Nicaragua: Memoirs of Carlos Ramírez Velásquez
For reasons that remain unclear, Nicaraguan composer Carlos Ramírez Velásquez (1882–1976) began to write his memoirs during the last decade of his life. His approach, however, was at once atypical in a general sense and unprecedented among Nicaraguan composers (that we know of).
Once in a while don Carlos would sit with a set of parts to one of his compositions (he rarely wrote out full scores) and would begin to remember. And whatever memories came to him would be written down in one or more parts. Sometimes his mind would be flooded with all manner of detail regarding a given composition and he would fill entire pages with a memory or make it fit in the space available, while on other occasions only a trickle of information would be forthcoming.
He almost always signed and dated the memoir. This last point is especially useful for many different reasons, not least of which includes noting that although he had a powerful memory, he would sometimes forget about having already written down a memoir and would repeat the process in another part of the same composition, at a later date, sometimes years later. Thankfully, his second (or third) recounting brought with it more detail about a given work.
There are dozens and dozens of memoirs found among his extant works, spread out over more than sixty different compositions. And while they are hardly comprehensive in terms of an autobiography, don Carlos did, indeed, lead a rich and fascinating life, if they are to stand alone in terms of measuring who he was.
I spent months with his manuscripts, coming to the conclusion that he may be one of the more important, if little-known, Nicaraguan composers of the twentieth century. The Ramírez family of musicians is well-known in the southwestern part of the country, among which don Carlos may be the most significant.
As I was reading memoir after memoir I couldn’t help but to feel that he was speaking directly to me about his life. His voice from the grave is sincere and honest. And just like a good book, I couldn’t wait to read the next one.
Here are two memoirs, both relating to his home town of Masaya and his beloved Saint Jerome (and the church of the same name whose parish he lived in and belonged to).
“Alabado a la Virgen de Concepción de El Viejo”
“Memories of this Alabado: Mr. Santiago Mayorga beeseched the Virgin Mary that he [and some friends] might win a percentage of the National Lottery. The draw ran and they came out winners of the top prize, forty-five thousand córdobas. [In thanks,] Mr. Mayorga commissioned from me an Alabado to the Virgen of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo. I wrote the Alabado and sent it to Chinandega. He [later] wrote to me saying that he would come [to Masaya] to thank me on the Feast of Saint Jerome. That day, my house was robbed (they even took the bed sheets) while I atended the procession for Saint Jerome. In the afternoon Mr. Mayorga arrived to thank me for the composition, yet when he saw that I’d been robbed, he reassured me by saying, ‘don’t worry because the Virgin will give you a check,’ and handed me one in the amount of six-hundred córdobas. Masaya, December 1971.”
Himno “Día del Sacerdote”
“What is the reason for my love of the church (and understanding) of Saint Jerome? Just a short distance from said church, I was born on January 14, 1882. My mother, my grandparents, and a brother all died in that humble house, where the decendants of Mr. Desiderio Montoya now live. Of course, this doesn’t interest anyone, yet I say it so that no-one thinks that I give this hymn, out of servitude, to the parish priest of Saint Jerome, Reverend Osvaldo Motoya. My way of being has been constant throughout my life: as a friend, [you can count on me]; as an enemy, I’ve always known how to defend myself. I love God and pray a lot. He has always been my protector in the things that I’ve written and [continue to] write, as well as in my health, lifestyle, and in giving nourishment to my granchildren, etc. The remembrance of having lost my mother at five years of age has tormented my life. My father replaced my mother with his devoted care, and [also] gave me my first music lessons. My father composed a famous Mazurka, “La Independencia.” / Masaya, August 8, 1968.”
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