Globally, the most famous musical figures are folk artists such as Violeta Parra, her children Ángel and Isabel, Patricio Manns, Víctor Jara, and other contributors to the Nueva Canción Chilena (New Chilean Song Movement) of the 1950s and 1960s, known for its committed leftist politics and peñas (cultural centers). Both Violeta Parra (1917–1967) and Jara (1932–1973) met unhappy ends; Parra committed suicide, and Jara died at the hands of the military.
In addition to singer-songwriters, Chile has many folk-oriented bands whose work adapted Andean music and instrumentation, such as the zampoña (panpipes), charango (a stringed instrument resembling the mandolin), and others, along with traditional guitars. Among them are Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and Illapu.
In popular music, the Mexico-based Chilean band La Ley won a 2001 Grammy for best alternative Latin rock album and has toured the United States, playing at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium. The massively popular rock band Los Prisioneros, which expressed the frustration of Chilean youth during the Pinochet dictatorship, disbanded in the aftermath of its greatest popularity. Based in France, Los Jaivas tour Chile every summer with their blend of Chilean folk themes, Pink Floydish technological prowess, and an enviable rapport with their public.
A handful of classical musicians have earned a worldwide reputation. Chillán-born Claudio Arrau (1903–1991) was Chile’s best-known classical pianist, an artistic descendant of Franz Liszt through Lizst’s student Martin Krause. Oscar Gacitúa (1926–2001), who committed suicide by throwing himself in front of the Santiago Metro, was an Arrau disciple who had earned an honorable mention at 1955’s Warsaw Chopin competition.
Punta Arenas tenor Tito Beltrán (born 1965), a Swedish resident considered one of the world’s dozen best opera singers in his range, has sung alongside Luciano Pavarotti. Sergio Ortega (born 1938), who composed the anthem for Allende’s Unidad Popular, adapted Pablo Neruda’s verses to opera in Muerte y Fulgor de Joaquín Murieta, about the legendary (but probably fictional) Chilean outlaw in gold rush–era California.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition