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Trombone History in Latin America, 1500-1800

Updated on October 25, 2017

Latin America normally gets only a few pages, at the most, in the standard histories of the trombone. It probably deserves more. Records document a significant amount of trombone activity in colonial Latin America from the late Middle Ages through the Baroque era, including examples in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Use of the trombone in these areas stems from Spain's cultural influence, as one would expect, although it is intriguing to read about indigenous players taking the reins at certain points–and about the consternation this sometimes triggers in European leaders.

Trombone iconography (i.e., the way the instrument is depicted visually) from colonial Latin America is quite beautiful and shows the instrument primarily in religious settings, reflecting the trombone's role as a sacred instrument in both Spain and Latin America. Several of the pictures depict trombonists as angels, a subject I have discussed elsewhere.

The timeline below is not comprehensive; it merely reflects what I had on hand from my more general timeline. There is doubtless much additional interesting information to be found. The general timeline and full citations for all of the sources can be found here.

Map of the Americas by Jodocus Hondius, c. 1640
Map of the Americas by Jodocus Hondius, c. 1640

1550-1556—Huejotzingo, Puebla, Mexico: A stone carving on one of the 4 posa chapels occupying the corners of the atrium of the church of the Franciscan monastery of San Miguel, Huejotzingo features 2 trombone-playing angels (see below image; public domain) (Viñuales and Gant 23; Donahue-Wallace 12).

1553—Peru: Sometime before this date, a number of trained secular musicians arrive in the country, including a trombonist named Juan Ramiriz (Stevenson, Music Instruction in Inca Land).

1561—Spain and Mexico: Philip II of Spain issues the following order to the president and oidores of the royal audiencia of Mexico: “Because of the cost of maintaining the present excessive number of instrumentalists who consume their time playing trumpets, clarions, chirimías, sackbuts, flutes, cornetts, dulzainas, fifes, viols, rebecs, and other kinds of instruments, an inordinate variety of which are now in use in the monasteries,…and because the number of musicians and singers is reported to be increasing constantly in both large and small towns,…and because very many of those reared simply to sing and play on instruments soon become lazy scoundrels whose morals are reported to be extremely bad,…and because in many places they do not pay tribute and resist lawful authority, we require a reduction in the number of Indians who shall be permitted to occupy themselves as musicians” (Stevenson, Music in Mexico 65).

1568—Mexico: Bernal Díaz writes that churches have acquired a plentiful supply of flutes, oboes, trombones, and lutes (Stevenson, Music in Mexico 92).

1571-1596—Mexico: Gerónimo de Mendieta writes the following in his Historia Eclesiastica Indiana: “Nowhere in all of Christendom are there so many recorders, shawms, trombones [sacabuches], orlas, trumpets and drums as in the Kingdom of New Spain” (Boydell, Crumhorn 128).

1575—Mexico City, Mexico: The cathedral orchestra includes trombone (Stevenson, Mexico City Cathedral Music).

1575—Quito, Ecuador: A report about music in Ecuador makes the following claim about Flemish Franciscan Josse (“Jodoco”) de Rycke of Malines, who had established a convent 40 years earlier in 1535: “In addition to teaching the Indians [native Ecuadorans] how to read and write, Fray Jodoco taught them to play various keyboard and string instruments, also sackbuts and shawms, flutes, trumpets, and cornetts, and the science of mensural music and plainchant” (Stevenson, Music in Quito).

1576—Lima, Peru: Native Indians of Surco are listed as shawm and trombone players (Bermúdez).

1592—Mexico City, Mexico: A permanent trombonist is hired for the cathedral orchestra (Stevenson, Mexico City Cathedral Music).

16th century—Mexico: An anonymous painting in the church of San Esteban in Tizatlan, Tlaxcala, depicts a choir of angel musicians consisting of 3 shawms and a trombone facing, on the opposite archway, a choir of singers with guitar (see below image of shawms and trombone; public domain) (Starner 110). A wider view of the image can be seen here or here (see upper-right).

1600s—La Plata, Bolivia: Instruments used at La Plata Cathedral during most of the 17th century are cornett, 2 or 3 shawms, trombone, and 1 or 2 curtals (Bermúdez).

1603—La Plata, Bolivia: Payment accounts for La Plata Cathedral record repairs to the sackbut (Bermúdez).

1610-1611—La Plata, Bolivia: La Plata Cathedral employs a trombonist by the name of Antón de Toledo. Accounts also contain records of repairs for shawms, trombones, and curtals (Bermúdez).

1611—Lima, Peru: The chapel hires a trombone player (Mendoza de Arce 140).

1611—Mexico City, Mexico: The cathedral trombonist receives a raise (Stevenson, Mexico City Cathedral Music).

1622—La Plata, Bolivia: A silversmith is paid for repairs to the trombone owned by La Plata Cathedral (Bermúdez).

c. 1623—Lima, Peru: The permanent instrumental ensemble at the chapel includes a trombone (Mendoza de Arce 140).

1636—Santo Domingo, Colombia: Juan Criollo, a Creole slave and professional musician from Santafé, becomes a trombonist at the Santo Domingo Convent. He calls himself sacabuche de chirimía (“sackbut player of a group of shawms”) (Bermúdez).

1647—Soraya, Peru: The Church of Soraya (Aymaraes) lists in its inventory a trombone, a cornett, an organ, a set of shawms, two bajones, a consort of 7 recorders, and a bajonçillo (Baker, Imposing Harmony 200).

c. 1650—Mexico City, Mexico: The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, an oil painting by José Juárez, depicts a trombone-playing angel with several other angel-musicians (see below detail; public domain) (Toussaint 227; Juárez 156).

1651—Tópaga, Colombia: An inventory at a Tópaga church lists 4 trumpets, one of which is used to make a trombone (Bermúdez).

1669— Tópaga, Colombia: The terno, or “set” of wind players, consists of trombone (sacabuche) and 3 shawms (Bermúdez).

1674-80—Cuzco, Peru: An anonymous painting, Confraternities of Saint Rose and La Linda, part of a group of paintings called The Procession of Corpus Christi, depicts an Andean trombonist among several wind players. The musicians accompany the statue of Saint Rose as part of a long procession through the streets of Cuzco. The trombonist has what appears to be a decorative red bow tied to the end of the slide, as well as a white cord around the rear portion of tubing (see detail and full image below; public domain images) (Cuzco, Museo del Arzobispo) (Wuffarden pl. 14; Baker, Imposing Harmony 38; Baker, Music at Corpus Christi).

c. 1690—Puebla, Mexico: Composer Miguel Matheo de Dallo y Lana, chapelmaster of the Puebla Cathedral, composes Dixit Dominus in 4 choirs, including one of chirimías (shawms) and sacabuche (trombone) (Catalyne, Music of the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries in the Cathedral of Puebla, Mexico).

c. 1690—Cuzco, Peru: The Virgin of Montserrat, an anonymous painting from Iglesia de Santiago, includes a depiction of trombone. The trombonist in the painting is situated just to the right of the Virgin and is a very light, almost ghost-like depiction, the other musicians being even more difficult to distinguish (see below detail; public domain) (Nair, Localizing Sacredness). For a similar painting with the trombonist in much greater clarity, see 1693, below.

1691—Mexico City, Mexico: The Orchestra at Mexico City cathedral continues to include trombone (Stevenson Music in Mexico 148) and retains a trombonist until at least 1760 (Mendoza de Arce 114).

1691—Mexico City, Mexico: Trombone is one of several instruments called on to perform short solo passages in an intermezzo (Stevenson, Mexico City Cathedral Music).

1691—Mexico City, Mexico: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz writes lyrics for a villancico to be performed in Mexico City Cathedral, including the following lines: “How well the cathedral honors her shepherd! Hear the peal of the bells, tan tan talan, tan tan! Listen to the clarion, tin tin tilin, tin tin! Better still, the sound of the trumpet, the sackbut [sacanbuche], the cornett, the organ, and the bassoon. Lord, what din they all make, so loud the violin can’t even tune!…To lend added sparkle to Peter’s sacred day, one instrument joins another in sweetest harmony: the shawm accompanying the violin. Tin tilin tin tin! Now the trumpet loudly blares, now the cornett trills, now the sackbut joins the fray of contending lines. Tan talan tan tan! (Stevenson, Sor Juana Inés).

1693—Cuzco, Peru: Francisco Chihuantito’s painting, The Virgin of Monserrat, located in the parochial church of Chichero, Cuzco, includes a depiction of a trombonist in a prominent position near the center of the painting. A cornetto player stands to the right of the trombonist, while two other similarly-dressed musicians, probably shawm players, stand behind (see detail and full image below; public domain image) (Velarde 82; Rosas 384).

1699—Quito, Ecuador: Gabriel Guacarache, a native Ecuadoran, is hired as cathedral trombonist (Stevenson, Music in Quito).

1723—Regarding music in Mexico, Juan de Torquemada says, “After a while there was no single instrument used in churches which Indians in the larger towns had not learned to make and play. It became unnecessary to import any of these from Spain. One thing can be asserted without fear of contradiction; in all Christendom there is nowhere a greater abundance of flutes, sackbuts, trumpets, and drums, than here in New Spain” (Stevenson Music in Mexico 68).

1759—Ubaque, Colombia: Ubaque valley churches possess large ensembles of European musical instruments, including trombones, portative and fixed organs, clavichords, harps, guitars, violins, violoncellos, shawms, dulcians, flutes, and trumpets (Bermúdez, Gold was Music).

Locations of Trombone Activity in Colonial Latin America

Huejotzingo, Puebla, Mexico:

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Cuzco, Peru:

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Mexico City, Mexico:

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Quito, Ecuador:

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Lima, Peru:

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Tizatlan, Tlaxcala, Mexico:

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La Plata, Bolivia:

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Santo Domingo, Colombia:

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Aymaraes, Peru:

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Tópaga, Colombia:

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