The composer and music critic Serafín Ramírez Fernández (1832-1907), one of our first musicologists given the transcendence of his writings, bequeathed numerous articles on music and capitalist cultural life in the nineteenth century. His work Artistic Havana. Historical notes (1891) is a must for those who are interested in the sound history of this time. However, it is not a text from the eminent scholar that we bring to these pages today, but the quotation from a letter that Ramirez uses in one of his works, where he refers to a growing and boisterous melomania that took over Havana at the time. Consider that in the years of marras there were no powerful amplifiers today, in addition to the obvious difference in the superior quality and bewitching of the pieces cited regarding many of the smiling bodrios that today go through music. Imagine then in what tone, and with what references, it would be the letter that would be written in our day on similar topics.
Indeed, who doesn’t play the piano, even if it’s just an honest hobby? His study has now become a kind of commitment or social duty to which we believe ourselves sweetly obligated […] And it is not from now on the melomania; things come very far from behind as explained by a letter published in the Cuban Cartelera (July 1839) … a very curious letter that we transcribe in full […]
My uncle and lord: dead of sleep and fatigue, and with my head full of trills and brackets, I go to V. with the sight of seeing if I am so happy that I achieve by his mediation some abitrium to get rid of the insufferable philharmonic plague that afflicts me and martyrs me.
It is the case that, although still quite young, I am already as V. well knows, mother of family, for I have three children as three oriental pearls; the major barely counts for another so many years, and the remaining two, which are jimaguas, do not go past six months; and as although not entirely poor, nor am I far from convenience, I am precisely required to exercise in all its fullness the august functions of motherhood, as the author of Emilio calls them.1 My house, provided to my faculties, is located in one of the most meath blocks of intramural; in this block there are five pianos and in them are constantly exercised eight ladies, who occupy different heights on the musical scale, from those that are in the solfeo and learning to handle the keyboard, to those who play and sing overtures; there is also in the so-called stable a violin fan who has already made considerable progress; a flute teacher and a black cook who in his idle time learns to play the clarinet. I omit not to be diffuse, in this inventory of the musical riches of my neighborhood, the tañedor caleseros of tiples and the muzzle that touch the trunk […].
That is, at about six o’clock in the morning, when I am at the best of my dream, having watched the most advanced hours of the night, not out of taste, but by an imperious and cruel necessity, begins my neighbor on the right who, as she plays by heart and without school, is the most fearless and tireless, to repeat for the thousandth time the Cuban dances and the little pieces of the country interpolated with La cachucha , The syrup bread and what do I know how many other novelties, exercise that usually lasts two long horitas: my children wake up startled and crying and arm with the desent and raucous piano, the most hellish concerto you can figure out, which badly in my grade forces me to leave the bed in a hurry. It seems that in this house neither the furniture is swept, watered, nor cleaned; nor is people’s toilets very much taken care of, unless they do these things in the middle of the night.
At ten o’clock the girls across the street take their lesson, who are the ones who are releasing and learning the scale and their lesson and their exercises usually last until two o’clock in the afternoon. Between three and four, the teachers who live two doors later start to play and sing their arias and duets of Romeo e Giuietta, the Parisina and the Fausta. In the intermediates you can hear, already over here and there, the groan of the flute, the howl of the clarinet or the no less unsustainable of the violin; sometimes two or three pianos sound at the same time with accompaniment of the referred instruments and then it is hell the block […]. Ω
1 Refers to Emilio or De la educación, a philosophical treatise on the nature of the human being, written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1762. (Editor’s Note).
Taken from Serafín Ramírez: Artistic Havana. Historical Notes, Volume I, Havana, Music Museum Editions, 2017.