Violeta Parra
Violeta del Carmen Parra Sandoval (4 October 1917 – 5 February 1967) was a notable Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

an composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

, songwriter
A songwriter is an individual who writes both the lyrics and music to a song. Someone who solely writes lyrics may be called a lyricist, and someone who only writes music may be called a composer...

, folklorist
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

, ethnomusicologist
Ethnomusicology is defined as "the study of social and cultural aspects of music and dance in local and global contexts."Coined by the musician Jaap Kunst from the Greek words ἔθνος ethnos and μουσική mousike , it is often considered the anthropology or ethnography of music...

 and visual artist. She set the basis for "Chilean' New Song," La Nueva Canción
Nueva canción
Nueva canción is a movement and genre within Latin American and Iberian music of folk music, folk-inspired music and socially committed music...

 chilena, a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

 which would absorb and extend its influence far beyond Chile.


Parra was born in San Carlos
San Carlos, Chile
San Carlos is the name of a city and commune of Ñuble Province in the Biobío Region of Chile.-Geography and agriculture:...

, province of Ñuble, a small town in southern Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

 on October the 4, 1917. She was involved in the progressive movement and the Communist Party of Chile
Communist Party of Chile
The Communist Party of Chile is a Chilean political party inspired by the thoughts of Karl Marx and Lenin. It was founded in 1922, as the continuation of the Socialist Workers Party, and in 1934 it established its youth wing, the Communist Youth of Chile .In the last legislative elections in Chile...

. She revived the Peña
Peña (music)
A Peña is a meeting place or grouping of musicians or artists, either in Spain or in various South American countries...

(now known as La Peña de Los Parra), a community center for the arts and for political activism. Some think she established the first 'peña' but according to the records of the Royal Academy of Spanish Language, places such as these had been called that since 1936 (RAE
Real Academia Española
The Royal Spanish Academy is the official royal institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, Spain, but is affiliated with national language academies in twenty-one other hispanophone nations through the Association of Spanish Language Academies...


Violeta Parra was a member of the prolific Parra family
Parra family
The Parra family is a Chilean family known for its many artists. Members of the Parra family are noted contributors to Chilean culture with almost every member being a distinguished national artist. The family is not related to the Parra brothers, members of the Chilean rock fusion group Los...

. Among her brothers were the notable modern poet, better known as the "anti-poet", Nicanor Parra
Nicanor Parra
Nicanor Parra Sandoval is a mathematician and poet born in San Fabián de Alico, Chile, who has been considered to be a popular poet in Chile with enormous influence and popularity in Latin America, and also considered one of the most important poets of the Spanish language literature...

 and fellow folklorist Roberto Parra
Roberto Parra Sandoval
Roberto Parra Sandoval , also known in Spanish as El tío Roberto , was a Chilean singer-songwriter, guitarist and folklorist, member of the Parra family, many of whose members are famous artists...

. Her son, Ángel Parra
Ángel Parra
Ángel Cereceda Parra is a Chilean singer and songwriter, son of Violeta Parra, notable Chilean folklorist and brother of Isabel Parra. He travels abroad helping to maintain the Nueva Canción tradition in Chilean expatriate communities in Europe, North America, and Australia. His son -also named...

, and her daughter, Isabel Parra
Isabel Parra
Isabel Parra is a famous Chilean singer-songwriter and interpreter of Latin American musical folklore.Isabel Parra was born in Chile in 1939 and began her career in music at the age of 13 when she made her first recording with her world-renowned mother, the folklorist Violeta Parra...

, are also important figures in the development of the Nueva Canción Chilena
Nueva canción
Nueva canción is a movement and genre within Latin American and Iberian music of folk music, folk-inspired music and socially committed music...

. Their children have also mostly maintained the family's artistic traditions.

In 1967 Violeta Parra committed suicide. She had previously been romantically involved with Swiss flautist Gilbert Favre
Gilbert Favre
Gilbert Favre was a flautist of Swiss descent. He also played the quena as a founding member of the popular Bolivian folk group Los Jairas. Favre was commonly referred to as "El Gringo" by the Bolivian public...



Her most renowned song, Gracias a la Vida
Gracias a la Vida
"Gracias a la vida" is the name of a song composed and first performed by Chilean musician Violeta Parra, one of the artists who set the basis for the movement known as Nueva Canción...

(Thanks to Life), was popularized throughout Latin America by Mercedes Sosa
Mercedes Sosa
Haydée Mercedes Sosa, known as La Negra, was an Argentine singer who was popular throughout South America and some countries outside the continent. With her roots in Argentine folk music, Sosa became one of the preeminent exponents of nueva canción. She gave voice to songs written by both...

 and later in the US by Joan Baez
Joan Baez
Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

. It remains one of the most covered Latin American songs in history. Other notable covers of this tragic, but widely beloved folk anthem include the Italian guitar-vocal solo of Adriana Mezzadr and La Oreja de Van Gogh at the 2005 del Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar, en Chile. It has also been treated by classically trained musicians such as in the fully orchestrated rendition by conservatory-trained Alberto Cortez
Alberto Cortez
Alberto Cortez is an Argentine singer and songwriter. Cortez and his wife live in Madrid.Cortez was born in Rancul, La Pampa Province, Argentina, March 13, 1938. At the age of six entered in the elementary school and at the same time to the conservatory Alberto Williams. He begins to compose songs...

Gracias a la Vida has been re-recorded by several Latin artists & Michael Bublé to gather funds for the Chilean people affected by the earthquake in Chile, February 2010. The song is in waltz time (3/4) and thus suitable for romantic dance forms; it opens with a simple but relatively unusual shift between A minor and E Major chords, setting up a tension between sad and cheerful which is reflective of its meaning; then it devolves to G7-C/C7 before returning to the Am/E motif. This is remarkable for music rooted in folk tradition because it essentially modulates
Modulation (music)
In music, modulation is most commonly the act or process of changing from one key to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest...

 between keys, a sophisticated move which does occur in folk-influenced music but only the more advanced forms.

Gracias a la vida

The song opens with a simple strumming at a leisurely tempo and exploits the poetic beauty of the Spanish language with consummate skill:
Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto

Me dio dos luceros que cuando los abro

Perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco

Y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado

Y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo

It continues with several more such stanzas before refraining "Gracias a la vida" in a poignant but riveting fade.

Roughly translated, these lyrics mean:

:Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two eyes, which when I open

I can perfectly distinguish black from white

And in the distant heaven the starry backdrop

And amongst the multitude

The man that I love.

And the closing refrain "Gracias a la vida", ironically,
:Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life

Another highly regarded original, Volver a los Diecisiete (To Be Seventeen again) similarly celebrates the themes of youthful life, in tragic contrast to her biography. Unlike much popular music, it moves through minor key progression creating an introspective if not melancholy mood and thus has lent itself to classical treatment as well as popular music. Despite its originality, Parra's music was deeply rooted in folk song traditions, as is the case with Nueva Cancion in general.

As noted by Mercedes Sosa, with regard to Gracias a la Vida, Parra's music was, though about "simple things", always "prophetic and true".

Studio albums

  • Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 1 (1956)
  • Chants et danses du chili. Vol. 2 (1956)
  • Violeta Parra, Canto y guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. I (1956)
  • Violeta Parra, acompañada de guitarra. El Folklore de Chile, Vol. II (1958)
  • La cueca presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. III. (1958)
  • La tonada presentada por Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. IV. (1958)
  • Toda Violeta Parra: El Folklore de Chile, Vol. VIII (1960)
  • Violeta Parra, guitare et chant: Chants et danses du Chili. (1963)
  • Recordandeo a Chile (Una Chilena en París). (1965)
  • Carpa de la Reina (1966)
  • Las últimas composiciones de Violeta Parra (1967)

Posthumous discography

  • Violeta Parra y sus canciones reencontradas en París (1971)
  • Canciones de Violeta Parra (1971)
  • Le Chili de Violeta Parra (1974)
  • Un río de sangre (1975)
  • Presente / Ausente (1975)
  • Décimas (1976)
  • Chants & rythmes du Chili (1991)
  • El hombre con su razón (1992)
  • Décimas y Centésimas (1993)
  • El folklore y la pasión (1994)
  • Haciendo Historia: La jardinera y su canto (1997)
  • Violeta Parra: Antología (1998)
  • Canciones reencontradas en París (1999)
  • Composiciones para guitarra (1999)
  • Violeta Parra - En Ginebra, En Vivo, 1965 (1999)
  • Violeta Parra: Cantos Campesinos (1999)

Further reading

  • Moreno, Albrecht: "Violeta Parra and 'La Nueva Canción Chilena." Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 5 (1986): 108—26.

Alcalde, Alfonso: "Toda Violeta Parra" (biography plus anthology of songs and poems) Ediciones de la Flor. Buenos Aires 1974

External links

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