Ricardo Q. BLAMEY LAFONE
It was at the Krabbe´s at Falmouth, when still a youth, that
Richard Blamey met Miss Julia Lafone. They were married in his
father’s home that stands on a hill overlooking the old borough
town of Penryn and it was there that Ricardo Quevedo, their fourth
child was born on February 23, 1880.
Richard and Julia first thought of visiting Argentina in 1879,
but it was not until 1884 that they left for Andalgala, Catamarca
and from that date, fate decreed that they should never return
to the old country. Samuel Fisher Lafone (founder of the Anglican
Church of Montevideo), Julia’s father, had bought copper mines
in the Capillitas mountains, and her eldest brother Samuel Alejandro
had gone there in 1860, with his father’s orders to build a new
facility for processing the ore.
He founded this new site, seventeen kilometres south of Andalgalá,
amid a dense "Algarrobo" forest, not far from the edge
of a monotonous desert. Samuel returned the old indian name of
"Pilciao" to the place, and built all that was
necessary for the mine production, for the people who were living
and working there and for their intellectual and religious well-being.
Visitors coming from America or Europe were surprised to find
an English home in such a far away and unknown land, to see a
Church with English style vitraux (stained glass windows) and
to hear Indian children singing Gounod’s "Nazareth",
Mendelssohn’s oratorios, songs from the time of Queen Victoria,
or the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers". Surprised to
be greeted with an English style dinner, tableware, crystal and
silver, all shining and contrasting with adobe walls, great timber
roofs and stone paved floors. ("A long vacation in the Argentine
Alps" Ross Johnson, London, 1868)
For many years mother Julia and aunt Mariquita kept the house
open to family and friends.
This was the scene little Dickie never forgot. It came
back in his letters and it came back in his music. It always came
Ricardo was about nine years old when the family moved to "Huasan",
an estate owned by his father Richard, uncle Samuel Lafone y Quevedo,
and uncle Joel Blamey, who was married to Elena Tomkinson Lafone
(My grandparents). "Santa Rita de Huasan" is a colonial
"estancia", built by the Jesuits, 5 Km north of Andalgalá.
Olive trees and vineyards, interspersed with meadows of bright
blue alfalfa creep up the Aconquija mountain while the river descends
and irrigates a wide space around it. At that time it provided
Pilciao with meat, wine, olive oil, vegetables, fruits and all
kind of enticing desserts.
But little Dickie, must have grown too fast, extremely
shy and sensitive as he was. He was sent to school in England
for five years, before returning to Argentina for his secondary
studies at the National College of Buenos Aires.
In 1908 Ricardo obtained his law degree and for a number of years
practised the legal profession here, finally retiring as Secretary
of the Court. He was the much-loved professor of English History
and Literature in the National College of Buenos Aires for almost
a quarter of a century. (As a professor of English Literature
in B.A, Ricardo introduced for the first time a translation by
Jorge Luis Borges).
After entering the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Relations in
1926, he was sent to London, as commercial attaché to the
Argentine Embassy; two years later, was appointed honorary legal
advisor and in 1943 was named Financial Counsellor, the post he
held at the time of his death.
Successful as he was in his public career, it was as a composer
that he became internationally known. Music attracted him from
childhood. As a young man he studied, in Argentina with Ernesto
Drangosch and with Constantino Gaito, and in England with Benjamin
Dale, from the Royal Academy of Music, one of Britain’s two senior
music conservatoires. In Europe, he visited the principal musical
centres in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Belgium.
His compositions were inspired by scenes and memories of his
childhood in Andalgalá, Catamarca. At "Pilciao",
before dinner, his uncle Samuel, used to play, on the piano or
harmonium, classical pieces, popular and folklore themes accompanied
by the Indian choir.
His first serious efforts as a composer, that started as mere
studies, finally ended in the Argentine rhapsody "Andalgalá"
(1931). The introduction and the finale of this work for orchestra,
evoked with poetry those nights at Pilciao, where the melancholy
songs of the Indians dancing in the moonlight could be heard.
"Andalgalá" was first heard in London
in 1932 conducted by Sir Henry Pitt, it was broadcast on the (B.B.C.)
several times, and presented in many German cities before
After such an unexpected success he immediately composed the
suite "Escenas Catamarqueñas"(1934).
It starts with a vigorous introduction based on a sentimental
melody, followed by a piece titled "The Little Angel"
where the funeral of an Indian child is evoked. Then comes a full
page from popular music "La Chacarera", contrasting
with the lyrical piece of the suite where the composer evokes
the grace with which "Doña Elena Baila la Cueca".
The work ends with the presentation of "Domingo de Carnaval"
in the village of Pilciao.
In 1934 the first performance of his "Escenas Catamarqueñas"
was conducted by Aylmer Buesst (B.B.C.) in London. Felix
Weingartner directed it in Vienna and Salzburg. Hans Adolf Winter
in Munich and Berlin; Schneevoight in Helsingfors and Austin in
Bournemouth. Buenos Aires first heard this suite in 1940 under
Albert Wolff’s baton at the Colon Theatre.
Other works include "Vidala" and a suite for
a small orchestra "Recuerdos de provincia" with
three pieces: "Vidalita", "Flor de Huaco"
y "La Mariquita", all of which were played in
Germany, England, Finland and other European countries.
The next two major works Ricardo composed, were symphonic poems,
inspired in Argentine classical literary treasures.
The first one, "Juvenilia", was a remembrance
of his student life, homage he paid to the National College of
Buenos Aires, to Miguel Cané, and to Argentina ( his new
country since 1906). "Juvenilia" was first heard
in Munich in 1936. Richard Austin conducted it in the Bournemouth
musical festival and Warwick Braithwaite in Glasgow in 1945.
"El Ombu" (1937), inspired by two literary works
by Hudson and Obligado, is marked by dark colours, and a pronounced
strain of melancholy. "it is an overflowing work
of poetic imagination" said Sir Henry Wood.
Its music combines nature-painting of the vast pampa with an evocation
of the world of legends associated with the Ombu tree: "…They
say that when a traveller falls asleep in its shade, a wide range
of sounds, even the savage’s songs and those of evil spirits can
be heard… and that sometimes at midnight, the whole tree, seems
to shine bright in the distance as if lighted by a white fire.
At the foot of the Ombú tree, so they say, Santos Vega
died… defeated by the devil’s malignant skill and his voice extinguished
over the horizon with the last rays of the sunset, while silence
and darkness fell over the Pampas.
"El Ombú" was conducted by Winter in
Munich and Berlin, by Austin in Bournemouth and broadcast by the
B.B.C. throughout the UK. It was first played in Argentina in
1939, at the Colon Theatre, under Erich Kleiber´s baton.
Other works include the symphonic poem "Patria Hermosa",
and the music composed for the ballets "Masque of Love",
and "Acis y Galatea".
His name became widely known among music lovers throughout Europe,
and was a pre-war favourite in German concert halls, and in Salzburg
The most popular artistic phenomenon of the war was the series
of Promenade Concerts held at the "Queen’s Hall", but
when the Hall was destroyed, they were transferred to the Albert
Hall, one of the largest in Europe, where thousands of people
attended musical festivals organised by the great conductor Sir
London theatres started to give concerts at lunchtime, the only
free time people had, forced to begin work very early in the morning
and leave when the blackout started. Even during those terrible
moments, when London underwent the blitz that lasted from dusk
to dawn, the concerts were never interrupted.
No less popular became the "Sunday Concerts"
at the "Cambridge Theatre" where London fans were able
to listen to the great masters works prodigiously orchestrated.
In this musical parade, the Argentine suite "Escenas
Catamarqueñas" surprised the audience. Austin
said "It mingles gay dance rhythms with some languorous
sentiment delicately orchestrated in five well constructed movements"
This suite for orchestra presented in 1942 by Richard Austin,
between a Beethoven concerto and the best pieces of Sibelius,
was not only a true personal triumph for its author, but a revelation
of the development and possibilities modern music had in the new
continent. It is a work that despite its artistic universality
has deep Argentine roots.
Ricardo stayed working during the whole war in London, where
he had a lot of friends and family.
His house in Montpelier Square, was a veritable museum of art
treasures and musical instruments. One night during the blitz,
a car crashed into him and he was badly hurt, nevertheless he
slowly recovered, and when the war ended he decided to come to
Argentina for the first time since 1937, to visit brother Cecilio,
family and friends, who were eagerly looking forward to the meeting.
But fate decreed that he would never live to see again his two
beloved countries. On September the 8th, 1946, sad
news appeared in The Buenos Aires Herald:
"Argentina yesterday lost a distinguished public figure, and
a man of letters, and a musician of international repute, in Dr. Ricardo
Q. Blamey Lafone, Financial Counsellor to the Argentine Embassy in London,
who was one of the victims in yesterday’s tragic crash of British South
American Airways "Starliner" near Bathurst".(Africa)
see newspaper article
The conductor of the Scottish Orchestra, Mr. Warwick Braithwaite
wrote this posthumous appreciation about Ricardo in "The
"It was not his connection with the Argentine Embassy
which was the most interesting thing about him. Apart from
being a kindly and generous friend, he will be best remembered
by his musical compositions, some of which are of outstanding
The reason why they were not heard more often, was that he
was fastidious to a degree about careful rehearsal. Often, he
would withdraw work from performance on account of what he considered
to be an inadequate rehearsal.
Some of his works repaid all the care which the conductor
could lavish on them, especially "Juvenilia" and "El
After praising Blamey Lafone´s suites "Escenas Catamarqueñas"
and "Andalgalá" the writer ends:
"During the early part of the war Blamey Lafone had begun
a ballet entitled "Masque of Love", two portions of
which were orchestrated. One number from this ballet has been
performed several times by a Scottish orchestra. It proved such
a favourite with the audiences that it achieved the distinction
of repetition at a later concert of the series. The popularity
of these works was due to the unusual and beautiful gift of melody
which Blamey Lafone possessed and, finally, to his sure instinct
for colourful orchestration. Even in its highly temperamental
qualities it gives Spanish America, musically a place by itself".
In Buenos Aires, after the tragic news "El Mundo" remembered
"Blamey Lafone was one of those marvellous English characters
that like Hudson, understood perfectly our spirit, and became
acquainted with it, without loosing its ties to the old country.
Something mysterious lies in this Britannic propensity to comprehend
the American soul. This distinguished figure that just disappeared,
is, before everything, an artist, a man whose universal sense
had allowed him to enter deeply in the sensitive world of our
Mario García Acevedo wrote about him in "La Música
"The sonorous atmosphere in the music of Blamey Lafone,
and his episodic elaboration has the strange attraction of the
rhythms and melodies from our "Vidalas", "Estilos"
and "Cuecas" that appear in Blamey Lafone, with a density
of feelings and sounds of outstanding force."
Mariano Barrenechea in his book, "Argentinos in Londres"
"Ricardo Q. Blamey Lafone is one of our great composers.
Great by the delicacy of his harmonic language and by his fine
feeling of instrumental colour."
Mary Bassi © 2003
Ricardo’s letters to my grandmother Elena Blamey Tomkinson
SPANISH (English translations follow)
11 Montpelier Sq.
1 de Enero 1933
Mi querida prima:
Antes que me olvide, si entre tus músicas tienes danzas
de por allí, te agradecería me copiaras la melodía
solamente, no repetida, sino una vez, o si recuerdas las notas
de alguna me lo apuntas aun cuando sea en forma defectuosa. Yo
Londres S W 7
12 Setiembre 1933
Me alegró mucho saber que mi "Andalgala" te pareció
bien y te conmoviste al oír las viejas melodías
en su nueva transfiguración. Te habrán contado ya,
que se repitió el 18 de marzo y que fue también
transmitida al Canadá.
El próximo mes o en Noviembre se darán "Escenas
Catamarqueñas", es una obra mucho más importante
que "Andalgalá" y me ha dado un trabajo bárbaro,
9 de Julio 1935
Mi querida prima:
Ya habrán recibido los discos que por un olvido de la
casa que los hizo quedaron meses guardados, lo que me causó
gran indignación. Espero que a pesar de lo mal que fueron
ejecutados, te agraden y puedas tener una idea de la obra.
El baile fue magnífico en la corte pero muy cansador,
tanta gente, pero es un espectáculo digno de verse. Lo
que más me agradó fue la procesión y el entusiasmo
del pueblo, me dicen que el Rey volvió tan conmovido que
se encerró y lloró.
Hoy es nueve de Julio y vamos todos a la casa del embajador a
celebrar el día de la patria. Estuvo la Sarmiento en Londres
y fuimos a comer a bordo, fueron muy simpáticos y el embajador
dio un recibo que resultó muy animado.
Espero irme a Buenos Aires el mes que viene, pero no sé
si será posible. Cecilio se ha vuelto mi empresario en
Alemania y parece que se va a dar mi obra según me dice.
Veo que todos están más contentos ya que aparecieron
los nietos y nietas, tanto las cartas de Mamá y de Anita
están llenas de nietos y las tuyas de los tuyos, me alegra
infinitamente que tengan esa satisfacción siquiera, yo
tengo que contentarme con mis hijas "Andalgalá", "Escenas
Catamarqueñas" y ahora la que se espera a fin de
3 Diciembre 1935
Mi querida Elena:
Habrás oído el placer que oírte bailar ha
dado a tanta gente, una dama de copete inglesa que conocí
en Salzburg me dijo: Ah... Doña Elena! I
enjoyed every moment of it! Lo malo es que la pieza es como la
cueca difícil de tocar con la delicadeza y gracia necesaria
y hasta hoy no la he oído como la he concebido - una razón
es la falta de ensayo suficiente. En fin "Escenas catamarqueñas"
ha tenido un franco éxito.
Ahora estoy terminando "Juvenilia" y estoy harto de la
música, es tan largo, dura unos cuarenta minutos y me ha
cansado, dicen que es mucho mejor que "Escenas", pero para
mí, esta última obra siempre será mi favorita,
puse tanto de mí mismo en ella y tanto de los tiempos pasados.
El repicar de las campanas en Pilciao me dio la idea de los primeros
compases del Carnaval y todo ese movimiento respira esa fiesta
en Pilciao, idealizado por supuesto.
16 de julio 1936
Te habrán contado lo bien que bailaste en Bournemouth.
Ricardo Austin dirigió tu número con una delicadeza
admirable, nunca lo tocaron tan bien. Al fin puedo oír
a "Doña Elena baila la cueca" como lo había
imaginado. Austin puso en ese número todo su arte. No sé
si mamá te habrá contado que en setiembre van a
transmitir "Escenas" desde Berlín a Su América,
espero que las podrán oír en Andalgalá, también
se da el 4 de diciembre en Helsingfors en Finlandia, "Juvenilia"
se da en el otoño en Munich y "Andalgalá"
este verano en Inglaterra.
3 de enero 1937
Te complacerá saber que "Juvenilia" tuvo mucho
éxito y se repite el domingo 10 del corriente. Imagínate
el mes pasado se tocaron mis tres obras: "Escenas" en Helsingfors,
"Juvenilia" en Munich y "Andalgalá" en Bournemouth.
Deseo mucho irme a Buenos Aires en Agosto, veremos si será
posible. Probablemente en ese caso darán alguna de mis
obras en Buenos Aires.
3 de Julio 1937
Mi querida prima:
Dicen que se dará "Juvenilia" en el Colón,
y posiblemente sea así aunque no tengo la seguridad de
que mi obra interese mayormente a las personas que deciden esas
cosas en Bs. As. Se transmitió de Berlín a Sud América
el 20 de Junio, pero no supe la hora sino el martes siguiente,
así que no pude mandar el cable que tuve preparado. No
tenía muchas ganas que se conociera allí hasta la
función del Colón. Nadie debe haber escuchado pues
no he tenido cartas al respecto.
Te puedes imaginar cómo hemos estado con la coronación.
Tanta gente y tantas fiestas. En camino al Continente le escribí
una larga carta a Mamá sobre todo eso. Como no encontré
un buzón la di a uno de los oficiales para poner en el
correo. Espero que llegó. Le envié algunas revistas
sobre la Coronación que supongo habrás visto tú
Bueno querida prima, es sábado a la tarde y quiero irme
a caminar un poco al parque que queda casi enfrente pues hace
un calor como el de Buenos Aires en Enero y me sofoco.
Con cariños para todos y esperando tener noticias tuyas
pronto, se despide tu primo que te quiere y te recuerda afectuosamente
(Born in 1865, my grandmother died in Andalgalá in
1938. Richard’s music is totally forgotten in England and in Argentina)
Mary Bassi 2002
Mary Bassi © 2003
Ricardo’s letters to my grandmother Elena Blamey Tomkinson
English translations by Mary Bassi:-
My dear cousin:
Before I forget, if among your sheet music you have some popular
dances, I would appreciate it if you could copy the melody only,
not repeated, just once, or if you remember the notes of any other
of them, please transcribe them however roughly, I’ll be able
to make use of them.
I’m very glad to know that you enjoyed my "Andalgala"
and were touched when you heard the old melodies in their new
transfiguration. They must have told you already that it was repeated
on March 18 and was also broadcast to Canada.
In October or November they will play "Escenas Catamarqueñas".
This composition is much more important than "Andalgala"
and has given me a lot of work.
July 9, 1935
My dear cousin:
By now you must have received the records which, by an oversight
of the company that produced them, were shelved for months, which
caused me great indignation. I hope that in spite of the poor
rendering of the music, you will like them and can have an idea
of the work.
The ball at the court was magnificent but very tiring, with so
many people, but it was an spectacle worth seeing. What I liked
best was the procession and the people’s enthusiasm; they told
me the King returned so very touched that he shut himself in and
Today is the 9th of July so we shall all be going
to the ambassador’s house to celebrate (Independence day).
The "Sarmiento" frigate visited London and we
enjoyed going on board to have dinner, it was a lively reception
I hope to be going to Buenos Aires next month but don’t know
if it will be possible. Cecilio has become my manager in Germany
and it seems my work will be performed there, so he tells me.
I notice everybody much happier in the family with all the new
grandchildren; both mother and Anita’s letters are full of details
of their grandchildren and your letters about your own. ... I
am extremely glad you have that satisfaction, I have to be content
with my children "Andalgala", "Escenas
Catamarqueñas" and towards year’s end with "Juvenilia".
December 3, 1935
My dear Elena:
You must have heard about the pleasure that "hearing"
your dance has produced in many people. A sophisticated English
lady I met in Salzburg said to me: "Ah…Doña Elena!
I enjoyed every moment of it!" The problem with this
piece is that like the "cueca" (popular dance),
it is very difficult to play with the necessary delicacy and charm,
I have not heard it yet as I imagined it should be, one reason
being the lack of enough rehearsals. Nevertheless "Escenas
Catamarqueñas" has been a huge success.
I am now concluding "Juvenilia" and I am fed up with
the music, it is so long, about forty minutes, and I am tired
of it. They say it is much better than "Escenas" but
for me this latter one will always be my favourite, has so much
of myself, and so much of days gone by. The merry pealing of the
bells in Pilciao gave me the idea of the first bars in "Domingo
de Carnaval" and all that movement breathes those Sunday’s
festivities in the village, of course in an idealised way.
July 16, 1936
You must have been told how well you danced in Bournemouth. Richard
Austin concentrated all his art into it and directed your piece
with admirable delicacy, it had never been so well orchestrated.
At last I can listen to "Doña Elena baila la cueca"
just as imagined it.
I don’t know if mother told you that in September they are going
to broadcast "Scenas" from Berlin to South America,
I hope you will be able to hear them in Andalgala, they will also
be played during December in Helsingfors, Finland. "Juvenilia"
will be played in autumn in Munich, "Andalgala" and
this summer in England.
July 3, 1937
My dear cousin:
They say "Juvenilia" will be performed at the "Colon
Theatre". That might be possible, although I am not sure
if those who decide these matters in Bs. Aires will take much
interest in my work.
It was broadcast from Berlin to South America on June 20, but
as I didn’t know the time until the following Tuesday, I could
not send the cable I had prepared.
You can imagine how the coronation impressed us. Such a lot of
people and so many parties. In my way to the Continent I wrote
mother a long letter about it. As I didn’t find a post box I gave
it to one of the officers to post it in Bs. Aires, I do hope it
arrived. I sent her some magazines about the coronation which
I suppose you probably have seen too.
Well dear cousin, it is Saturday afternoon and want to go for
a walk in the park across the road as it is hot stifling as in
Bs. Aires in January.
Give my love to everybody and hoping to hear from you soon, I
remain your cousin who loves you and remembers you affectionately.
(Born in 1865, my grandmother Elena died in Andalgalá
in 1938. Richard’s music is totally forgotten in England and in
Mary Bassi 2002
This letters has been originally written in Spanish. It is impossible
to know if this words correspond to his way of writing in English.
Mary Bassi © 2003