The Learning curve

Julio Nakpil, composer and Katipunero

As America was celebrating the 4th of July, I as a temporary visitor was recalling with much pride the recent Philippine Independence Day events of which I was happy to be a part, thanks to the Ayala Museum’s well-planned June-July calendar. Consider that my own private celebration.

When the invitation came up for “Revolutionary,” an exhibit, a lecture, and a concert to honor Julio Nakpil’s sesquicentennial birth anniversary, it also included a message to invite all and sundry. Maria “Bobbi” Nakpil Santos-Viola, president of the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista Foundation Inc., was apprehensive that the concert and world premiere—in this century, it was emphasized—of her maternal grandfather’s extant compositions would not be of interest to today’s audience. But the turnout was SRO.


How I wished it played to an even larger audience, because we were witnessing history through the music of the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Prof. Antonio Molina, with the special participation of pianist Raul Sunico and another Nakpil descendant, soprano Anya Tapales, a young teen showing much promise.

The concert had to open with Nakpil’s 1896 composition “Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan,” commissioned by Andres Bonifacio himself and meant to be our national anthem. (After Emilio Aguinaldo was proclaimed Philippine president in 1898, Julian Felipe’s “Lupang Hinirang” was selected.) The concert ended with “Salve Patria,” a 1903 rearrangement of the would-be anthem “Marangal” performed on Dec. 30, 1904, at Teatro Zorilla for the unveiling of the first Rizal monument.


The other 14 compositions spoke of the social temperament and cultural influences in an era long past—a Boston waltz, polkas, habaneras, a mazurka de sala, marchas funembre. Nakpil’s first composition was a polka in 1888, “Cefiro.”

In the light of the popular historical film “Heneral Luna,” which dramatically portrayed Antonio Luna’s assassination at the Cabanatuan Plaza, the funeral march “Kabanatuan” carries special relevance. This was composed for piano and orchestra for the commemoration of Luna’s death.

Nakpil’s music was informed by the struggle for freedom because he joined forces with Bonifacio and served as high president of the council in the north of Manila, fighting with the other Katipuneros and procuring arms and ammunition for the revolutionary army. It is said that his music and the tenets of the Revolution influenced one and the other.

At a preconcert forum earlier in the afternoon, Nakpil’s musical legacy was discussed by Felipe de Leon Jr., former chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Ma. Alexandra Iñigo Chua of the UST Conservatory of Music. It was a fitting prelude to listening to Nakpil’s music, but it left the audience wondering: If Nakpil was indeed a significant musician, why is he hardly known and unheralded? De Leon put it bluntly: “…[B]ecause he did not graduate from any conservatory of music.” Add to that our lamentable tendency to ignore and downgrade what is worthy of honor in our midst.

Nakpil did not need formal musical studies to compose. Largely self-educated, he only had two years of formal education but read widely. He pursued his musical interest on his own after a few lessons in piano and violin. He became a popular pianist invited to play at Malacañang socials for P1 an hour. When ill health left him unable to continue playing, he turned to composing.

His grandchildren, like Ma. Cecilia “Boching” Tapales Santiago, remember him as a quiet man, always busy with his books, but could be pestered to give his grandchildren a bit of money for the movies. Gemma Cruz Araneta recalls with pride how the band of the City of Manila always played “Marangal na Dalit” at city commemorations. Her mother, journalist Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, once moved the composer to tears when she presented him with a recording of his music.

Nakpil married Bonifacio’s widow, Gregoria de Jesus. The house where they lived with their six children in Quiapo, Manila, is now preserved as the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, a museum.


Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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