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Mestizaje and the music of Gabriela Lena Frank
May 11, 2016
Gabriela Lena Frank’s compositional career is marked by the works that take influence from her identity as a person of mixed descent. In the program notes for one of her most regularly performed works, Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, Frank herself describes how this "string quartet draws inspiration from the idea of mestizaje as envisioned by the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas, where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. As such, this piece mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions." This thesis explores the concept of mestizaje (lit. miscegenation) as understood by Frank, Arguedas, and Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa, through the analysis of four of her compositions: Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout (string quartet, 2001), Ccollanan María (SATB, 2004), Quijotadas (string quartet, 2007), and Milagros (string quartet, 2010). First, I analyze the harmonic and expressive ambiguity within works and movements that evoke native Andean traditions within western classical instruments. Later, I interpret the prevalent use of intervals of seconds (both major and minor) as a musical expression of different identities coming together within the compositional framework of the pieces. The paper concludes with a section on compadrazgo, the necessary communication among players, among cultures, that helps bring about Frank’s idealized conception of mestizaje through her compositional practice.
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