In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music in Colonial Latin America

  • Introduction
  • Transatlantic Exchanges
  • Social and Cultural Studies
  • Secular and Vernacular Music

Latin American Studies Music in Colonial Latin America
Jesús A. Ramos-Kittrell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0281


While European influences were important in musical culture of the colonial period, the movement of practices from among the different ethnic groups makes music in colonial Latin America a robust landscape of investigation. European music was surely a means to negotiate racial tensions. However, recorded evidence also shows that non-European elements participated in this exchange. Additionally, there are recorded accounts of “folk” or “popular” musical expressions happening in society. And while the wealth of notated European music sources made religious repertories the immediate point of focus in early scholarship, the flux of musical practices in the public sphere suggests that “European assimilation” or “imposition” might be unfitting one-way labels to understand the complex exchanges that shaped the colonial musical experience. For this reason, more recent studies have begun to incorporate approaches from cultural studies and social history to address this frame of activity. The following list pays attention to music from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries (although some sources spill into the nineteenth century). The bibliography begins with sources giving a general overview of music history in Latin America. This section, General Overviews, offers information on firsthand secondary source material for the study of colonial music, followed by general studies focused on specific countries. The next section points to useful Reference Works (the information contained in this segment does not attempt to be exhaustive; rather, it is meant to guide the reader to sources where more detailed information and further bibliographic materials may be found). After that, the bibliography organizes sources in five sections: Ecclesiastical Music Studies, Music Theory and Education, Transatlantic Exchanges, Social and Cultural Studies, and Secular and Vernacular Music.

General Overviews

Due to an early interest in European music by American scholars, some of the first publications on colonial Latin American music feature inventories or compilations of surviving music sources (Spiess and Stanford 1969, Stevenson 1970, and Stevenson 1974), although some of these publications do offer general historical information to situate the sources found. Other early sources provide the first historical studies of music in Latin America, and these bring attention to the colonial period (Slonimsky 1945—the reader may use caution in reading into the cultural biases in this source). The importance of cities (main hubs for the experience of modernity) was also the focus of other early studies (Stevenson 1952, Stevenson 1968). In these studies, Tenochtitlan and Peru were considered the pinnacles of pre-Hispanic civilization. Studies in Spanish also emerged and attempted to redress Euro-American readings of Latin American music history (Béhague 1979). Out of an interest to cope with the rhetoric of progress, these Latin American music studies emerged to map a history of Latin American culture when this very idea was being debated in and outside of the United States. More recently, scholars have begun to focus on a more comprehensive view of music history in light of the richness and difference in cultural perspective that has permeated colonial music studies (Waisman 2019, Gómez, et al. 2009–2016, and Vera 2020—see the introduction).

  • Aretz, Isabel. América Latina en su música. Paris: UNESCO, 1977.

    A view by Latin American scholars of musical development in Latin America since the conquest. Chapters written by different authors. Three chapters devoted to the colonial period. The source is somewhat influenced by primitivist views informing ideas of national culture.

  • Béhague, Gerard. Music in Latin America: An Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1979.

    A general history of music in Latin America with attention to Western art music produced in Latin America. Considered to be the first comprehensive and thoroughly documented historical book on the subject.

  • Gómez, Maricarmen, Álvaro Torrente, and José Máximo Leza, eds. Historia de la música en España e Hispanoamérica. Vols. 2–4. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2009–2016.

    A multivolume collection featuring historical analyses carried out by different researchers. The collection offers a rich panorama of historical context, practices, repertoire, and personalities.

  • Hague, Eleanor. Latin American Music: Past and Present. Santa Ana, CA: Fine Arts Press, 1934.

    This is brief and generalizing view of the so-called civilizing process of cultural encounter, with attention of the idea of cultural fusion.

  • Mendoza de Arce, Daniel. Music in Ibero-America to 1850: A Historical Survey. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001.

    A survey study of music in Ibero-America at large, with a focus on institutions, in twelve chapters. Seven chapters devoted to the colonial period.

  • Slonimsky, Nicolas. Music of Latin America. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1945.

    A European-based view of history, composers, and characteristics of music from twenty Latin American countries.

  • Spiess, Lincoln B., and E. Thomas Stanford. An Introduction to Certain Musical Archives. Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1969.

    A preliminary inventoried list of musical holdings at the cathedrals of Mexico City and Puebla. Due to the limited access given to the authors by cathedral authorities, and to the constraints of working space, the list is rather short and not representative of the actual musical sources found in these churches. This was, nonetheless, one of the first efforts to account for musical holdings in ecclesiastical institutions.

  • Stevenson, Robert. Music in Aztec and Inca Territory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

    A survey study of music in these two territories, including pre-Hispanic music, the study of musical cultures (European and Indigenous) at the time of encounter, and the development of musical practices.

  • Stevenson, Robert. Renaissance and Baroque Musical Sources in the Americas. Washington, DC: General Secretariat, Organization of American States, 1970.

    List of music sources in different Latin American repositories, which as of 1970 had not been accounted for in previous catalogues. Repositories include the cathedrals of Bogotá, Cuzco, Guatemala City, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sucre; National Libraries in Lima, Mexico City, and other archives in archbishoprics, former colleges, and museums.

  • Stevenson, Robert. Christmas Music from Baroque Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520317932

    A partial study of Christmas music sources, some acquired by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, others seemingly in private hands at that point. As with his volume from 1970, Stevenson’s effort was to unearth repertory. Bibliographic information to locate some of this material is not forthcoming in the book.

  • Waisman, Leonardo. Una historia de la música colonial hispanoamericana. Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 2019.

    Monograph focused solely on the history of colonial music in Latin America. The book gives due attention to music in Jesuitic missions and grapples with the different academic paradigms that have permeated research in colonial music studies.

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