In her survey María E. Grebe touches on a fundamental aspect of Hispanic American folksong traditions, the survival of medieval modality as a basic element of its melodic design and structure. Though she confines her research mainly to those structural elements peculiar to the Chilean verso, many of her conclusions involve concepts valuable to other forms as well. The strength of her analytical method allows the reader to go far beyond the generalizations found in most of the available studies on this aspect of folk music in Latin America.
Grebe’s work represents a step beyond that undertaken by Isabel Pope in her book on El Villancico Polifónico, published in 1944. Here she succeeded in demonstrating the link between this Renaissance form and the medieval cantiga, which in its turn projected its modal structures into “the new styles of accompanied solo songs and instrumental music” of the Spanish sixteenth century. Since these styles certainly prevailed in the repertory of music brought by the “ministriles” who joined the conquerors in their expeditions, a further link is then established with developments peculiar to the New World.
Carlos Vega in two of his latest studies, “El Canto de los Trovadores” (1963) and “Music Traditions and Acculturation in South America” (1965), has pointed out the existence of strong melodic similarities between examples of medieval monody and Latin American folksongs. Isabel Aretz in her “Música Tradicional Argentina” has also called attention to survivals of medieval modality in a variety of traditional forms from her native country.
Now M. E. Grebe has succeeded in going much deeper into the study of modality as shown in the verso by confining herself to one form in one country and by further reducing her area of research to the repertory “of a representative cantor from a region in Chile which possesses a rich folk musical tradition.” As she writes, “the conclusions we reach may permit clarification, in future studies, of the possible persistence of modal elements in other Chilean folk music forms and also of certain historical questions about the genesis of our folk music repertory.” And, she adds, “inasmuch as a great part of Latin-American folk music springs from the same Spanish trunk, we may possibly predict the application of our conclusions to diverse similar forms in other Latin-American countries.” The reviewer shares her views.
Not only the careful methodology followed in the six chapters of this book, but the clear charts and tables represent a valuable contribution to the general topic and furnish means for accurately demonstrating the existence of stylistic features common to the ten musical examples published as an appendix. Yet the author confesses candidly that some examples analyzed showed “limitations that prevented a general projection” of her results, and she expects that “a future study based upon a random sample, wide and representative on a national scale” would allow her “to go far beyond the self-imposed restrictions” of her present work.
Although her book may not be the definitive survey on modality in Latin America (which was not its purpose), it will nevertheless open doors for further research on this subject, and many of her conclusions will find a place among the footnotes of subsequent explorations along this path. Her survey stands on its own merits as a successful assessment and presentation of a topic having great importance for a true evaluation of folk music traditions in Latin America.