• cello, piano
  • 18 min

Programme Note

Ríos Profundos draws inspiration from the novel of the same name by José María Arguedas, a Peruvian folklorist, poet, and Quechua advocate who reminds one in many ways of Bartók. In an attempt to validate the native culture of the Andes, Arguedas collected the tunes, poetry, and folklore of the Quechua Indians, the descendants of the Incas. Of the 20th century pro-indigenista writers, he was one of the first to write poetry in Quechua as well as Spanish, and was also a proponent of "mestizaje," the idea that cultures can co-exist peacefully. Like Bartók, he spoke of a brotherhood of people, and he proclaimed himself a modern Quechua man.

Arguedas' classic novel is largely autobiographical - It tells the story of Ernesto, a young boy who journeys with his impoverished lawyer father and witnesses both the beauties and tragedies of a fragmented Peruvian society. At times, the novel is reminiscent of Dickens's Oliver Twist or Golding's Lord of the Flies as Arguedas draws a dizzying array of landscapes and characters, all of whom attempt to find their place in a culture that pits the indigenous Indians against the dominant Hispanic class. Ernesto himself, as a figurative embodiment of "mestizaje," is unable to discern the distinctions drawn around him between the dark-skinned Indians and fairer Hispanics, between nature and society, and indeed, even between night and day... and herein lies his dilemma: He cannot find his own place within a culture that demands that he chooses sides. He wanders, thus, as a loner, accepted by virtually no one. Yet, among such solitude, Ernesto is still able to experience moments of great joy whether it is in listening to the musical chiming of a pisonay tree, witnessing a non-violent peasant revolt, or learning how to spin a zumbayllu top in the school playground.

Ríos Profundos
is a portrait drawn in music of Arguedas's novel. Both western and Quechua influences can be found in the musical composition. Rough and melodious sounds co-exist, just as both the ugly and the beautiful are found in Arguedas's Peru. Movements often flow without pause into one another (much in the manner of the novel's own chapters), reflecting Ernesto's own vision of his world as a fusion of experiences. Some of those experiences are reflected as follows:

I: Introducción: "Ernesto": The cello delivers a soliloquy based on an opening leitmotiv symbolizing Ernesto.

II: Fantasía: "La María Angola": The piano re-enters and, after passing its quick passagework to the cello, rings in the church bells of the great cathedral, the María Angola. An important symbol of stability and order amidst social chaos, the bells grow ever more distant as Ernesto, in an early pivotal moment of the novel, walks away.

III. Huayno: "La Chichería": A typical folk song, the huayno features a constantly repeating carnavalito rhythm in the accompaniment. Here tremolo charango guitars and low cassia drums are alluded to by the piano and quena flutes by the cello. Such huaynos are often performed in the Andean taverns (known as chicherías after the national alcoholic drink made from corn, chicha), frequented illicitly by Ernesto.

IV. Canta: "El Pongo": Little better than a slave, the pongo is an Indian forced into labor at a local landowner's hacienda. He is perhaps the most pathetic figure of Peruvian society.

V. Salón: "Confusa": As incongruous in the mountains of Peru as it is here in this composition, the distant strains of a piano rag are heard by Ernesto from within a fenced-off colonial mansion as delusions of a privileged class emulating the west.

VI. Harawi: "Ojos Azules": A typical melancholy love song, Ernesto's harawi alludes to a dark-haired girl with blue eyes that he espies from afar. The young woman's blue eyes suggest that she is unattainable.

VII. La Vuelta: Ernesto's final summation of himself.

— Gabriela Lena Frank