Back to Article List


       Art music forms in Philippine music consist of locally composed works that have used standard formats of Western music. These forms evolved through the introduction and assimilation of European classical music which includes both religious and secular compositions. Before the American colonial regime, Filipino musicians who received their musical training mostly from the clergy, produced masses, hymns and vespers for use in the liturgical services. Some of these works were quite elaborate, some with orchestral accompaniment.

       Some of the Early secular forms of entertainment are the awit and kurido, which replaced some of the ancient epics of communities that had been converted to Christianity. These metrical romances written in octosyllabic and dodecasyllabic quatrains told of saintly and heroic tales in medieval Europe, and the crusades against the Moors. Local versions were written and performed by local playwrights and artists and flourished in the Tagalog, Ilokano, Pampango, Bikol and Ilongo.

       The Spanish comedia was the early form of theater that was introduced to the people in the late 16th   century. The first comedias were religious dramas. In the 18th   century more and more comedias were about the lives of kings and nobles as well as their battle against the infidels. In the Philippines, the thematic plot of the conflict between Christians and the Moros gave birth to the comedias called moro-moro. In the 19th century, thekomedya was totally adopted by the Filipinos, with the plots based on the printed “corridos”. They spread to the different regions and became a popular form of entertainment until the advent of a much  more sophisticated form of musical theater: the Spanish zarzuela. The zarzuela was introduced in the Philippines in the late 19th  century with the arrival of foreign productions, until even local singers and conductors were trained and contracted to perform. The first Filipino sarswela were written in the 1890’s. At the turn of the century, the regional sarswelas emerged in Northern Luzon, Bikol and the Visayas. During the American regime, the Filipinosarswela served as a medium of political protest and criticism of the colonial rule. At the same time, the form represented the high quality of music-literary creativity of the Filipinos in that their popularity was partly the result of collaborations between well-known playwrights and composers.

       The Filipino opera is likewise an off-shoot of the introduction of the European opera., the first presentation being dated in the 1960’s. Because of the availability of local singers, instrumentalists, and conductors, the opera did not take long to be adopted by the Filipinos. The first Filipino opera was composed in 1902 entitled “Sandugong Panaginip”. Composers who wrote important works in this medium include Gavino Carluen, Felipe Padilla De Leon, Alfredo Buenaventura, and Eliseo Pajaro.

       The establishment of formal music schools during the early American colonial regime produce highly trained musicians. Most of the composers began to write in the major western classical forms such as the concerto, symphony, the suite, the concertino, the rhapsody the concert overture, and the symphonic poem. The latter two were not only written for the symphony orchestra, but the symphonic band as well, since a number of Filipino composers received their initial musical training in local town musicians. The band literature also includes hymns and marches. Works for chamber ensembles (quintets, quartets, trios) and solo instruments were also written, especially character pieces for the piano. Santiago’s String Quartet in G in 1924 is considered a forerunner, followed by Molina’s String Quartet en D Mayor, and Trio in F.

       A great deal of the major works are programmatic in nature and are of religious or nationalist in character. The first group of art music composers include Juan Hernandez, Nicanor Abelardo, Francisco Buencamino and Antoni Molina. Some of these major works are Abelardo’s Piano Concerto of 1923, Santiago’s “TagailogSymphony, Molina’s “Batingaw“Choral Symphony“, “Mayon“, “Piano Concerto” by Francisco Buencamino.

       The following generation of composers consists of Antonio Buenaventura who composed the famous tone poems By the Hillside and Youth and Hilarion Rubio who wrote “Pilipinas Kong MahalSymphonic Overtureand Symphony for Greatness. Rodolfo Cornejo, who is also highly proficient on the keyboard, composedSymphony– “The Allies” and “DedicationSymphony. Ramon Tapales, a violinist of note, contributed some major works like Philippine Suite and Ave Liberator to honor the liberation of the Philippines at the end of the 2nd World War. Another contemporary Lucino Sacramento wrote the highly romantic twin piano concertos “Maharlika” and “Bituin“. This generation was followed by Felipe Padilla De Leon who wrote the monumental operas Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and Lucio San Pedro with his symphonic poems Lahing Kayumanggi and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

      In the field of vocal music, the Tagalog kundiman, a song of unrequitted love was developed by these composers as an art song genre, composing pieces on texts of high poetic value. The character and structural elements of the kundiman is derived from an earlier Tagalog tune called comintang. The kundiman starts in the minor key and ends in the parallel major. It is in moderate 3/4 time. The immortal kundimans include Abelardo’sNasaan Ka Irog and Kundiman ng Luha and Santiago’s Madaling Araw. Other song forms which were used by the composers are the balitaw which is of lighter character and the danza, a dance form in duple time which is similar to a tango.

       The idiom of the early art music works was very much influenced by the music of the European romantic composers, such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Peter Tchaikowshy, Guiseppe Verdi, Giacchomo Puccini, and Gaetano Donizetti.

       Works that show the influence of early twentieth century European idiom were written by Eliseo Pajaro, Lucresia Kasilag, Rosendo Santos, Amada Santos-Ocampo, Alfredo Buenaventura, and Jerry Dadap. This group of composers may be considered as neo-classicists, fusing Filipino musical elements, mostly folk melodies, with the harmonies, rhythms and textures found in the works of the European and American neo-classic composers.

Banas, Raymundo. Pilipino Music and Theater. Manlapaz Publishing, 1975 Buenaventura, Antonino. Sing and Be Happy. Vols. I-II. Manila: Macaraig Publishing, 1966Chung, Lilia. Jovita Fuentes: A Lifetime of Music. Quezon City, 1979

The Conservatory of Music, University of the Philippines 1916-1960. Quezon City, 1960

Dioquino, Corazon and Ramon P. Santos, eds. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (Nicanor Tionson, ed) Vol. VI Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994

Fernandez, Doreen. The Iloilo Zarzuela 1903-1930. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila, University Press, 1978

Kasilag, Lucresia R. The League of Filipino Composers: 1997 Directory-Catalogue of Selected Works. 1997

Lapeña-Bonifacio, Amelia. The Seditious Tagalog Playwrights: Early American Occupation. Manila: Zarzuela Foundation of the Philippines, 1972

Maceda, Corazon and Crispina Garcia. Philippine Choruses for All Occassions. Manila, 1953

Manuel, Arsenio. Dictionary of Philippine Biographies. Vols. I-IV Quezon City: Filipiniana Publications

Molina, Antonio. Ang Kundiman ng Himagsikan. Publication of the Institute of National Language. Band IV, No. 22,1940

Parker, Horatio et al. Progressive Music Series. Vols.I-IV New York: Silver Burdett and Company, 1924

Romualdez, Norberto (comp.) Philippine Progressive Music Series: Advance Course. New York: Silver Burdett and Company, 1950

Samson, Helen. The Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas. Parish of St. Joseph, 1977

Santiago, Francisco. Development of Music in the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1957

Yoshimura, Bin. The Music of the Philippines. Manila: Dept. of Information of the Imperial Japanese Forces, 1942


Abdon, Bonifacio. “Outstanding Filipino Composers” Encyclopedia of the Philippines. Galang (ed.), 1950

Brokerishire, J.O. “A Word About Native Philippine Bands and Musicians”, Metronome 3: 17-18, 1916

Carrion, Carmita L. “The Manila Symphony Society, 1926-1958”, Philippine Studies 6 (March) 5:52, 1958

De Leon, Felipe Padilla. “Banda Uno, Banda Dos”, Filipino Heritage VIII.

______________. “Manila Welcomes Opera” Filipino Heritage IX

De Los Santos, Epifanio “El Teatro Filipino”, Cultura Filipina. May 1911

Dioquino, Corazon C. “Curtain Call”, Filipino Heritage IX. Felta Books, Inc.

Katigbak, Aida. “The State of Music in the Philippines”, Unitas 36 University of Sto. Tomas, Sept. 1963

Laureola, Asuncion. “Music in the Philippines”, Fookien Times, 1953

Maceda, Jose. “Music in the Philippines in the 19th Century”, Musikkulturen Asiens und Afrikas im. 19. Hunderts. Robert Gunther (ed.) Regensburg: Gustav Bosse, 1973

Mangahas, Ruby K. “Philippine Art Music: A Viewpoint”, Fookien Times Yearbook 1972

Molina, Antonio. “The Sentiments of the Kundiman”, Filipino Heritage VIII. Felta Books, Inc.

_____________. “Postwar Philippine Music”, Progress, 1955

Panganiban, Bienvenido S.P. “The ‘Juenesses Musicales’ – Its Role in the Philippines”, Unitas 35, University of Sto. Tomas, 1962

Rubio, Hilarion. “Filipino Muisc in the Past Three Decades”, Fookien Times Yearbook. 1956

Samson, Helen. “Zarzuela”, Filipino Heritage VI. Felta Books, Inc.

Santos, Ramon P. “Art Music of the Philippines in the 20th Century in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Sean Williams and Terry Miller, eds. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1998

_____________. “Classical and Art Music in the Philippines”, Compendium of the Humanities of the Philippines — Musical Arts. Corazon Dioquino (ed.) National Research Council of the Philippines, 1998

_____________. “Nationalism in the Philippine Music During the Japanese Occupation: Art or Propaganda?”, Panahon na ng Hapon: Sining sa Digmaan, Digmaan sa Sining. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1992

About the Author:
Ramon P. Santos, Ph. D. is a composer and musicologist, having received training at the University of the Philippines, Indiana University and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was a full fellow at the Summer Courses in New Music at Darmstadt and undertook post-graduate work in Ethnomusicology at the University of Illinois with grants from the Asian Cultural Council and the Ford Foundation. His works have been featured in major festivals in Europe and in Asia. Recently, he has been awarded residency fellowships at the Bellagio Study Center and the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy. In the field of musicology, he has undertaken researches not only in Philippine and Asian contemporary music, but also studied Javanese gamelan music and dance and Nan Kuan, and engaged in continuing field studies of Philippine traditional music such as the Ibaloi badiw, the Maranao bayok, and the musical repertoires of the Mansaka, Bontoc, Yakan, and Boholano. He has contributed major articles on Philippine music to various encyclopedias and anthologies such as The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, the Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, the Compendium of the Humanities in the Philippines. He was chief editor and writer of the book Musics of the ASEAN, and has produced CD’s on Mindanao Highland Music, Mansaka Music and Music of the Bontoc from the Mountain Province. He is currently serving as University Professor of the UP, Commissioner for the Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and 2nd Vice President of the International Music Council.