Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





V. Kofi Agawu

Committee Members

Joseph N. Straus

Antoni Pizà

Eduardo Herrera

Jaime Bofill

Subject Categories

Musicology | Music Theory


Puerto Rico, Latin America, experimentalism


This dissertation explores the interconnectedness of political and musical discourses in Latin America by examining the formative years of Puerto Rican composer Rafael Aponte-Ledée (b. 1938), a leading figure in the Puerto Rican avant-garde movement in the late 1960s. Through extensive archival research, oral history, and qualitative field work, I analyze his time as a student at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid (1957-1964) and at the Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales del Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires (1965-1966). With this, I address the intricate network of musical works, events, mentors, institutional discourses, textbooks, technologies, and ideologies that fostered in him an interest in musical and political discourses perceived by his contemporaries as radical, vanguardista, or experimental.

I give detailed analyses of three of Aponte-Ledée’s works/arrangements from this period: 1) “Nana,” an arrangement of a homonymous Spanish folk tune (ca. 1960); 2) Tema y seis Diferencias, a theme and variations for piano, and the composer’s first twelve tone work (1963); and 3) Presagio de Pájaros Muertos, an electroacoustic/multi modal work (1966). Through these analyses—which complement, rather than define, my broader inquiry—I trace three contrasting stages of aesthetic and ideological development: first, the conditions (ideological, social, and musical) that allowed Aponte-Ledée to embark on a musical training as a composer outside of Puerto Rico and how those experiences influenced his particular responses to what he encountered in Madrid and Buenos Aires; second, the political and personal dynamics experienced by Aponte-Ledée that shaped particular institutional stances toward contemporary musics; last, the crystallization of his “radical” political positions, their overlap with his musical enterprises, and its meaning within his particular socio-political circle. From these broad reflections, a multiplicity of agents ultimately emerges: one that not only provides a possible answer to why the composer developed his particular leftist, avant-gardist, and Latin Americanist identity, but that also proposes new angles from which to consider the broader Puerto Rican avant-garde scene at the end of the 1960s.