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Articles Illustration: Jennifer Ancízar. Illustration: Jennifer Ancízar.

History is full of Cecilias

I believe that one of the most trampled names in Cuban music is that of Cecilia Arizti. A few days ago I thought a lot about her, in the middle of a discussion, and about some forms of oblivion that are, in a way, forms of death.

In all the bibliography I have read about Cecilia (especially from the 19th century) I have noticed, in a general sense, a horrendous and unfair condescension. "Good for a woman", "Arizti's daughter". Always mutilating her virtue, putting it down to family inheritance or "man's gifts".

General Manuel Sanguily himself said, in 1893, that Arizti composed "manly works", I imagine he was referring to his interpretative impetus and the ferocity of some of his compositions. And one may say: "Well, in the 19th century this was a compliment, it was unthinkable that impetus and ferocity were linked to the feminine". No. It wasn't. The mutilation of a virtue is not a compliment in the 19th century or in any century. 

Cecilia -although introverted- was a passionate woman, with a tremendous love for music and an admirable sense of patriotism. A woman of strongly pro-independence ideals. But that is not talked about either. 

In the same way that Clara Wieck is Clara Schumann, "Schumann's wife," Cecilia Arizti is "the composer's daughter," as if her transcendence depended on a male figure to be. I find this very disturbing. Cecilia needs no validation other than that offered by her own work. Her work validates her as an artist, no matter that it was her father who led her down those paths. It is one thing to be an influence and another to be someone's musical by-product. 

The first time I had that feeling was precisely with Clara Schumann. Her works are admirable, intense, very sad, and she had to live in the shadow of a family name. For nobody is Clara Wieck. What we hear most about her is her relationship with Schumann and her presumed romance with Brahms, and some other piece sprinkled inside a precious work that almost nobody cares about, even though it has an enormous musical quality and a superhuman passion. 

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Cubans at the piano

Magazine AM:PM26.01.2022

Back to Cecilia: A girl who at the age of 11 was composing piano pieces, a girl who composed an Ave Maria at the age of eight, a Cuban woman playing? at Carnegie Hall in New York, a woman with an impeccable technique, a pedagogue like few others: why isn't she in a more visible place in our musicography? 

I dare say that the Trio for piano, violin and violoncello by Cecilia Arizti is one of the best musical works composed in the 19th century in Cuba. Passion, technical rigor. All of it. But nobody seems to care either. 

"Women make classical music too". Wow... Well, yes. But not now. That has always been.

It's all very well with Lecuona and with García Caturla and with Leo Brouwer. But it is not fair the history of chamber music in Cuba if the name of Cecilia Arizti is passed over as if she had been irrelevant. She was not. A thousand times no. And one performance every 10 years in a basilica is not enough. 

History is full of many Cecilias. Not only in art, but also in science, in sports, and in so many places... This has been said a thousand times, but I repeat it because I do not see Cecilia's name pronounced with dignity.

I don't want her to be made visible because she was a woman (if she had been a bad composer, I wouldn't be saying all this). I want her to be visible because she was important, because her pedagogical work was admirable. Because she was a virtuous being. Of course, the fact that she was a woman influences this laziness with which her name is pronounced. And it bothers me.

And then they come to tell me that classical music has been written by men. Classical music has often been a caste system where women have been at the bottom, a dalit at the piano, a thing looked at like a monkey at a fair, condescendingly celebrated. 

No. It has not been written only by men.

Check in the shadows and you will see how many Cecilias there are.

Avatar photo Wendy Martinez Voyeur of chess games. I'm afraid of clowns. More posts

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