CHAPTER III

STUDIES ABROAD


1944 was a fateful year for Hector Campos Parsi. He decided that he had enough academic preparation to attend Medical School. This, despite his failing grades in most of the assignments required to successfully complete medical school. It was assumed by his family and friends that he would become a physician. He never seriously considered the matter, but was not in disagreement with the idea. A career in medicine offered many rewards and security. The Universidad Autónoma de Méjico at Mexico City presented the best possibilities. It was not as expensive as American Universities, it had an accredited and respectable medical school, and it's entrance requirements were not as stringent.1

Campos was also intrigued by the country and it's unique culture. He was an avid fan of Mexican movies and popular music. He flew to Mexico on December 8, 1944. Mention of his departure appeared in several newspapers; the writers addressed him as a fellow journalist. Up to departure he had worked as freelance reporter for several dailies, including the major island newspapers of the period.2The experience of living in Mexico proved to be an intense episode in many ways. Campos observed that at the time of his arrival, he was a "jibarito", a mere country boy. He was tremendously impressed with the beauty and immensity of Mexico City. How different this great metropolis from the small towns of the island. Even the way Spanish was spoken intrigued the young man. The lilting accent fascinated him, not tropical or Caribbean, but Central American in its rhythm. The centuries of pain, shock and amazement arising from the headstrong clash between Spaniard and Aztec had created this unique culture.

Parsi immersed himself in the life of Mexico City. It was the first time he was living on his own, far away from family and friends. He met and befriended Francisco de la Torre, a distinguished Mexican lawyer. De la Torre introduced young Hector to many artists and took him to his first symphonic concert. It turned out to be an important event in the life of Campos Parsi. The concert featured the Mexico Symphony conducted by Carlos Chávez.3 Hector was astonished by the sound of the live instruments. Up to this point he had only heard orchestras on record. On the program was the newly composed Obertura Revolucionaria by Chávez. The music impressed the young man with it's vitality and depth. After the concert he was introduced to Chávez by de la Torre and eventually the older composer became a strong influence on Campos' decision to become a composer. A new world of musical ideas unfolded; the nuances and feelings of a distinct culture and feeling expressed in music.

The strength of ethnic and folk influences were clearly established in Mexican art. Mexicans took pride in their racial and historical roots. Film, visual arts, music, literature, all the forms of creative expression bespoke of a vital and spiritual nation; with pain and misery also at the core of its existence. Through de la Torre, Hector Campos was introduced to María Asúnsulo, the sister of Hollywood actress Dolores del Rio. Her salon was frequented by many artists and intellectuals including Diego Rivera, his wife Frida Khalo, and Carlos Chávez. The bohemian and intellectual atmosphere was stimulating for the young student. Since he was not shy and easily made many friends, he soon became a regular guest.

At one of these parties Campos Parsi sat at the piano and began to improvise. He knew Chávez was present so Parsi played some of his own improvisations and original ideas. Later he approached Chávez and asked his appraisal of the music. The older composer indicated that he should consider serious study of music because he had talent. This deeply impressed the young composer who began to consider the possibility of a musical career. The sojourn in Mexico was not completely pleasant. Life as a university student also presented problems. Several months after arrival, Hector Campos developed health problems because of the altitude and stress. A Dr. Chávez, not related to the composer, advised him to move away from the city. In October, he withdrew officially from the university citing health problems as the cause.4 The beautiful city of Guadalajara also had a medical school and offered a healthier environment so Campos decided to move there. José Miguel Campos did not agree with this change because the Guadalajara medical school was not accredited and the time there would be worthless if Hector was to practice medicine in Puerto Rico. He made arrangements for his son's transfer to the University of Michigan for the fall of the following year. After four months in Guadalajara, Hector returned to the island in October of 1945.

Detour to a musical career

Back on the island Campos Parsi made some money by writing articles about Mexico for several local journals and dailies.5 Some relatives from Ponce owned a large insurance company and they agreed to take him on as a salesman. To qualify for this job he first had to travel to Baltimore to take a course in Casualty Underwriting. In February of 1946 Hector Campos Parsi received a diploma in Casualty Insurance and Surety Bonding from the Maryland Insurance School. By the summer Hector was back in Ponce making a living by selling insurance and wholesaling chocolate for the Nestlé Company. In Ponce he met María Teresa Cortés, a prominent piano teacher and music educator.6 She was much involved with activities promoting artists and musicians. Campos visited her frequently and she introduced him to Alfredo Matilla. Matilla and Cortés were impressed with Hector's musical ability and original improvisations, and convinced him that he had the talent to become a composer and should study music seriously.

An old friend from the University of Puerto Rico, Amaury Veray, who had decided to study composition was attending the New England Conservatory of Music, and suggested that Hector do the same. Through a twist of fate, Hector's cousin, Alberto Parsi, had received a scholarship to study at the Conservatory but had decided to go to business school instead. Plans were made for Campos Parsi to show up in place of his cousin and take advantage of this aid. He also received a $1,000 scholarship from the Department of Education of Puerto Rico to cover the spring semester. This aid continued for the fall semester as well. Hector Campos now felt committed to undertake formal training in music with the intention of becoming a composer. Up to this time his musical training and preparation had been not been sufficient to prepare him for a profesional career in music and for the first time Campos Parsi had to face the problems of a disciplined approach to the study of music.

Early musical studies

He recalled arriving in Boston on a snowy day in March of 1947. Waiting at the train station was Amaury Veray with whom he had established a cordial rivalry. They had both presented original works at the recitals at the University of Puerto Rico and shared the enthusiasm for composing. Both were fond of practical jokes. Hector Campos described them both at this time as being "smart asses". They also shared an infatuation for Sylvia Rexach who became an important poet and songwriter of her generation.7 After a brief audition, where Campos played some of his improvisations, he was granted temporary admission. He immediately began to study theory and solfege under Henry Schwalb.

By September he was admitted to the Conservatory on a conditional basis as he was found deficient in harmony and ear training. He spent the summer studying with Alan McHose in Rochester, but still was not up the level required by the institution. However, the Bulletin of the New England Conservatory for October mentioned him as receiving a scholarship from the school for the year 48-49.8 At the conservatory he studied composition with Francis Judd Cooke who assured him that he had the talent to be a composer. He also took ear training lessons from Ivan Waldbauer. The latter introduced him to the music of Bela Bartok; this was a revelation for the young music student. He was particularly fascinated with the Third String Quartet, an "epiphany" of sound. The incredible use of timbres, tone color and sonorities caught his attention immediately.

Bartok's use of and preoccupation with folkloric materials immediately struck a responsive chord with Veray and Campos, who were both interested in using their own national culture and folklore for creating contemporary music. Eventually, in 1950, Campos Parsi wrote a string quartet based on this model. This first year at the conservatory yielded a work by the young composer labeled Opus One. It was a piece for soprano and harp duo with the title "El Arroyo". The composer describes the work as "a cascade of rippling arpeggios." A program from a recital at the New England Conservatory, dated April 15, 1948, marked it's first performance, and was the first documented presentation of an original composition of the composer during his sojourn in Boston.

In Boston, Campos became active with another student organization, the American Federation of Music Students, where he became Publicity Chairman. This group organized concerts for student performers. Their March 1949 Symposium included presentations by ten different schools including Yale, Julliard, Peabody, Curtis, among others.9 Although his music was not presented at the symposium the composer did not seem to lack performances. A short reviewdated March 1, 1949 reported that a work for soprano and orchestra titled "I will lift mine eyes, Psalm 121" was presented in Jordan Hall.10 This cliping mentioned another piece for solo organ, "Retablos", as presented in a previous recital by George Bayley.11

An article dated April 9, 1949 mentioned the performance of a Sonata for Violin at Boston's Jordan Hall.12 This concert was sponsored by the Composers Guild.13 An article dated April 28, 1949 made reference to a work for soprano, choir and orchestra to be performed by the Wellesley Community Choral Society.14 April 22, 1949 was the first documented participation of Campos Parsi in a musical presentation at the school, with his performance of Albeniz' "Leyenda" at a student recital in Brown Hall. His position as the last performer on the program indicated that he played well enough to please an audience.15

Copland's Influence

Through Cooke's good offices Hector Campos was able to attend the Tanglewood Festival for the first time in the summer of 1949. Cooke had Seen Campos' natural inclination towards a nationalist and folklore based aesthetic in the style of Copland, Chávez and Ginastera. In a letter to Thomas Perry, Cooke wrote: “One's first contact with him is with the refreshing phenomenon of an extremely fertile source of original musical ideas. He fairly bursts with projects for composition,...He writes quickly and with deft and sure strokes of a vital individuality. His energy and enthusiasm are ebullient and infectious. To be sure, his aspirations are at present apt to run far in advance of his technique, but his innate artistic sense and discrimination set him far ahead with every completed work...He is working hard to make up his deficiencies in reading music and in making full use of the piano as a tool in analysis of his own and other scores. I cannot imagine...a teacher of composition who could hope for a richer vein of original raw material than this boy will bring to the class.”16

Campos Parsi was accepted as a participant and plans were made for him to attend the summer festival. He received a grant of $500 from the Comité de la Semana de la Música to cover fees for the purpose of studying orchestral conducting and composition. Irving Fine17 was his first teacher of composition at the Berkshires. There he also observed master classes offered by Koussevitsky and Aaron Copland. Tanglewood offered the young composer new challenges and opportunities. It was there that he met Aaron Copland. Copland proved instrumental in advancing Campo's studies and aesthetic formation. Among the students attending that year Hector Campos remembered Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Alan Hovhaness.

As Copland became familiar with Campos' music he was surprised by the lack of technical proficiency he found. Despite the fact that he considered Parsi's music "naive", Copland offered Campos Parsi a scholarship and found him a job assisting with the promotion of concerts. This enabled Hector Campos to attend analysis seminars offered by Copland at Tanglewood, which he recalled as being very difficult and detailed. Campos Parsi immediately immersed himself in the exciting musical life of Tanglewood. He reacted to the lack of new music concerts at the festival by organizing a recital of new compositions by students. The Christian Science Monitor, in an article dated August 11, 1949, stated "This is the first time Tanglewood students have promoted a concert of their own, to be presented for themselves in the drawing room of their own hall." The paper also mentioned that this recital was organized and directed by Hector Campos Parsi and Jack Heidelberg. The recital included works by Copland, Stravinski, Villa-Lobos as well as student composers. Another recital featured the work of other student composers including Campos.

A program for a "Composer's Evening" dated July 10, 1949 includes his "Para Tres Violines" and a program for a "Composer's Forum" included his "Alleluya". After this year student composition recitals were presented regularly at this famous summer festival. Tanglewood was a stimulating experience for the young composer. The contact with the outstanding artists of the time left a strong impression on him. His friendship with Copland, dating from that summer, lasted for many years and proved pivotal for Parsi's career. The performances also give him an added commitment to continue composing. Hector Campos returned to the Conservatory that fall to continue with his studies. In March of 1950 he was invited to participate in the fourth Annual Symposium of the International Federation of Music Students. This activity took place at the Royal conservatory of Music of Toronto and included programs from students of Julliard, Curtis, Yale, Royal Conservatory of Music, Eastman and the New England Conservatory. Also in March of 1950 he fulfilled a commission to create a ballet for choreographer Ina Hahn. The ballet titled "Incidente" was performed by the Wellesley College Dance Group. An article in the Christian Science Monitor mentioned the preparation for this performance.18

A work for three violins titled "Musica Tres Violines" was included in a New England Conservatory recital.19 An article in the Toronto Globe and Mail mentioned Campos among several composers that "merited notice".20 In May, Marion Hawkes sang the solo of Parsi's "I will lift mine eyes" in a concert sponsored by the Wellesley Township.21 A review in The Townsman, a local paper, said that "The number was well received and the young composer was called to the stage for recognition."22 A music reviewer for the Melodic Line wrotethat the work “called for great skill on the part of Miss Hawkes, whose dramatic soprano voice, in perfect pitch soared above the orchestral background...(the piece) required careful intonation on the part of the singer to achieve it's unusual effect.”23

Campos returned to Tanglewood for the summer of 1950. A program for a "Composer's Forum" included a String Quartet composed by him.24 He also renewed his friendship with Aaron Copland, who gave stern advice to the student composer. He bluntly told Campos that he should leave the conservatory because he was not ready for the level of training offered at the school. He advised the young student to seek training that was suited to his unique necessities. Copland said that his capacities needed a different approach because his situation did not fit into the ordinary academic mold. He told Campos that he needed a private teacher who would work with him directly. He emphasized that Campos could not continue at the conservatory. Copland mentioned his own teacher, Nadia Boulanger,25 as a possible instructor. Campos Parsi took the advice seriously but was unsure as to what he should do.

He spent that summer in Wellesley at the home of the Killian family. They were rich Boston Brahmins that hired Hector Campos as a summer tutor for their son. Parsi remembered that they had a beautiful house where many important personalities of the time came to visit. The outstanding memory was a summer visit by Winston Churchill to the Killian family home. Later he moved in with the family of William Vogler. They had a summer home at Mouse Island, a beautiful place in New Hampshire that was the setting for the movie "On Golden Pond." Among the people Campos met there was Quincy Porter26, who at the time directed the music department at Yale University. They became fast friends and shared fishing trips and outings.

Porter suggested Yale as an alternative to the Conservatory. Paul Hindemith27 was teaching there and had developed a pedagogical method for the teaching of theory and solfege. He also taught composition and held master classes throughout the semester. Campos Parsi was intrigued and interested, but did not consider himself ready for the level of that institution. Porter made the arrangements for the entrance examinations, and much to Parsi's surprise, he was admitted to the university. Hasty arrangements were made for his transfer to New Haven. By early September he was ready to begin. The money situation was not good but he managed to get installed and enrolled in several courses.

One of the courses, Composition and Theory, was taught by Paul Hindemith. Their relationship was not entirely cordial. Campos Parsi remembered him as being very authoritarian and cold. Campos was candid about admitting that he disliked the older composer. Quincy Porter saw that they did not get along and was caught in the middle. Around the third week of Campos' sojourn at Yale a letter from Paris arrived. He was quite surprised to receive a letter from Nadia Boulanger informing him that she accepted him conditionally as a student. It seems Copland had written to her about the special situation of the young student. Aaron Copland also wrote Campos a letter stressing how important it was that he travel to Paris and study with Mademoiselle.

Campos Parsi jumped at the idea and sent rapid requests to Puerto Rico for assistance. Mariano Villaronga, Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico, provided tremendous help by facilitating a scholarship to travel to Paris. The government did not usually grant money for private study with individuals but an exception was made in his case. This cleared the way for his departure from Yale. After a brief period back in Puerto Rico Campos Parsi obtained support for his studies in France. His sister Mercedes remembered that José Miguel Campos was opposed to the idea but eventually gave in. An article in El Mundo stated that the composer was on his way to Paris. It also mentions that the composer was finishing a work for piano and violin.28 The article by Luis Sánchez mentioned that the ballet "Incidente" and the "Música para Tres Violines" received very good reviews from critics in Boston. A column by Sánchez for the same paper, dated September 3, 1950, has an interesting mention of Campos Parsi's budding interest in Jazz. "I met and spoke with Hector Campos Parsi, our young boy who is into serious composing has shown his great talent ... discussing popular music we spoke of Bebop, he told me that this music has created serious interest at New England (Conservatory) where he studies and at Tanglewood, since I don't like Bebop we began to argue because he finds it interesting..." From this period Campos recalls frequent visits to a jazz club on Massachessetts Avenue called the Savoy just a blocK away from the Conservatory. There he saw Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond and others.

On to Paris

Hector Campos Parsi arrived in France on October 2, 1950. Through a stroke of luck he was able to purchase a tourist class ticket for the Queen Elizabeth at a very low price. The ship docked at Le Havre and Campos immediately went to Fontainebleu where Madmoiselle Boulanger was the music director of a program every summer. She conducted the choirs and the orchestra and directed a music school on the premises, a grant from the French government. Nervously, the prospective student went to the first interview. Madmoiselle did not show, instead her assistant, Annete Dieudonné, interviewed Parsi and set up a second meeting. Finally, after some delay, Campos met her. He recalled that she "stared at you fixedly as if dissecting you." She was very polite, offered him tea and some conversation. He was asked to leave some music and return the following Wednesday. Boulanger finally decided she would accept the new student. She imposed two conditions: learn to speak French, and take some preparatory lessons with Mademoiselle Dieudonné. These lessons included sight singing, dictation, solfege, and theory. The lessons began in October of 1950 and went on for a year.

By January of 1951 Campos was taking lessons with Madmoiselle Boulanger herself. The subjects included Composition, Harmony, Orchestration and Counterpoint. During the summers he traveled to Fountainebleu, where Madmoiselle directed the Conservatoire Americaine. Among the teachers at the summer institute were Georges Enesco, Robert Casadesus and Michel Petit. There were also special opportunities to briefly meet distinguished personalities that were personal friends of Madmoiselle Boulanger. Two of the most impressive to the young student were the composers Francois Poulenc and Igor Stravinski. Campos Parsi recalled that he had the privilege of several dinners at Boulanger's apartment when Stravinski came to visit. It was a great thrill for the young man to be at the same table with one of the most prominent composers of the world. Parsi had already participated in master classes at the Academy where Stravinski discussed his most recent works: Rake's Progress, Oedipus Rex and Persephone.

Of the many friends he made during that time, the most important relationship he developed was with the Scottish composer Thea Musgrave. Musgrave was a friend, confidant, and occasionally lent him money. Many pictures in Campos Parsi's collection show them enjoying holidays and outings. Giving in to the romantic feelings that surged, they made plans to marry eventually. These plans would never come to pass, however, the relationship did continue for the length of Campos' stay in France. Writing to his parents from Edinburgh in August of 1953, he says: “...Thea and I are already preparing to go to Puerto Rico...We have been separating books for our future library.”

Madmoiselle Boulanger made him work very hard on the basics. He eventually became very close to her and a member of her inner circle. She instilled in him the Neo-classic aesthetic which would characterize many of his works of this period. She was very conservative in her musical outlook and demanded total respect for the classical tradition. She did not approve of the adventurous experiments in music that were taking place in Europe and America at that time, but Campos recalled that she discussed such works as Alban Berg's Lulu in class. The first documented performance of a work by Campos Parsi during this period was a performance of his song cycle, "Canciones de Cielo y Agua". The first of the three songs was "El Arroyo" that had been presented in Boston as opus one. The program for this concert indicated that it was held on July 24, 1952 at the Conservatoire Americaine.

Despite receiving economic assistance from his parents and the government of Puerto Rico, Campos' economic situation was difficult in France. He stayed at small pensions, and finally at a dormitory under the auspices of Russian Orthodox Monks. His gratitude to the order was manifested by rebuilding their small chapel in 1954 after winning the first prize of the French National Lottery. The studies in France were stimulating and productive for the young composer. In 1953 he received his first important award, first prize in a composition competition sponsored by WIPR, the local radio station of the Education Department of the Puerto Rican government.29 The work selected was "Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet and Strings." This work was published several years later by Peer/Southern under the title Divertimento del Sur.

The composer received 1,000 dollars for First Prize and another work of his, the "Piano Sonata in G", received Honorable Mention. The jury was composed of local educator and writer María Luisa Muñoz, pianist Jesús María Sanromá, and composer Walter Piston. Campos Parsi received another important distinction in 1953 when he was awarded the Maurice Ravel Prize at the Conservatoire Americaine for his Sonatina Number 2 for Violin and Piano. This award was given to the winner of the annual composition competition at the school.30 The prize consisted of one thousand dollars, a performance of the selected work, and it's transmission on French national radio. This same work received another award from the Organization of American States and was published the following year by Peer Southern music publishers. That same year the Club D'essai presented Campos' String Quartet in concert at the UNESCO Hall in Paris and at the Ecole Normal de Musique.31

Campos Parsi rejoiced in his burgeoning musical career. A letter to his parents from June 21, 1953 conveyed his enthusiasm. He wrote: “Here in France my Divertimento is doing well also. Pierre Capdeville, director of French Radio, has accepted this score for a performance in November....For October another performance of my quartet, this time by the national network. The "Club d'Essai" will present my "Musica para tres violines" in September. It seems as if my music begins to take hold of the French, at least in Paris. The famous singer Victoria de los Angeles has accepted my "Canciones de Cielo y Agua". His main problem was still financial. Despite economic aid from the Puerto Rican government, scholarships at Fointainebleu, and the money from the competition and performances, he was having a hard time making ends meet.

In 1954 he ended his studies with Nadia Boulanger and made preparations to return home. A letter from Madmoiselle Boulanger to Vicente Melendez of the Personnel Division of the Department of Education provided an interesting glimpse of the student-teacher relationship. She wrote: “Will you kindly receive this report concerning HCP. It has been interesting to guide him, as he is very very gifted, he works with such a concentration and is such a wonderful boy. There is no doubt about his career, he is a composer, but in his technique were some weak points. He has shown great intelligence and real courage in accepting the exacting work which I thought necessary to bring him to the point where he would have the means to express his ideas. This period is not yet finished, but I know Hector will not stop before to have mastered (sic) the different elements of musical technic (sic). He has understood their value, their importance and knows that there is no possible freedom if one cannot handle well ones tools.” The years in France provided the technical training and polish that would help the young composer embark on a professional career in music.32 Direct contact with European art, and in particular with French culture, gave Campos Parsi a taste of refined nationalism as modified by the Neo-classic aesthetic taught by Madmoiselle Boulanger. These traits had a strong impact on the music of Hector Campos Parsi for many years.


1. For a copy of a letter sent to the Selective Service Board certifying that Campos was a medical student in Mexico see Appendix A of the original dissertation.

2. "Ensaladas", 17 November and "Hector Campos Parsi", 7 December, El Imparcial. "Viajeros", December 8, El Mundo.

3. See The world of Twentieth Century Music. Ewen, G., 156-161.

4. A copy of the letter granting Campos Parsi's request for withdrawal from the University is included in Appendix A of the original dissertation. This document was accompanied by a letter from the American Embassy in Mexico attesting to it's authenticity.

5. See Bibliography for a list of articles written by Campos.

6. María Teresa Cortés was one of the founders of the Sociedad Pro Arte Musical and for several years director of the music program of the Ateneo de Puerto Rico.

7. See La Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico, Vol. 7, 135-139.

8. Three letters awarding Campos scholarship money for the year 1947 are in the composer's files. Two grants are from the Puerto Rican Department of Education, and one is from a private organization. Total amount indicated by these three grants was $2,500. The aid was renewed for 1948.

9. Brief caption in the Boston Sunday Herald of March 13, 1949 includes picture of Campos Parsi and several others.

10. "Interpretan en Boston música de Campos Parsi" El Mundo.

11. A program for an organ recital dated January 11, 1949 gives us the date of the performance.

12. Dávila, A. "Instántaneas" Diario de Puerto Rico. For a copy of program see Appendix C.

13. Campos Parsi is elected president of the Guild in May of that year. See Melodic Line, May 1949.

14. "Preparing for concert monday night" The Townsman, Wellesley, Mass.

15. For a copy of the program see Appendix B of original dissertation.

16. For a reproduction of the original letter see Appendix D of original dissertation.

17. See Groves, Volume 8, 114.

18. "Campos Parsi Ballet" 1 March 1950.

19. See Appendix B of original dissertation.

20. McCarthy, P. "RCT Compositions win compliments".

21. See Appendix C.

22. "Large community audience acclaims community orchestra in concert monday night". 4 May 1950.

23. From Campos Parsi's personal collection; bears no date.

24. For a copy of the program see Appendix B.

25. See Groves Volume One, 843-844.

26. See Groves Volume Six, 884.

27. See Groves, Volume Four, 286-291.

28. "Joven compositor llama atención de críticos". El Mundo newspaper. 10 September 1950.

29. For a copy of the diploma awarded to the composer see Appendix A of original dissertation.

30. For a copy of the award certificate signed by Nadia Boulanger see Appendix A of original dissertation.

30. For a copy of the program see Appendix B of original dissertation.

31. Appendix C of the original dissertation is a letter by madmoiselle Boulanger in lieu of a credit transcript. It indicates that Campos Parsi took 80 hours of Harmony, 45 hours of Counterpoint, 120 hours of Composition, 80 hours of Ear training and theory, and 120 hours of Analysis and score reading in a group class.


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