of the mid-19th century): "The public ballrooms of San Agustin de las Cuevas, in the year 1841, were overflowing with people who delighted in admiring the elegant figures, the seductive glances, the small feet, of the most beautiful and distinguished young ladies, all given over to the various quadrilles, to the lively contradanza."

Manly references have come down to us from the past in Cuba, where this dance engendered an important and purely musical flowering; we even find a description of the "long" Contredanse, the "longways," written by Maria Dolores de Ximeno in her memoirs. The Englishman W. Walton noted in 1810 that in Haiti a variant of the Contredanse was danced in the salons: "They have adopted the waltz, besides the Spanish country dance, which is extremely graceful, and more complicated, but not so monotonous as our own, though the time is slower." It is not in the least surprising that these dances should go on creating choreographic and musical variants everywhere, and that such variants should in turn engender new species. And another Englishman, who traveled from Venezuela to Colombia in 1823, tells us that, "The Spanish country dances and waltzing are most in favour with them . (Anonymous, Letters Written from Colombia... London, 1824)

There are many references to the contradanza in Peru. We shall limit ourselves to citing two newspaper notices: One, from El Comercio of Lima, under date of July 30, 1829, is as follows: "Few are the times when Lima has witnessed a more brilliant and select assemblage than that which was present on Saturday in the salon of the Philharmonic Society. About three hundred persons were gathered there... Upon the termination of the concert, there was dancing of waltzes and Contredanses until half an hour after midnight." The second notice reveals that the contradanza was not passively accepted, but that it engendered new compositions. (This process was general everywhere in the case of all the important dances and applies both to the musical and choreographic aspects.) According to of May 8, 1832: " ... the Peruvian composer Manuel Banón has written the following pieces [and among others, mentions these]: La contradanza peruana, La contradanza de los caminantes, and 'a contradanza on an air of the country'".

The English navigator, George Vancouver (Voyages, vol. 6, p. 289. London, 1801), on his way through Chile in 1795, wrote as follows:

We would have been extremely happy to have availed ourselves of the pressing intreaties of Senr Cotappas to join with the ladies in dancing but as their country dances appeared to be very difficult and as no one amongst us could recollect the figures of any of those we had been accustomed to in England, we were under the mortification of acknowledging our ignorance and declining the civility of the master of the house.

The contradanza was danced in Argentina, as in other countries, but there it had more important consequences, as we shall see in the sequel. For the moment, we shall cite only one document, which refers to the festivities {12-13} for the coronation of Ferdinand VI in 1747: "... on both nights the Governor and Captain General offered a splendid refreshment to all those present, which served as an interlude for the Contredanses, the Minuets, and the Areas."

By 1752 the Contredanse was already established in Uruguay. It was danced by the Spanish of Uruguay and the Portuguese of Brazil when they met near the frontier to settle a border dispute. The report of the Spanish mission says: "The table was served with all splendor and near nightfall the Portuguese gave a ball for the Marquis, with dancing of the Contredanse." And it adds that they danced "eight contradanzas and numerous minuets, until almost midnight," with the participation of the two chiefs of mission, a marquis and a general.

These few references suffice to introduce us to the obscure migrations of the Contredanse family (English, French, Spanish, etc.), with its varied music, throughout an enormous continent and during one hundred and fifty years. It might be thought that with these reports we have embraced its entire expansion and consequences; but the fact is that we have scarcely begun to do so. Nearly all of the preceding citations refer to the Contredanse in the capitals of America; it is necessary to recall that, by the law of dispersion, all the great dances have penetrated to the most distant and remote European settlements in America. In other not to lengthen unduly our continental roster, we shall cite only a few significant items.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra was in 1845 an insignificant town situated in the heart of South America. Francis de Castelnau tells us that in that year, "The prefect of the Department, a keen dancer, had imported from the capital some French contredanses, and after their arrival his principal occupation consisted of distributing them to his people as a singular favor." And in Achaguas, a small place in Venezuela, in 1818, an English captain, the author of Campaigns and Croisseurs, learned that General Piez, whenever he could get some brandy, "would not fail to give a great ball for all the people, and himself danced assiduously every Contredanse, from the first to the last." Finally, around 1876-1878, Giovanni Pelleschi saw the French quadrille in the Paraguayan village of Humaitá.

Without any doubt, all the small towns, all the villages of the continent, knew the great dances that were launched by Paris, just as we have demonstrated in the case of the Contredanse. But there is something else, to be taken into account: the Negroes and the Indians also danced the Contredanse and the other European dance species.

Emile Carrey describes for us the remarkable scene of Negroes in Lima that he witnessed in 1875. Each Negro took his place for the Contredanse. "During the first moments they danced like young dandies who are afraid to get wrinkles and who measure their steps and their movements like rhythmic automatons. It is considered elegant to dance in this manner... But the music, becoming ever faster, and their own movements, intoxicate them. Their limbs are agitated until they give the impression of being uncontrollable. A sensual joy lights up their features. Their teeth gleam; their eyes roll. The sweat of passionate pleasure bathes their shining faces. The orchestra quickens its harsh sounds; men and women, all begin to leap; then, almost immediately, they all dance and shout, as if crazed with happiness." And the French writer exclaims: "C'est ne pas une contredanse, c'est le galop de l'Opera. Ce n'est plus un bal d' hommes, c'est un sabbat de possédés."


The adoption of the European mesodances by the Negroes in America was general, and in practice these often (but not always) degenerated into the African forms, which they also cultivated. In 1790, when there still were many Negroes in Lima, they had recourse to the Government because the theater impressarios wished to prevent them from "performing the Minuet and its consequent Pieces," on the ground that "the practice of these Dances is unfitting to their Low Condition (su Baxa Calidad) ...

With respect to the indigenes, all the High Culture groups more or less near to the urban centers, and the primitive tribes living in the missionary reducciones (reservations), danced the Contredanse and other European dances. Fray Pedro José de Parras, in 1750, visited the Jesuit missions in Corrientes, 1,500 kilometers from Buenos Aires, and observed that, "There are schools of music where the Indians are instructed with great facility: they are apt for dancing and do it with dexterity; and I have seen some Minuets and Contredanses danced among them with as much grace as might be seen in Madrid."

The Contredanse, then, passed from Paris to all the capitals, towns, and villages of Europe and of other continents; it was accepted by the middle class and by the lower classes; and eventually it reached the Afro-American sectors and even the indigenous communities of America-all this in its character of mesomusic and mesodance. But from a general historical point of view, the most important fact is still to come: the mesodance is "folkloregenerative"; it engenders folk dances. The Contredanse continued to live as a folk dance for more than a century after its multiple disappearance in the salons, and it engendered in America numerous dances that were different, yet founded on the same principles. Many of these kept the European name; the others received new names.

In Brazil, the "Mandado" is danced to the present day, and Alceu Maynard Araujo tells us that "it is a dance very similar to the Quadrille." Victor Navarro made a census in the Indian communities of the Department of Cuzco (in Peru) and found that sixty dances were known there. The contradanza- thus, with its own name-was danced in twelve villages. Another dance, found in several communities, was called "Cuadrillas." In Argentina, three folk dances -—the cielito, the pericon, and the media caña—— had a wide diffusion and a long life. There are three rural contradanzas of the Gauchos, who have themselves retained the European names for the various figures: rueda (wheel), cadena (chain), molinete (twirl), etc.

At this point we will illustrate a general process by means of the single example with which we are dealing: the rise of the folklore dances to assume once more the condition of salon dances. The three Argentine dances mentioned above vegetated in the pampas of Buenos Aires Province until around 1800. They were attracted to the capital by the War for Independence (1810); the upper classes welcomed them to their ballrooms, and they were diffused throughout the aristocratic salons of half a continent. Eventually, in {14-15} all these countries, they descended once again to the rural areas, where they continued to be cultivated for more than half a century.

After this very brief selection of evidence, it may readily be admitted that the Contredanse did not die around 1800, and that the official history of mesomusic and of the mesodance has an enormous second part as yet unimagined and almost entirely unknown. Curt Sachs wrote: " ... the radical change that occurred in social conditions at the end of the 18th century, ended with the minuet." Nevertheless, entire continents preserved it for nearly a century longer, and to this day it persists as a folk dance. This general process represents the common fate of nearly all the great dances.

3. The Triste. The reader will not have forgotten, I trust, the purpose of our incursion through the obscure depths of the history of the mesodance: our aim was the recognition of the thousand currents of mesomusic that circulate unheeded everywhere, beyond the ken of official histories. In pursuance of this task we have chosen as our second example the life of a great South American lyric song, the Triste, because it allows us, on the one hand, to make a direct study of mesomusic, and on the other hand, because it reveals the existence of extra-European growths that were produced in continents larger than the whole of Europe and that held the interest of all social classes over a long period of time.

The Triste appears in Peru in the second half of the 18th century. The Bishop of Trujillo, Baltasar Jaime Martinez Compainón (1735-1797), planned to compile a history of his diocese, for which he left more than three thousand illustrations in nine volumes, which are preserved in the Biblioteca de Palacio in Madrid. The second volume contains twenty pages of music. One of the musical items, which the prelate collected in 1782, is called "tonada," and it is a typical Triste, in both text and music. This is the pre-Romantic lied of South America. Technically, it combines major (with augmented fourth) with minor; its form is often daring, owing to the demands of the Andean poetic system that it adopts.

The renowned naturalist Féliz de Azara noted at the end of the 18th century that the country folk of the River Plate and of Paraguay, "sing yarabís (sic) or tristes, which are songs invented in Peru, mostly monotonous and always sad, treating of disappointments in love and of persons who go through the deserts weeping for their misfortunes."

Around 1800 the Triste is found throughout all of Argentina that had been conquered from the Indians. The Spanish engineer Jose María Cabred, at that time an inhabitant of Buenos Aires, recalls its attraction for the women of that city and adds that they sang Spanish peninsular and Spanish American songs, all about love, "with some tristes (native to Alto Peril), which have a music that is sweet, plaintive, and gentle, and the words are usually about some event in history..." It is scarcely necessary to say that the Triste also reached Chile very quickly. The English writer Mary Graham heard it at an estate near Santiago in 1822: "After the dance, Don Lucas seated himself in a corner of the room on a low bench and accompanied some ballads and tristes on his guitar..." By the same process of expansion from Peru, the triste found its way to Ecuador. In Quito, during the year 1810, W. B. Stevenson considered its beauty: "The mestizos are passionately fond of music... Nothing can surpass the melodious sweetness of some of their tristes or melancholy airs." With or without direct testimony from that period, we can readily admit that the Triste spread throughout the whole of {15-16}  South America, through Central America, and even reached the Spanish speaking communities of North America. The famous French naturalist Alcide d'Orbigny, who heard the Triste in Potosí (Bolivia), remarked about 1830: "I had many times heard these tristes or Peruvian songs, so widespread throughout America."

And it is not a question of a diffusion brought about by the mere dynamism of Lima's prestige-not at all; the Spanish Americans welcomed the Triste with passionate devotion; they were deeply moved by its tones. "Nothing so seductive,"--wrote the French traveller Arsene Isabelle around 1830- 33-"as one portenia [woman of Buenos Aires] saying to another in confidence, 'This triste ravishes my soul.'" Nor was this only a fleeting and superficial interest of the moment. Twenty years later, in 1853, the Argentine writer Vincente G. Quesada, heard in the province of Santiago del Estero a gaucho who sang "a triste, a profoundly sentimental song"; and he adds that he was impressed by "the deep feeling and the very sad expressiveness of the singer." One night in the year 1875, the writer Carlos Walker Martinez passed by the River Piedras and heard "one of the most beautiful and romantic tristes." Then he added: "I have heard splendid concerts in Europe and in our own capitals: but nothing like the triste of that night while travelling through the Argentine countryside."

The Triste kept its capacity for penetrating the spirit through the entire century. The Argentine essayist Ernesto Quesada observed in 1902: "There are tristes that make the soul vibrate with sadness." During the past decades, the author of these lines has recorded numerous Tristes in Argentina, in Bolivia, and in Peru. They are no longer cultivated in the salons of the upper classes in the large cities; but they are still remembered in the smaller cities and in the countryside. Their beauty still appeals to the spirit even in our modern world. All of which is to say that the Triste, a high expression of the first Romantic stirrings in South America, a cry conceived in the profoundest depths of the soul, fulfilled an eminent constellation of spiritual and social functions, and interested more than a hundred million persons throughout an entire continent twice as large as Europe, during almost a century and a half-and the histories of music ignore its existence! The irrevocable disappearance of so many beautiful melodies is an irreparable loss for our knowledge of the human spirit.


Mesomusic has not served one or more specific classes, nor sects, nor this or that epoch or region; nor was it exclusive to urban or rural groups. It was and is the music of everyone, unique in the cities, welcome to the folk in the villages (where it coexists with the local music), strange to primitive peoples.

What is significant in mesomusic, what determines its position and its action, is not a hierarchic status (although it must necessarily have one); this "middle music" does not occupy a place in the scale of pure aesthetic values below art music and above other more primitive types. Mesomusic compositions for the dance coexist and alternate with those of art music on the highest sensory plane, without any confusion of their respective levels. Mozart, for example, without doubt heard them and made use of them, when he danced the Minuet and the Contredanse; and he even wrote this type of {16-17} music independently of his fine-art creations. The songs of mesomusic likewise coexist with fine-art creations, being admitted or tolerated either in diverse complementary functions, or to satisfy a specific need for lesser enjoyment excluding a high-level sensory and intellectual concentration.

Mesomusic acquires its full significance in this special sense, because, relegating to the background its artistic aspect, we can consider it chiefly as a functional entity in harmony with the need for recreation, diversion, general sociability, meeting of the sexes, etc.; and with the business enterprises involved in its consumption and the groups that absorb its production. In this evaluation there is a two-fold accent: sociological and economic; and thus we can better understand how mesomusic is the instrument of all the groups in the world that are absorbing the cultural irrigation of the West or that have similar needs and an analogous desire for this type of expression. And because it satisfies permanent needs, it subsists while conserving, renewing, or adapting the many historical and contemporary styles which-in highly variable measure--integrate its repertories.

The analogy of mesomusic with various other classes of cultural products seems evident: for example, didactic poetry and journalistic prose. The plastic arts intervene in the creation of crafts: the products of crafts are useful objects that have been artistically elaborated, molded, or decorated. In its non-material aspect, mesomusic-in part functional, in part artistic resembles these useful objects.

Montevideo, Uruguay