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Jos Mariano Elzaga and Music Education in Early Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Author(s): David G. Tovey

Source: The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Jan., 1997), pp.
Published by: Ithaca College
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Jose Mariano Elizaga and Music Education
in Early Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Most music educators in the United States are at least vaguely aware
that school music teaching as a profession extends back to the early
nineteenth century, and they often know something of the efforts of such
pioneers as Lowell Mason. Few North Americans realize, however, that
Mexico's history of music education (at least in the European-American
sense), while admittedly not constituting a single, unbroken tradition to the
present day, predates that of the United States by over three centuries. Even
fewer readers from north of the Rio Grande know that in the 1820s - a
decade before Mason's celebrated efforts in the Boston schools - a Mexican
musician and teacher briefly attained extraordinary prominence in his own
country, first as a performer and then as a conductor, teacher, and textbook
Scholars on both sides of the Rio Grande have noticed the striking
parallels between the careers of Lowell Mason and Jose Mariano Elizaga.
Robert Stevenson and Juan Jose Escorza have each remarked that the two
musicians occupy analogous positions in the musical histories of their
respective nations despite the fact that the cultural milieux in which they
functioned were vastly differentJ
Both men were multifaceted talents. Both Mason and Elizaga were
active in church music (Protestant church music for Mason, Catholic for
Elizaga), and both were involved at one point in music publishing. Each
expressed in his writing a concern for developing the musicality of his
country's youth. Curiously, each man published a successful book which,
iRobert Stevenson, Music in Mexico: A Historical Survey (New York: ThomasY.
Crowell Company, 1952), 189; and Juan Jose Escorza, "La ensenanza musical en Nueva
Espana: Un acercamientoinformal,"Heterofonia 104-105 (Enero 1991): 46.


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Jose ElJzaga and Music Education in Mexico 127

it turnsout, was essentially a reworkingof the ideas of an earlierEuropean

writer. Elfzagaopenly creditedthe source of his ideas, Antonio Eximeno,
while Mason appears to have been less than forthright about his
appropriationof ideas which G. F. Kiiblerfirst publishedin German.
There were in fact equally strikingdifferences as well as similarities
between the careers of the two men. Elfzaga first attractedattentionas a
child keyboardprodigy;as an adulthe enjoyed a reputationboth as a piano
virtuoso and superb private teacher. Mason apparentlyplayed several
instrumentsserviceably and busied himself with group singing activities.
Mason's most commemoratedcontributionto music educationinvolved his
affiliationwith the Boston public schools (1837-1845), while the capstone
of Elfzaga's work in the field involved his establishmentof Mexico City's
first conservatory (1825) under governmentalauspices. While Mason's
efforts in Boston took permanent root after his departure, Elfzaga's
endeavorwas unfortunatelyshort-lived. Mexico's political and economic
instabilityremainedan impedimentto the sustaineddevelopmentof the fine
artsin thatcountryuntil the 1860s.2

Elfzaga's Education and Early Career

Jose MarianoElfzagawas bornin the provincialcapitalof Valladolid

(now Morelia,Michoacan)in west centralMexico on September27, 1786.
By the age of five the child had astoundedhis father,a keyboardteacher,by
his precise and quick imitations of the best of his father's students. In
1792, a Mexico City newspaper described the boy's abilities as
"monstrous"in a lengthy featurearticle. Accompaniedby his parents,the
boy traveledto Mexico City at the invitationof the Viceroy,whose curiosity
was piqued by the aforesaid newspaper item. The boy surpassed the
expectations of the nobleman, who procureda place for him in the choir
school of Mexico City's CathedralMetropolitana. However, after only a
year's time there,the boy returnedto Valladolidwherehe undertookspecial
2Gilbcrt Chase, America's Music, 2nd cd. (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company,
1966), 151.

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128 David G.Tovey

studies with thatcity's cathedralorganist,Jose MariaCarrasco. Elizaga's

reputationcontinuedto grow, and in 1798 he returnedto the capitalto study
piano with the country'smost acclaimedvirtuoso,Soto Carrillo.3
Once more Elizaga returnedto his home town after a year's time,
applyinghimself to generalstudiesincludingLatingrammarand servingas
one of the assistantorganistsat the ValladolidCathedral. By this time the
town council thought so highly of him that it had a piano shipped from
Mexico City for his exclusive use. During the next several years he also
took on private piano pupils, among them Dona Ana Maria Huarte,who
became (albeit briefly) Empress of Mexico in 1822. During the 1810s,
althoughhe did not take up arms,he expressedhis supportfor his country's
strugglefor independenceby writingan ode to the revolutionaryleaderJose
Morelos. Newspapers as far away as Oaxaca (400 miles south of
Valladolid)publishedthe work.4
It was also duringthis time that Elizaga read a numberof European
books on music theory. Apparently he became aware of a wide gap
betweenthe materialwith whichtheoreticiansoccupiedthemselvesand what
studentsactuallyneeded for theirmusical skill development. In 1822, one
year after Spain had grudgingly recognized Mexico's independence,
political developments on the national level provided Elizaga with the
opportunity to address this concern and others on behalf of all music
studentsin the nation.^

Elizaga and the National Music Scene

The struggle for Mexican independence involved an eleven-year

conflict during which Mexicans formed liberal and conservative parties
based largely on income and social class. Liberalsrepresentingthe poorer

3"De Valladolid," La Gaceta de Mexico, 2 Octubre 1792, died in Jesus C. Romero, Jose
Mariano Elizaga (Mexico City: Ediciones del Palaccio de Bellas Aries, 1934), 2.
4Gabriel Saldfvar, "Jose Mariano Elizaga," Heterofonia 95 (Octubre 1986): 42; and
Romero, Jose Mariano Elizaga, 15.
5Elisa Orsorio Bolio de Saldivar, "Jose MarianoDamian Elizaga y Prado,"in Memorias
del Segundo Congreso de la Sociedad Mexicana de Musicologia, (Morelia, Mexico: Sociedad
Mexicana de Musicologia, 1986), 73.

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Jose ElJzaga and Music Education in Mexico 129

classes and lower clergy (clero bajo) pushed for the introduction of
democratic reforms patterned after U.S. practices. Conservatives, fearing a
redistribution of land and wealth, hoped for a modified continuation of
monarchial rule under a Spanish prince who would move to Mexico.
Instability within Spain coupled with heavy French interference ultimately
precluded the latter scenario. In February 1822, the conservative Mexican
military leader Agustfn de Iturbide conspired to have himself offered the
crown as Emperor. Iturbide's wife, Dona Ana Huarte, persuaded him to
summon Elfzaga to the capital to accept the title of maestro de la capilla
imperial. In spite of the nature of the title, this post did not confine
Elfzaga' s activities to the field of church music. On the contrary, it appears
that Elfzaga gained visibility and influence which one might even compare to
that enjoyed by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) 150 years earlier in
Elfzaga immediately became one of the most sought-after guests at the
most prestigious salons of the capital city. Fawning admirers from the
upper classes called him el Rossini mexicano, and he found himself in
constant demand as a solo performer. After only fourteen months,
however, the emperor was deposed. Although his imperial title had
disappeared and he was again only a private citizen, Elfzaga by this time had
laid preliminary steps for three projects which could not be halted: (1) the
publication of a solid music theory textbook capable of serving as a
welcome alternative to the pedantic approach of most European authors; (2)
the formation of an institution to provide high quality musical instruction to
young people; and (3) the establishment of the first music printing enterprise
within the Mexican republic?

6Miguel Galindo, Historia de la Musica Mejicana (Colima, Mexico: El Drag6n, 1933),

7MariaElvira Moraand Clara Ines Ramfrez,La Musica de la Colonia a la Independence
(Mexico City: Tallcres GraTicosde la Naci6n, 1985), 18.

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130 David G.Tovey

Elizaga as Music Theory Pedagogue

Duringhis shortstint underIturbide,Elizaga preparedthe manuscript

of his Elementos de Musica, which was published by the Mexican
governmentafter the emperor'sdeparturein 1823. The tone of Elizaga's
writing,simple and direct, is in sharpcontrastwith many of the theoretical
writingsthathadbeen publishedpreviouslyin Spain. In his prefaceElizaga
specifies that he is writing for the youth of Mexico, among whom are
indeed potential "Jomelis, Tartinis, Dececs, [and] Aydms [Haydns]."**
Unfortunately, Elizaga proceeds, these talented students become
discouragedand disinterestedall too quickly because of the confusing and
cumbersomemannerin which the principlesof music are taught.^
Elizagacriticizedthe preoccupationof music teachers(especiallythose
in churchesand cathedrals)with the intricaciesof modal counterpoint. At
the outset of his text he referredto a single treatise which helped him to
define with precision the gulf between the theoretical and practical- the
same gulf which had always vexed him as a teacherand at which he lay the
blamefor Mexico's failureto develop its musicalculture. Eximeno'sthree-
volume study, On the Originand Progress of Music: Its Progress, Decline,
and Renewal, appeared in 1774. A Jesuit priest trained initially in
mathematicsand rhetoric,Eximeno began the study of music only as an
adult after moving from his native Valencia to Rome in 1767. His book
attackedthe traditionalview whichheld musicalmeaningto be derivedfrom
mathematics- a conviction which can be traced back to medieval
scholasticism. He insteadsaw music as an instinctivebehaviororiginating
much in the manner of speech. He excoriated those teachers who
preoccupiedthemselves and their studentswith contrapuntalbrainteasers,
daring to single out the celebrated Padre Martini (whom even Mozart
revered)by name. Eximenocalled for an end to the teachingof composition
by sight (that is, by complying with rules on paperwith only a secondary
8Jose Mariano Elizaga, Elementos de Musica (Mexico City: Imprcnla del Supreme
Gobierno. 1823), 2.
^Several representative quotations from Spanish theorists' writings are in Francisco
Jose Tello, La Teoria espanola de la musica en los siglos XVII y XVIII (Madrid: Instituto de
Musicologia del Consejo de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1974).

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regardfor resultantsounds). Music's primaryfunction, he asserted, is to

appealdirectlyto the soul's affectionsjo
Elfzaga's pocket-sized text, clearly intendedfor beginning students,
docs not addressEximeno's speculative questions regardingthe natureof
musical meaning. Rather, the book provides concise explanations for
rhythmicand staff notation as well as modern fixed-do solfege. Taking
Eximeno at his word, he barely mentions the medieval modal scales but
emphasizes major and minor tonalities. While he does explain basic
polyphonictechniquessuch as canon and imitation,Elfzagadoes not dwell
on them. Other topics receiving considerable attention in Elementos de
Miisica includeaccidentals,augmentedand diminishedintervals,circles of
keys, modulations,modernvarietiesof tempo, and the structureof phrases
and periods. Partsof Elfzaga's text will continue to startlereaderstoday
with their modernsensibility. A milestone in Americanmusic pedagogy,
this manual broke with older European traditions which meant little to
young Mexicanmusiciansto whom good music meantthe keyboardworks
of Haydn and Italianatesymphonicchurchmusic ratherthan the works of
Bach or Palestrina. Musicologist Baquiero Foster even maintainedthat
Elfzaga9s views on music theoryremainedunchallengedby Mexicanmusic
teachersinto the twentiethcenturyJ 1

Elizaga's Conservatory and the Sociedad Filarmonica

On January7, 1824, Elfzaga petitioned the executive cabinet of the

post-Iturbidegovernmentfor assistance in opening a school which would
providea sound musical educationfor the youth of Mexico City. He filed
his requestonly afterhavingreceivedstrongencouragementfromSecretary
of State Lucas Alaman, who was one of the most brilliantand respected
10Antonio Eximeno y Pujades, Dell origene e delle regole delta musica colla storia del
suo progresso, decadenza, e rinnovazione, 3 vols. (Rome: Bariellini, 1774). Elfzaga was
familiar with the book's Spanish translationby Francisco Antonio Guterrez which appearedin
Madridin 1796. See especially vol. 1, 167; and Jose*Subiri, Historia de la Musica espanola e
hispanoamericana (Madrid: Salvat Editores, 1953), 594.
HJerdnimo Baquiero Foster, Historia de la Musica (Mexico City: Secretarfa de
Educaci6n Publica, 1964), 3: 393.

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132 David G.Tovey

members of independent Mexico's first generation of statesmen. Alaman

was both an admirer of Elizaga and an articulate advocate on behalf of
education for youth. (Later, in the 1830s Alaman became one of the chief
forces behind a movement to establish Mexico's first system of free public
education.) The maestro described a school which would convene one day
each week and be staffed by individuals capable of acquainting young
people with the beauty and splendor to be found in the great works of
Europe's most celebrated composers.
Elizaga decried how the musical education of the republic's future
leaders was being neglected. He laid the blame for this unfortunate state of
affairs on the superior musicians who seemed to regard teaching as a
disdainful activity and inferior teachers who produced only mechanical,
lifeless performers. Elizaga was probably lamenting the kind of teaching
found in various private studios which dotted Mexico City. Private studios
had for generations provided the only secular musical training available in
the country. Performers visiting from Europe maintained some studios,
although by the 1820s, such performers had become ratherscarce as a result
of the instabilities incurred through the long struggle for independence.12
One month after receiving Elizaga' s request, the cabinet formally
endorsed it. Elizaga had called for the governmental recognition of a private
corporation of leaders drawn from all aspects of Mexican society: the
professions, business interests, academicians, politicians. The resulting
corporation, or Sociedad Filarmonica Mexicana, was to oversee the fiscal
stability of the school, which would be under the academic direction of
Elizaga. The society was also expected to help to maintain a professional
symphony orchestra which would give regular concerts, with part of the
ticket revenue being returned to help defray the school's expenses. The
society would also work toward the eventual establishment of the Mexican
republic's first music printing studios.13
i2Jose Mariano Elizaga, petition to the Supreme Poder Ejectivo, 7 January 1824, in
"Documentos ineditos Relatives a la Organization de la Primera Sociedad Filarmonica
Mexicana, a la lundacion del PrimerConservatory y a la iundacion de la primeraimprenlade
Musica Profana,"n.d., Special Collection, Library of the Conservatory Nacional de Musica,
Mexico City; and Jose Antonio Guzman, "La Musica en Mexico duranteel Virreinato,"Talea I
(Septiembre 1975): 50.
i3"Documentos ineditos Relativos a la Organizaci6n," n.p.

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To the modern mind this arrangement might seem oppressively

bureaucratic. Yet within the context of the times, it must have seemed quite
natural. During the decade after independence (1821-31), many such
philanthropic societies arose to fill gaps left by the departure of Spanish
colonial agencies. Some were educational in focus; others were commercial
or agricultural. One thing was clear: The fledgling Mexican government
was practically penniless. Any substantial funding for Elfzaga's enterprise
had to come from the private sector. It is conceivable that a number of
potential patrons might have been more interested in the availability of an
orchestral concert series than in helping to provide learning opportunities for
young musicians. Perhaps this explains why the orchestral component of
the society was so prominent.
After having received governmental approval for the society, Elizaga
and Alaman gathered an eleven-man steering committee to recruit names of
prominent citizens to serve as members. Within weeks they had enlisted
approximately fifty prominent people including the celebrated General Santa
Anna. The society approved eighteen instructors. The society then asked
the federal government for help in finding a site for the school. Throughout
the rest of 1824, bureaucratic resistance slowed the society's progress. The
school eventually held inaugural ceremonies on Sunday, April 17, 1825, in
the grand hall of the University. In attendance was Guadalupe Victoria, the
nation's new president. The same evening Elizaga conducted a spectacular
orchestral concert to conclude the festivities. Included in the program were
solo turns by five senoritas who performed to prolonged applause.
A lengthy announcement in one of the capital's newspapers declared
that the society's school would permit music-loving students of both sexes
to learn to sing and play through a clear and simple method. The method
included appropriateinstruction in the rules of melody and harmony as well
as a survey of the principal forms of church, theater, and chamber music M
Elfzaga's welcoming speech on the opening day included comments
perfectly in keeping with the rhetoric which accompanies today's aesthetic
approach to music education. He remarked that ". . moving the listener is
the primary objective of this profession; it is not enough merely to sing an
I4E/ Sol (Mexico City), 17 Abril 1825, 1264.

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134 David G.Tovey

aria or to play a rondo; rather it is essential to receive instruction in the

forms of all pieces which constitute a musical dictionary."'5 Clearly Elizaga
expected that the society's teaching efforts would in time change the musical
face of Mexico. "Temples, theaters, salons, and convents,'9 he maintained,
"will enjoy accomplishments cultivated here in our midst without [the need
of] going to the Mediterranean."^
The question lingers today involving the degree of professional intent
with which students undertook their studies at the society's school. Most
private music students in Mexico had long been young ladies from
privileged homes who studied music as a sign of good breeding rather than
for professional purposes; nevertheless it was not unusual for such
individuals to perform with high levels of skill. Though such dilettantes
might indeed have been major contributors to Mexico's salon music scene,
it seems doubtful to this writer that such young women would have ever
made appearances in theaters and temples to which Elizaga had referred in
his opening-day remarks. Romero also believed that the musical training
provided by the Sociedad Filarmonica may well have provided professional-
level training and, in fact, the first such training in the Western worldJ?
Unfortunately no archival material exists to detail day-to-day activities
at Elizaga' s establishment. Evidence does confirm that female students
attended between the hours of twelve and two while males attended at night
from seven till nine. The government initially was unable to provide a
building, and instruction first took place at Elizaga's spacious home in the
Calle de las Escalerillas. By 1826, the school had relocated to 13 Puente del
Carmen, i
In addition to applied vocal and instrumental study, there were courses
in solfege, music fundamentals, harmony and composition, and
"philosophy of music." A chorus was also part of the school. It is not clear
whether a student orchestra existed or if the society's only orchestra was the
I57 Sol (Mexico City), 28 Abril 1825, 1307.
l7Joseiina Muriel, Cultura femenina novohispana (Mexico Cily: Univcrsidad
Aut6nomade Mexico, 1994), 482-483; and Romero, Jose Mariano Elizaga, 66-67.

iHSaldivar,"Jos6 Mariano Elizaga," 45.

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professional ensemble which helped to attract wealthy patrons. The

studentsreadElizaga's Elementosde Musica,and they paid tuitionof three
pesos per month. Promising students who demonstratedfinancial need
could earn scholarships. Thus it is clear that admission to the school was
not availableto youths from the privilegedclasses, as had most likely been
the case with the various private studios run by individual performing
artists. No printedprogramsof studentconcertsareextant. Of course, they
may never have existed, for operatingfundswere always scarce.

The Failure of the Sociedad and Elizaga's Departure

The political struggles which the Sociedad Filarmonica had

experienced even during its planning stages worsened by 1826. Details
behind these struggles are difficult to find: ThroughoutMexico's history,
witnesses to such power plays have seldom been willing to providecandid,
detailed accounts in writing. Nevertheless,it is clear that Elizaga's earlier
political connections had begun to fade by this time. Struggles within the
government'sexecutive branchcontinuedunabateduntil the 1860s. Lucas
Alaman, Elizaga's chief promoter and protector, found his popularity
temporarilyeclipsed by 1826, and Romero has even suggested that the
society's difficulties may have reflectedanti-Alamansentimentratherthan
dislike for Elfzagahimself.19
Yet it seems plausible that Elfzaga, whose musical leadershipwas
initiallyan impositionby fiat upon Mexico City by an ultimatelyunpopular
emperor,could have had his shareof detractors.Saldivarhas theorizedthat
by attemptingto teach large numbersof studentsin class settings, Elfzaga
may have aroused the resentment of some other music teachers whose
practicewas to give scant attentionto most of theirstudentswhile devoting
most of theirtime to one or two demonstratingexceptionalpromise.20

i9Romcro, Jose Mariano Elizaga, 100.

20GabriclSaldfvar, Historia de la Musica en Mexico (Mexico City: Ediciones Gernika,
1987), 213.

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136 David G.Tovey

In any event by 1826 the society's earlier governmental support had

begun to erode. Eventually decline in private sector support apparently
followed, possibly because contributors feared offending politicians whose
disapproval of the society was clear.
In 1827, Elizaga accepted an invitation to become musical director for
the cathedral of distant Guadalajara. He held the post until 1830,
composing numerous liturgical pieces for choir and orchestra. In that year,
the political fortunes of his old ally Alaman rose again, and Elizaga returned
to the capital. However, there appears not to have been any collaboration
between the two at this time. After eight years of supporting himself
through private lessons, the man who had once been Mexico City's leading
musical figure moved to rural Guanajuato in order to accept a job as private
tutor to the children of a wealthy landowner. Two years later, in 1840, he
returned to the city of his birth, now named Morelia. Here he resumed the
post of cathedral organist which he had led in his late teens. Elizaga died
therein 1842.
Although Elizaga' s school did not achieve lasting success, it did serve
as a model for future attempts to provide Mexico City with high quality
music education. In fact, during the remainder of the nineteenth century,
two more Sociedades Filarmonicas formed. In 1839, Jose Antonio Gomez
launched a successor to Elizaga' s enterprise. It too failed. In 1866, the
third society came into being. This group's principal endeavor was the
creation of the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica. This time the group's
efforts proved to be self-sustaining: Today this institution is one of the
most prestigious schools of music in Latin America. Had Elizaga lived only
a generation later, he would have encountered a much more stable nation
which in turn might have provided his far-reaching vision with the ongoing
support it needed and deserved.

- The Ohio State

University, Mansfield Campus

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