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class. Despite these glaring absences the film is still extremely useful as an entry
point into more complex discussions of how race, sex, gender, class, and nation
intersect not only within the genre of reggaeton, but also within Puerto Rico and
its diaspora. The archival footage of early rap and underground performances alone
makes this a valuable resource for fans and scholars alike.
Rivera, Raquel Z. 2009. Policing Morality,
Mano Dura Stylee
: The Case of Underground
Rap and Reggae in Puerto Rico in the Mid-1990s. In
, eds. Raquel Z.
Rivera, Wayne Marshall and Deborah Pacini Hernandez. 111–34. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press.
Jesús María Sanromá: An American Twentieth-Century Pianist
By Alberto Hernández
Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2008
340 pages; $45.00 [paper]
Edgardo Díaz Díaz
, The City University of New York—John Jay College
of Criminal Justice
A book-length assessment about the life and deeds of pianist Jesús María Sanromá
(a.k.a. “Chuchú”) has been long overdue—until now, when one of his pupils,
Alberto Hernández, fulfilled a great deal of the task with an unprecedented volume,
Jesús María Sanromá: An American Twentieth-Century Pianist
In the lifetime of Sanromá (1902–1984), the number of published essays or
articles about his career (other than concert reviews) came to be relatively
minimal if one considers his world-class stature as concert master of the piano.
No more than twenty-nine publications in Puerto Rico and the United States
are accounted for until 1990 by Donald Thompson and Annie F. Thompson
(1990: 321). Even before the release of Hernández’s book in 2009, only Emilio
S. Belaval, a lawyer, playwright and essayist, had written a 58-page essay about
performances by Sanromá as a child-prodigy (Belaval 1952). But recent re-issuing
of some of the pianist’s recordings may have triggered the appearance of countless
of internet references and, with it, a surge of public interest in his legacy.
Hernández’s volume of about 340 pages is more about the performances and
accomplishments by Sanromá between 1918 and 1952, than about his life and
passion as a proud Puerto Rican before and after that period. Through the book,
however, one sees a vast amount of data unearthed from the pianist’s family
collection and memorabilia donated recently to the Archivo General de Puerto
Rico. Although the materials of this collection still remain to be exhausted,
Hernández included and digested to his best as much of it as he could possibly
deal with, for the sake of English-language readers willing to appreciate the true
magnitude of Sanromá as a world-ranked concert pianist. Hundreds of pages of
data may have precluded for this book a just deliberation of the information,
but one must at least praise Hernández for his feat in selecting key aspects of
the legacy by Chuchú from such a vast memorabilia, for further elucidation.
[ 306 ]
[ 307 ]
After an index and a page of abbreviations, the book is presented with a
foreword by one of Sanromá’s daughters, Cherín, followed by a preface by
the author and a brief introduction. In general, the main body, comprising 16
chapters, is divided between five parts, the first of which is about the pianist’s
formative years with a strong background as a Roman Apostolic Catholic,
his presentation as a child prodigy to the Puerto Rican public and the
arrangements by the Puerto Rican Legislature to finance his studies abroad in
1916. The second part includes details about his education at the New England
Conservatory of Music in Boston under the tutelage of Mme. Antoinette
Adamowski, his close professional relationship with Pierre Monteux and Jacques
Thibaud, as well as his job as official pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
(BSO). His advanced training with Alfred Cortot in Paris, and Arthur Schnabel
in Berlin, along with a European tour between 1927 and ‘29, are the aspects most
featured in Part Three, whereas Part Four describes a nine-year-long, intense
period of concerts and recordings as piano soloist after his return from Europe.
Last but not least is a 12-year period of creative emancipation that entailed solo
recordings with RCA for the United States, and his contract as Columbia artist
for Latin America, before returning to Puerto Rico in 1952.
Two appended sections provide a partial list of the Sanromá concerts and
recordings with appendix A providing a list of works drawn on the pianist’s
personal notebooks and on concert programs with the BSO. For each musical
composition, readers may get a glimpse concerning the year he began to perform,
the number of performances (for a total of 935 listed overall), as well as the
accompanying orchestra(s) and conductor(s). The list is not comprehensive
enough to assess a greater range of presentations by Sanromá as piano recitalist
or small-ensemble pianist; the actual number of such performances is estimated
to be more than 3000 in 21 countries, with Sanromá acting as a soloist in nearly
150 orchestras between 1926 and 1944.
Anyhow, the reader might be pleased
with the reasonable scope by Hernández of the pianist’s amplitude and the wide
spectrum of skills (from the styles of Johann Sebastian Bach of the 1700s to the
techniques he confronted with contemporaries Walter Piston, George Gerswin,
Paul Hindemith, and Ferde Grofé). Equally valuable is Hernández’s assessment
of the Sanromá
U.S. premieres of Honneger’s
, Ravel’s
Concerto in G
and Toch’s
among many.
The account by Hernández of several recorded performances by Sanromá,
gathered from various sound-archive collections in Appendix B, seems to be
more inclusive both in terms of stylistic movement and location, again with
works, among others, by Bach and Mozart during the 1700s, by Romantics Lizst,
Schumann, and others, up to the music of his contemporary European and
North American friends. Notable, but not observed by Hernández, are the first
recordings of works by many of these composers, including Arnold Schoenberg’s
Six Little Piano Pieces
in 1939,
not to mention those by composers from Puerto
Rico and other parts of Latin America. Sanromá’s mission as a recording artist
culminated as pianist-percussionist for the 1982 production of
, a work
for piano and percussion by Amaury Veray.
Readers may encapsulate the theme of the book as one about a U.S.-trained
20th-century pianist, a tiny but significant modification of the summary
suggested by the actual subtitle of the book (
An American Twentieth-Century
) likely tailored for marketing purposes. In the United States, the term
[ 308 ]
“American” usually refers to the indentity of things or people as related exclusively
to the United States, although Hernández by-passed any discussion concerning
the implications of the book’s title. However, without recurring to superlatives,
he skillfully if timidly develops the view that Sanromá effectively became the
forerunner among all U.S.-trained pianists of his time for his promotion of
new musical works by American and European composers that were otherwise
discarded by the musical establishment for being “too exotic” or “unfamiliar”.
A letter written to Sanromá by world-renowned Polish pianist Mme. Antoinette
Adamowski serves as evidence for Hernández to show the pivotal mission given to
the pianist to break the musical hegemony then enjoyed by European composers:
I am sure that your good sense & honesty will always make you acknowledge that
you are really a product of America & that you owe everything you really are, to this
country [the U.S.A.]. It will be interesting
to reverse the usual process, so that something
worth while could come from here to Europe, instead of vice versa which usually happened
until now—Americans received and applauded artists & born and bred on the other side.
I will be always very keenly interested in all that happens to you & so will Mr.
Adamowski…(p. 123—emphasis added).
In the opinion of Mme. Adamowski (a student of Ignaz Paderewski), it was
Sanromá the American pianist who would reverse trends that granted European
musicians the privilege they enjoyed in playing their own music, in contrast to
the music produced and performed by Americans. Hernández does not make
an in-depth approach to identity as a related issue, but the words by Mme.
Adamowski take a central position more or less coherently developed for the
rest of the book; that is, by implying that Sanromá as the catalytic agent for the
American audiences, helping them to acknowledge the worthiness of American
music as compared to the prevailing European masterworks. Hernández does
not give much emphasis to this contribution (either due to lack of space, or due
to overabundance of information). However, the reader may end up convinced
that Sanromá had a definite role in establishing a true U.S.-based tradition for
twentieth-century concert music for major established venues.
Noted in the book are details of the pianist’s training in the early 1920s when, as a
chamber music student, Sanromá “conspired” with his friend Louis Krasner to stun
their venerable elder teacher from Poland, Joseph Adamowski, by bringing to class
the newest music of the time (p. 55) by Charles Ives and George Antheil instead of
the Grieg Sonata, “which was Adamowski’s idea of new music.”
Musical nationalism
may have been a factor at the root of the nativist tendencies embraced by Sanromá,
but then, the extent to which he exposed conservative benefactors and recalcitrant
audiences in the United States to the unfamiliar sounds of twentieth-century music,
especially by native composers, is what made him worthy of being considered to be
among the foremost twentieth-century pianists of his generation.
In 1926, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) created the post of staff pianist
on a permanent basis. Music director Serge Koussevitsky viewed Sanromá as a perfect
candidate for the job, given the efforts by the young Puerto Rican pianist play fresh
pieces by his American contemporaries. The incorporation of the piano as part of the
regular roster for the BSO was an unprecedented move in the United States, designed
to fulfill the creative needs on the part of twentieth-century composers. Friends like
the U.S.-born Aaron Copland, Ferde Grofé, Walter Piston, William Schuman,
and Roger Sessions, together with the Germans Ernst Bloc, and Paul Hindemith,
[ 309 ]
the Italian Ottorino Respighi, and Russian Igor Stravinsky, converged around the
BSO and other ensembles to hear Sanromá play some of their works for the first time.
Musicologists and pianists alike might benefit greatly from the much-needed
abridgement, done by Hernández, of Sanromá’s archival legacy. In the course of the
book, readers are provided with a wealth of details concerning the pianist’s self-
imposed discipline, as well as his training with major celebrities of the instrument.
Aspects like the stylistic and reportorial trajectory of Sanromá—as reflected
from concert reviews and countless letters—constitute a genuine achievement by
But the book is not free of shortcomings. Two discernible gaps are concerned
with poverty of details about two periods in Sanromá’s artistic life in Puerto Rico:
his earlier education, as well as his last thirty years. Perhaps most sensitive is the
earlier gap. In the letter cited above, his teacher Mme Adamowski advised him to
appreciate the pianistic training he had in the United States: “You are really a product
of America & that you owe everything you really are, to this country.” The inclusion
and emphasis by Hernández to this letter required considerable clarification about
Santromá’s early background and economic support in Puerto Rico. A vast nation like
the United States would be best situated to draw prospects from within its rich pool
of musical talents and child prodigies, who were supposed to exist across the nation.
However, the director of the nation’s flagship in musical education at the time,
the New England Conservatory, acknowledged young Sanromá as superior to his peers
for the privileged training history he seemed to have had received in Puerto Rico.
In other words, Sanromá did not emerge out of a vacuum. His early training
needs to be taken in greater consideration than the attention given in this book.
As detailed by Hernández, on August 15, 1915, at the age of 13 in San Juan, Sanromá
skillfully played Liszt’s
Hungarian Rhapsody #2
, a piece known to demand full color,
tonal contrast, and brilliance from the best-trained virtuosi. That night, the program
included works by Kuhlau, Pons, Balseiro, Mozart, and Rossini, and by the same Ignaz
Paderewsky who shaped the professional career of Mme. Adamowski. Additionally,
at age seven, Sanromá is remembered as a piccolo player in the eastern township of
Fajardo, enthusiastically playing Sousa’s famous obbligato of
Stars and Stripes Forever
under the leadership of Francisco Verar, one of the most renowned directors in an
environment of orchestras and bands flourishing in Puerto Rico by the hundreds—
until the U.S. occupied the island in 1898.
Such a degree of artistic competence, for a child, did not result entirely from his training
in the U.S. as Mme. Adamowski proclaimed. Instead, Sanromá’s early musical competence
speaks persuasively about the musical and intellectual sophistication existing in Puerto
Rico, with at several world renowned pianists: Anita Otero Hernández (d. 1905),
Gonzalo J. Nuñez (d. 1910), Julio Arteaga (d. 1923), and Francisco Cortés (d. 1950).
The former three, like composer Manuel G. Tavárez (1841–1883), were trained at the
Paris Conservatory. Following his predecesors, Sanromá planned to study in Paris in
1916, but this did not happen when the United States entered the First World War,
and the young pianist was forced to study in Boston.
As for his latter thirty years, the legacy of Sanromá is highly praised in areas like activism,
piano education, and curricular development of music. After he helped create the Music
Department at the University of Puerto Rico, he became a faculty member of the Puerto
Rico Music Conservatory in 1959. Aspects of his early education and latter contribution to
Puerto Rico’s musical education will hopefully be addressed in subsequent studies that may
potentially enhance the contributions of the now indispensable book by Alberto Hernández.
[ 310 ]
“Jesús María Sanromá, 81, former pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra,”
in the Obituary section of the
Boston Globe
, October 18, 1984, p. 55.
“Haendel comes back to home of her first triumph,” by Richard Dyer, Arts section of
The Boston Globe
, June 23, 2000, p. D16.
In previous decades, pianists in the U.S. filled their concert programs predominantly
with the standard master works of European composers, just as Mme. Adamowski
observed in her letter. Perhaps a notable exception—among 19th-century pianist during
the Romantic period—is the eminent American Louis Moreau Gottschalk, most of
whose compositions were inspired on African-American sounds (in the widest sense of
the term) he notated during his tours, especially in Louisiana, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and
Brazil. But even in this case, only a few of Gottschalk’s works (like his
Souvenir de Porto
and the New Orleans-inspired
) may have appeared in concert programs,
while his minute salon pieces for piano most likely appeared as encore performances.
See article “Virtuoso of violin leaves rich legacy,” by Richard Dyer, Section “Living,”
The Boston Globe
on May 5, 1995, p. 57.
Belaval, Emilio S. 1952.
El niño Sanromá: biografía mínima
. Barcelona: Ediciones Rumbos.
Thompson, Donald, and Annie F. Thompson. 1991.
Music and Dance in Puerto Rico from
the Age of Columbus to Modern Times: An Annotated Bibliography.
Lanham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Militarismo y clases sociales en Vieques: 1910–1950
By Miguel Ángel Santiago Ríos
San Juan: Ediciones Huracán, 2007
192 pages; $21.95 [paper]
José Bolivar
, Independent Scholar
Few authors are jailed defending their beliefs. Miguel Ángel Santiago is one
of these. On Mother’s Day 2000, Santiago was headed for the Naval Base of
Roosevelt Roads with dozens of other protesters, detained for trespassing on naval
property on the Island of Vieques. And so began the author’s battle against the
Navy and his quest for justice.
Santiago delights in sharing with his readers his struggles searching through
multiple archives in order to obtain his most prized possession: a record detailing
the expropriations. He studied the population census and income tax file returns.
He searched for documents at the National Archives, the Architecture and
Construction Archive at the University of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Collection
at the University of Puerto Rico’s library, the General Archives of Puerto Rico, the
Conde de Mirasol fort in Vieques, and the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation. With this
information at his disposal, Santiago details in
Militarismo y clases sociales en Vieques
the expropriations on the Island of Vieques between 1910 and 1950.
The period studied in
covers the agricultural heyday in Vieques,
traces the social and economic web of the powerful and influential Benítez family,