Musical Nationalism: Characteristics, Spanish, Mexican, Argentine

The musical nationalism unites all styles that enhance features identified with their cultural traditions in the regional or national level. The rhythms, melodies or themes of the songs are usually intimately linked with popular folklore.

It has been listed as the response of countries to the rise of musical Romanticism, which was dominated by German authors in the 19th century. However, it went further, since it was a movement that developed in different parts of the world and sought to group people around their own culture.

The rhythms known as folk , ethnic or traditional music, were generally the sound base of musical nationalism that, regularly, was combined with ideals of freedom and independence, both of a real and ideological dominance of one people over another.

Also those countries that had to redefine themselves in the popular imagination of their own inhabitants took advantage of the benefits that musical nationalism gave, as was the case of Spain after the loss of its empire, which was once one of the largest, most prosperous and powerful in the world. world.

Similarly, in Latin America different sources of musical nationalism emerged through which the newly created countries sought a redefined identity with the use of their particular experiences.


Nationalism is a concept that took hold during the 19th century. Some define it as a feeling, others as a theory or a doctrine, which creates in a certain population a unit based on cultural identity, loyalty to the country and territory in which they are born and whose history is shared by individuals.

Among the various elements that contributed to the creation of this phenomenon are language, religion, tradition and the natural limits that exist in a geographical space.

In any case, culture is an important ideological reinforcement that has always fostered nationalism in peoples.

Origin and history

It is believed that musical nationalism arose in opposition to the dominance that existed in the academic sphere of three European powers as France, Italy and Germany were at some point. Then, various authors began to give their work particular characteristics that were related to their own culture.

Although some theorists claim that it was opposed to German Romanticism, others suggest that it was only against the German itself, but that it was part of the Romantic movements of the 19th century, with the addition that they enhanced the culture of each region.

Franz Liszt is seen, not only as one of the main exponents of musical nationalism, but also as one of its precursors. His Hungarian Rhapsodies served as an example of the introduction of traditional folklore to academic music.

Many consider the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte as one of the triggers of European nationalism, since the countries decided to unite to repel foreign forces. It was later when the role of music came to reinforce the values ​​of unity and self-determination of the States.

However, musical nationalism was a practically global phenomenon, since in the countries of the American continent it was also popular, especially in the United States of America, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.


– The main thing in musical nationalism was to find a sense of belonging in art. That is, they constantly looked for inspiration in the traditions of the country.

– The traditional took center stage by being considered as a clear reference to what is shared with pride by all members of the national society.

– Instruments typical of folklore or popular music were regularly included, in this way it was possible to perform the interpretation of the rhythms and sounds that were derived from them.

– New forms of composition were created that did not replicate French, German and Italian traditions.

– It was used as a symbol of rebellion against those powers that at some point represented some type of oppression for freedom and self-determination of a certain State.

– The composition was more open, which left space for other types of artistic expressions such as dance, poetry or acting to be taken into account and merged with academic works.

Spanish musical nationalism

One of the main faces of this genre in Spain was the original composer Felipe Pedrell from Tortosa in Tarragona. He promoted a lyrical school independent of foreign influence in the late 19th century. It was inspired by the Renaissance and the Spanish Baroque.

At the end of that century, music became a relevant art for the Spanish, who found in it a new way of identifying themselves as a nation. Popular rhythms such as fandangos and malagueñas were introduced to the new works.

Another of the great exponents of Spanish musical nationalism was Francisco Asenjo Barbieri. The work of the latter composer was linked to the performing arts, since he was in charge of strengthening the musical theater in the form of zarzuelas.

Among the best known compositions of Asenjo Barbieri are Playing with Fire (1851), Pan y Toros (1864) and El barberillo de Lavapiés (1874).

From these two characters, Spanish musical nationalism continued to take shape. They formed some disciples who followed in the footsteps of both Barbieri and Pedrell. Among the most prominent names are those of Joaquín Turina, Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados.

During the last half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, an attempt was made for the new generations to identify themselves with a fundamentally Spanish school. Among the frequent themes of the compositions, national life played an indisputable role.

Argentine musical nationalism

During the 19th century, Argentina received a large number of immigrants, especially Europeans, who sought to flourish economically in that Latin American country, whose prospects were bright at the time.

Soon those foreigners who had been included in the intellectual circles were rejected by the Argentines themselves, who saw their national identity threatened by the sudden and massive arrival of foreign influence.

It was then that the Argentine values ​​gathered around the traditional figure of the gaucho. Through this inhabitant of the pampas, the key characteristics of the concept of traditionality and national identity were highlighted.

The first composers of Argentine musical nationalism were not exclusively dedicated to folkloric compositions. However, in some of their works they could include traditional elements.

The true pioneers of the Argentine national musical rescue were Luis J. Bernasconi and Saturnino Berón, the latter was the author of some symphonic poems and symphonies. Other prominent names of the authors of pieces of Argentine musical nationalism were Hargreaves and Juan Alais.

The entire movement was also linked to the revaluation of Argentine folk dance and music that, thanks to the return to national traditions, spread and popularized throughout the territory.

Mexican musical nationalism

In this nation, the need to reaffirm its social essence went hand in hand with the Mexican Revolution, which caused serious social and economic damage. However, this social movement was in charge of using culture as a propaganda method to spread national roots.

The current of musical nationalism took center stage in the first decades of the 20th century. One of its most prominent precursors was Manuel M. Ponce, who decided to take popular elements to consolidate national music.

Ponce’s most famous composition was Estrellita (1912). He evoked national roots by giving the guitar a leading role in his work. In addition, he was in charge of studying Mexican cultural traditions and writing about them, which improved the conception of musical nationalism.

However, many claim that Ponce’s work was largely influenced by European tradition.

So, it is said that Mexican musical nationalism really was developed to its full potential from Carlos Chávez, who was in charge of creating academic music institutions in the country and was close to national politics.

His compositions were closely linked to the left-wing policies implemented in the nation during that time.

Another of the great exponents of Mexican musical nationalism was Silvestre Revueltas. One of the most interesting characteristics of his work was that he tried to get rid of ideology as the only factor for the promotion of popular traditions in academic music.


Some consider that musical nationalism had its roots in 19th century Russia, since it was there that the Group of Five was formed , consisting of Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Borodín, Rimsky-Kórsakov and Cuí.

They were given the task of including in musical compositions those Russian traditions that used to be scorned for moving away from Western classical influence.

Meanwhile in Italy thanks to il risorgimento, opera was the musical style embraced by nationalist composers like Giuseppe Verdi.

These attempts to produce their own culture with which the people could feel identified were replicated in many parts of the world, although it was especially popular in countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Norway, Sweden or Finland.


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  6. Orozco Nuñez, M. (2017). The construction of nationalist signs of identity in Spain through music in the 19th and 20th centuries: the presence of Andalusian folklore in Spanish musical nationalism . Cadiz: University of Cadiz.

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