Mexico's music vibrantly blends the sounds, rhythms, and spirit of the cultures that have converged there since ancient times, combining Native elements with Spanish-colonial, Caribbean, African, and North-American sources.
In the Class Notes™ video Mexican Music: Celebration, Rhythm, and History we meet Mexican composer Julio Morales, who gives us a taste of the music from the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, where he was born in Tampico, and Veracruz, where he currently lives.
The video touches on the three main instruments of his home state — the jarana, violin, and huapanguera — as well as others that are uniquely Mexican. Julio also traces some of the history and personality of both regions, including its folk music and two composers who helped define the regions' musical character.
As more and more children of Mexican heritage attend U.S. schools, the video and its curriculum offers teachers a way to introduce students to Mexico's rich musical life and history.
¡Cantaré! is a unique program from the Minneapolis-based choral music organization VocalEssence designed to bring the talents of composers from Mexico directly into Minnesota classrooms. Julio Morales's appearance in this Class Notes video was made possible through the generous cooperation of ¡Cantare! and VocalEssence. For more information about the program, go here.
For a playlist focused on important Mexican composers, visit our Audio Backpack.
To view more Class Notes™ videos, go here.
Guest blog post by Rita Pomade
Music is the universal language that crosses all barriers and penetrates the heart. There was no composer who understood the emotional draw of music better than Agustín Lara, and no song writer who has captured better the soul of the Mexican people. Agustín Lara's career spanned nearly 70 years. In that time, he penned over 600 compositions and gained himself an international reputation as one of Mexico's most prolific and dearly loved musicians. The skinny, unattractive scar-faced man, affectionately known to his fans as "Flaco de Oro", had women swooning at his feet and national leaders offering him accolades only reserved for " living national treasures". Such was the power of this musician-poet who wrote such timeless, moving compositions as "Granada" and "Veracruz", the second national anthem of that lovely port city.
Lara was born in Mexico City on October 30, 1897 though he claimed Veracruz as his birthplace. His father, a doctor, was a capable piano player who introduced his son to the instrument at an early age. The relationship between father and son did not go well, and the young Agustín was sent to live with his Aunt Refugio.
Refugio recognized the boy's special talent and enrolled him in the Fournier school where he learned not only piano but also to speak French fluently. While at Refugio's, Lara discovered poetry through an old gardener who introduced him to the Mexican romantic poets of the 19th century, among them Najera, Nervo, Acuña and Manuel M. Flores. Though he rebelled against the music school, preferring to do it his way, the experiences gained while living with his aunt were to serve him for a lifetime.
When he was 13 years old, a friend got him his first "gig" at a local brothel. His shocked and autocratic father interrupted his career and sent him to military school, but the rebellious young man was not to be deterred from his calling. In no time, he was back in Mexico City doing what he loved.
The bohemian lifestyle suited his temperament. However, when Plutarco Elias Calles came into office and ordered the closing of Mexico's houses of ill repute, the romantic and restless young man had to look elsewhere to broaden his artistic horizons. Fortunately, while working the Mexico City establishments, he made friends with other musicians, including Rodolfo Rangel, who helped him expand his repertoire to include a wide range of musical styles.
He gradually began writing his own compositions, mostly melancholy love songs, which were to be identified with him for the rest of his life. He borrowed from and excelled in a variety of styles, from fox trot, tango, and waltz to blues, early jazz, ranchera and bolero. He brought a cosmopolitan flair to his music which blended a number of the different musical influences. In 1928 his first composition "Impossible" was recorded. In the fall of that year, a New York company hired the Ascencio Trio to sing another of his compositions, "Clavelito".
Soon after, he went on a national tour with singers Juan Aruizu and Ana María Fernández. That tour took him to Veracruz, where he discovered the city's walkways, beaches, restaurants, cafes and clubs. It was the beginning of a life-long enchantment with the port. The people of Veracruz were equally enchanted with him. In 1929 he began performing on "La Hora Intima", a radio show out of Mexico City, which earned him a dedicated national following. Between 1930 and 1939, while doing his radio show, he wrote most of his legendary songs.
He became famous for his "boleros" (romantic ballads), which had their roots in Cuba in the 1800s, and the Cubans adopted him as one of their own. In 1932, while performing in Cuba, he became ill. In need of rest, he returned to Veracruz to a cheering crowd. The people opened their hearts to him, and their generosity along with the beauty of the port led him to write his unforgettable "Veracruz".
During his convalescence, he visited Tlacotalpan on the banks of the Papolapan River, just south of the port of Veracruz. He fell in love with the spot, and from then on declared it was the home of his birth. Also, during this period, he met María Antonia Peregrino de Chazaro, better known as Toña la Negra, who was to become one of the major interpreters of his music.
In the 1940s, Mexican night life was thriving in the night clubs and dance halls, and everywhere, the sensuous and romantic music of Agustín Lara could be heard. 1943 saw the debut of his own orchestra, "Orquestra de Soloistas de Agustín Lara".
In spite of his flourishing career, Lara found time to look into Mexico's rapidly growing film industry. From its earliest days, he became a major contributor. His introduction to this medium began in 1931 with his compositions for "Santa", one of Mexico's first films to use sound.
"Santa" was in the "caberetera" genre, which flourished in the late 40s and early 50s and lent itself to the lyrics and music of Agustín Lara. The "caberetera" type of plot usually dealt with a young woman's fall from grace due to lack of opportunity and hardship in the big city and culminated with her demise. These sad, bitter-sweet stories blended with Lara's style and added to his growing fame.
In 1946 he married Maria Felix. Felix said of him that although he was not a handsome man, she was totally in love with him. She told her sister his music entranced her. During their one-year marriage, he composed some of his most beautiful songs, most of them inspired by her - "El Chotiz Madrid", "Humo en los Ojos" and "Maria Bonita" - which throughout her life was performed every time she walked into her favorite restaurant in Paris.
The marriage ended due to Lara's excessive jealousy. There is even a rumor he tried to shoot her. But she claimed she never stopped loving him though she went on to marry several times again. He said he loved her throughout his life.
The 50s saw Mexico's golden age of films give way to more commercial movies, but Lara's contributions continued. His music had touched a nerve in the movie-going public. Not only did he contribute songs, but he performed in several of the productions including one on his own life produced in 1959 titled La Vida de Agustín Lara. His association with Mexican film making would last a lifetime.
Radio and film popularized his music, and he became increasingly well-known throughout the Spanish speaking world. During the 1950s, he cemented his international star status by touring Europe to wide acclaim.
In 1954 an association of Spanish businessmen sent Lara to Spain, which was to be for him an unforgettable trip. The Spaniards showered him with their appreciation of his music. He was taken to Granada, a city he had never visited but had written a song about - a song that was to become the second most performed work in the world. When he finally saw it, he said that everything he wrote about it was true.
On his return from Spain, the mayor of Veracruz gave him the keys to the city and a house ( la casita blanca) near the beach. The house is now a museum and well worth a visit. A Bechstein piano and a white satin settee flanked by a silver champagne bucket reveal Lara's elegant lifestyle though he was most at home in bars and brothels. Displayed throughout the house are wall after wall of photographs that record his colorful and well-lived life among the rich and famous and beautiful. A desk in the bedroom contains eighteen leather-bound books of news clippings. Lara's music pours from the wall speakers, and his tapes and books can be purchased on the spot.
In 1963 he married his fourth wife, singer Rocio Duran, but his health began to deteriorate, and in 1970 he died of a heart attack. He was 73 years old. At his funeral, thousands of his fans walked through the streets of Mexico City in homage. A minute of silence was observed in many places throughout the nation. In the Teatro Blanquita in Mexico City, Toña la Negra sang a chilling rendition of one of Lara's most powerful songs, "Noche de ronda" in tribute.
Agustín Lara had three passions - women, music, and the state of Veracruz. He gave himself fully to all three. He lived high and lavishly, yet managed to produce an extraordinary number of memorable songs. Artists as diverse as Xavier Cugat, Desi Arnaz, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby have recorded his work. On the centenary of his birth in 1997, Placido Domingo recorded a full album of his compositions entitled "Por Amor"
His lyrics touch the heart, and his music touches the soul. The timeless quality of his work is re-discovered with each succeeding generation, ensuring that his music will continue to be recorded and re-issued for many years to come.
Guest post by Las Vegas Philharmonic Music Director, Donato Cabrera.
As I prepare to speak at the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras in Baltimore, I have been contemplating the topic for which I've been asked to speak - connecting underrepresented communities to orchestras through the humanities. It is of particular importance to the Las Vegas Philharmonic, especially if we are wanting to be known as, "Your Symphony Orchestra," that we begin reaching out to the communities that make up a very large portion of our community, but are rarely found in the concert hall. As with the common observation that the concert hall is filled with an audience of ever increasing age, I find myself frequently questioning whether we could do a better job at being more inclusive.
Music Unwound, a national consortium of orchestras, music festivals, and institutions of higher education has dynamically linked orchestras to African-American, Native-American, and Mexican-American communities and has been the recipient of over $1 million dollars by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Music Unwound's thematic, multi-media programs (which are also available to orchestras outside the consortium) match orchestras with high schools, universities, and museums. The themes include immigration, race, and the never-ending quest for American identity. The Las Vegas Philharmonic will proudly join this consortium beginning in the 2017-18 season and will begin receiving a rather substantial grant from the NEH, the first performing arts organization in Nevada to do so. It is a great honor for the LVP to be a recipient of this grant and join this national consortium, but it is also a great responsibility.
During my tenure as the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, I have witnessed two events, the Día de Los Muertos and the Lunar New Year Concerts, become enormously successful. The very acknowledgement that both the Asian-American and Latino-American communities have a deserved place in the concert hall has been a notable achievement, but these concerts have grown to be far more impactful than just sold-out concerts! Both communities take an active role in producing the concerts because it's not just a concert created for them, but by them. Within the span of a decade two very substantial communities now have a visceral and real connection to an orchestra and the music it performs.
During the 2017-18 season the Las Vegas Philharmonic will perform a concert titled, Copland in Mexico. Like so many creative artists in the thirties and forties -- decades of Depression and world war -- Copland became a populist, intent upon reaching the largest possible audience, and committed to social and political change. It was for this “new audience” that he composed such vibrant, tuneful scores as Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and Appalachian Spring. In Copland’s case, the search for a new audience was specifically inspired by a trip to Mexico in 1932. From this visit, El Salon Mexico, was conceived and will be performed on this program. We will use Copland’s discovery of Mexico as a starting point for discovering the master Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and will perform his symphonic masterpiece, Sensemaya, as well as screen the seminal film, Redes, with the Las Vegas Philharmonic performing Revueltas's beautiful score. There will also be ancillary events before and after the concert as well as seminars at UNLV and the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, both of which have a substantial Hispanic student population.
It is worth noting that Mexico has a much longer and storied connection to classical music than any other country in the Americas. The first opera composed by a Mexican-born composer was performed in Mexico City in 1711 and there were prominent classical music composers as far back as the 16th Century. A rich tradition worth celebrating, indeed!
An interesting facet of music is the way in which composers represent visual imagery through sound. Often, composers are inspired by landscapes, expansive vistas, and the majesty that is nature. From Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Symphony No. 6) to Alan Hovhaness' Symphony No. 60 "To the Appalachian Mountains", composers utilize the world around them as inspiration. This is certainly true of Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and two of his symphonic poems, Cuauhnáhuac and Janitzio.
Cuauhnáhuac was written in July of 1931 when Revueltas was staying in Cuernavaca. Originally, Revueltas wrote the piece for string orchestra, but then immediately revised it for full orchestra twice, eventually settling on the third edition in December of 1932. The premiere of the final version was given by the Orquesta Sinfónica de México on June 2nd, 1933 with Revueltas conducting the orchestra. The orchestra size for Cuauhnáhuac was expanded from the traditional orchestra of pairs of winds and brass. Revueltas wrote his work for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English Horn, E-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, and strings.
The term "Cuauhnáhuac" is a Nahuatl word which means "near the forest" and was the name given by the Tlalhuicas (a people ethnically related to Aztec people) to the capital of their province of Tlahuican. When the Spanish invaded in the 16th century, the name was deformed into "Cuernavaca", meaning "cow horn." It was in Cuernavaca that Hernán Cortés, the commander of the Spanish conquistadores, deposed Moctezuma II and built a large stone fortress in the main square to make the city the administrative seat for his estate, the Marquisate of the Valley of Oaxaca. Cuernavaca was described by many 19th and 20th century travelers as a "land of eternal spring" or "paradise."
Cuauhnáhuac uses chromatic motion and dissonance to evoke a primitive sound, much in the way Stravinsky used those techniques in Rite of Spring for the same reasons. Even though there are three distinct sections to the work, Cuauhnáhuac relies on constant change to convey the city and its ancient peoples.
When Cuauhnáhuac was first premiered, it received a lukewarm reception. The trend in Mexican music criticism was one of nationalism--meaning using musical ideas the related to popular music of Mexico at the time--and not one of looking back to pre-Colombian or pre-Colonial music. Revueltas' work was seen as a parody on Indigenous music, not an exact celebration of it. Many critics and musicians agree that Cuauhnáhuac marks a turn in Revueltas' style; a turn that would be associated with Revueltas' mature, personal style.
You can listen to Cuauhnáhuac below. For part 2 of this post, click here.
Post written by Dr. Kevin Eberle
Aktories , Susana G ., and Robert Kolb Neuhaus. 1996. "The Unknown Revueltas". Liner booklet to Sensemayá: The Unknown Revueltas. CD recording, Dorian DOR-
90244. Troy, NY: Dorian Recordings, 1–5 (English) and 12–18 (Spanish).
Dean, Jack Lee. 1992. "Silvestre Revueltas: A Discussion of the Background and Influences Affecting His Compositional Style". DMA diss. Austin: The University of
Texas at Austin.
Haskett, Robert Stephen. 2005. Visions of Paradise: Primordial Titles and Mesoamerican History in Cuernavaca. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press
Mayer-Serra, Otto. 1941. "Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico". The Musical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (April): 123–45.
Slonimsky, Nicolas. 1945. Music in Latin America. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.
In 1937, a year after the film Redes was released, Aaron Copland wrote a review of sorts which detailed his feelings about Mexican music and composers Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. The review appears reprinted below.
By AARON COPLAND
Up to a few years ago our knowledge of Mexican music was confined purely to popular folk music. It is only in the past three or four years that the public has become in any way conscious of the fact that there is a new musical movement in Mexico comparable in importance to the movement in painting. This new movement is due principally to the efforts of two composers, Carlos Chavez and Sylvestre Revueltas. Both Chavez and Revueltas are friends of the painters Rivera and Orozco. They understand that in order to created a purely indigenous movement in music they must find a musical background in their own country, just as the painters have found their roots in the Mexican landscape. In a sense, this is easier for Mexicans than for artists in our own country, because Mexico possesses a very strong folk art derived from its own Indian civilization, which provides the artist with a rich source material.
Chavez is a name known to most music lovers -- thanks to his recent conductorship of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra. Revueltas deserves to be equally well known, because he has already produced music which makes him a figure of importance in the general scheme of the modern musical movement. In certain respects Revueltas is even more obviously the Mexican artist in his music than Chavez. He draws more directly on actual tunes that originated from popular Mexican music, and he composes organically tunes which are almost indistinguishable from the original folk material itself.
Revueltas is the type of inspired composer in the sense that Schubert was the inspired composer. That is to say, his music is a spontaneous outpouring, a strong expression of his inner emotions. There is nothing premeditated or unspontaneous about him. When seized with the creative urge, he has been known to spend days on end without food or sleep until the piece was finished. He writes his music at a table in the manner of the older musicians, and quite unlike the musical procedure of the modern composer, who, because he uses complex harmonies and rhythms, is as a rule forced to seek the help of the piano. I mention this as an instance of Revueltas's extraordinary musicality and naturalness.
His music is above all vibrant and colorful. It is characteristic of Revueltas that he does not write symphonies and sonatas so much as vivid tone pictures. His orchestral works are entitled "Street Corners," "Windows," "Maguey Plants," "Roads" -- suggestive titles which leave much to the imagination of the listener. One of his more recent orchestral works; which was privately recorded in Mexico, is called "The Frog Going Places." Many of these works leave one with an impression similar to that one receives from the bustling life of the typical Mexican fiesta. Revueltas takes his simple tunes (Mexican folk melodies are not distinguished by any great richness of variety) and uses them with all the elaborate paraphernalia available to the composer who is thoroughly aware of the modern movement in music.
Revueltas is a progressive soul in every sense of the word. A first hearing of his music is almost certain to bring to mind the image of Stravinsky or Bela Bartok, but a more intimate knowledge of the score makes more evident the special personality of the composer. Speaking broadly, I should say that Revueltas's music has been more quickly appreciated in Mexico than that of Chavez. This may be due to the fact that its content is less intellectual and therefore can be more easily understood. The music of Chavez is strong, stark and lacking in any exterior colorfulness; Revueltas's music, by comparison, is derived from the more usual everyday side of Mexican life. It is often highly spiced, like Mexican food itself. It is full of whims and sudden quirks of fancy and leaves one with a sense of the abundance and vitality of life.
The score that Revueltas has written for "The Wave," the Mexican film "Redes," now at the Filmarte, was composed in 1935 and has many of the qualities characteristic of Revueltas's art.
The need for musical accompaniments by serious composers is gradually becoming evident even to Hollywood. The Mexican Government, choosing Revueltas to supply the music for "The Wave," is very much like the U.S.S.R. asking Shostakovich to supply sound for its best pictures. It is questionable whether the real future of either of these men lies in the field of concert music.
Fortunately, in the case of the Mexican composer, we do not have to wait for the concert world to reveal him to us. Any one who is interested in the development of music in the Western Hemisphere is now able to hear the music that Revueltas has written for Paul Strand's memorable film about Mexico.
Original article appeared in the New York Times, May 9, 1937 by Aaron Copland
Blog post edited by Dr. Kevin Eberle
Copyright New York Times, 1999
Much like the symphonic portrayal of Cuauhnáhuac, Janitzio is Silvestre Revueltas' musical poem for a Mexican vista. Revueltas composed Janitzio in 1933 and set about revising it, as he did most of his works, in 1936. The work is for a slightly altered orchestra consisting of piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, E-flat clarinet, B-flat clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, percussion, and strings. Interestingly, the original version (1933) had two horns instead of four, one trombone instead of two, and no violas in the string section.
Janitzio depicts Isla de Janitzio, the main island of Lake Patzcuaro, in Michoacan. Janitzio can only be reached by boat between 7:30AM and 6:00PM, leaving Patzcuaro's embarcadero. The image on the reverse side of the 50 peso banknote is an image of butterfly fishermen, a famous site in Janitzio. These butterfly fishermen are famous for lowering their butterfly-shaped nets to catch pescado blanco, the famous (and beloved) local cuisine. Another landmark of this island is a 40-meter statue of Jose Maria Morelos, an important figure in Mexico's independence, on the highest point on the island. Visitors can climb to the top of the statues via an internal staircase. The interior walls of the status depict Morelos' life through murals by Ramon Alba de la Canal and other great Mexican muralists.
Revueltas' musical postcard of the island includes this example of Revueltas' self-deprecating sarcasm:
Janitzio is a fishermen's [small] island in Lake Patzcuaro. Lake Patzcuaro stinks [is filthy]. Romantic [and sentimental] travelers have embellished it with verses and music of the picture-postcard type. Not to be outdone, I too add my grain of sand [in an infinite yearning for glory and renown]. Posterity will undoubtedly reward my contributions to tourism.
The piece is in three parts--a structure Revueltas favored in all his orchestral works. The first section is a lively opening which uses a native-sounding melody, perhaps modelled on a Purepecha song called "Le Reina de los Huajiniguiles" ("The Queen of the Huajiniguiles"). You can nearly imagine yourself on the Isla de Janitzio listening to the street bands and watching life hustle and bustle by. This technique, which Revueltas employed often (in Homenaje a Federico Garica Lorca, Sensemaya, and others) and Aaron Copland also employed in his El Salon Mexico, gave orchestral music by Revueltas a populist spin, truly representing more than a cliche.
The middle section is slower and simpler in its construction, following a waltz-like, three-beat pattern. The lyrical melody is presented by the clarinet and bassoon over a bass accompaniment. Toward the end of the last section, Revueltas combines two styles creating a kind of sonic distortion. He uses a waltz in A Major to signify 19th century salon music, which is combined with a brass line of B-flat Major (only one half step away!) arpeggios. The ending sounds surreal and cacophonous, which may be a depiction of the bustling city life of Janitzio itself.
With its breathtaking imagery and populist tilt, it is no wonder that Janitzio was received very well in Mexico. Mexican critic Salomon Kahan wrote in El Universal grafico in 1933:
But the hero of the day was...Silvestre Revueltas...his inspired composition "Janitzio," which together with "Cuauhnahuac" and "Colorines," should be a reason for him to be proud, we cannot but express our enthusiasm. Besides its sheer aesthetic and aural beauty, "Janitzio" can very well stand as the expression of the most contrasting states that define the Mexican psyche: the romantic and sweet daydreaming, interrupted by the harsh and bitter reality; the joy that is, above all, abandon and a desire to forget, and the sad awakening. Perfect chord and no less perfect dissonance.
Critics and audiences alike fawned over the way in which Revueltas depicted daily life in Mexico. By the time of Janitzio, he had developed a style that took various, often disparate elements of the Mexican cultural soundscape and made them collide in audible violence. Revueltas combined the popular, modern, urban, peasant, Indian, military, market, and dance aspects of daily life which acknowledging the societal and cultural conflicts through often crunchy dissonance.
Blog post by Dr. Kevin Eberle
Janitzio on Wikipedia
Salomon Kahan, El Universal grafico, 1933
Post written by Dr. Kevin Eberle
Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca
Mansfield, Joseph. "Baroque Organs of Oaxaca." Sacred Music. Vol. 133, No. 3, p. 14-19.
Phil Tugga: Music Through the Curriculum (Aztec Instruments)
The long pipes for the organs were made in Mexico City and spread across the territory. The rest of the components of the organs--keyboards, boxes, bellows, etc--were generally made in the local provence. As colonial influence wained, particularly in areas like Oaxaca, organs fell in to disrepair. Thanks to conservation efforts, 40% of Mexico's total Baroque organs exist in Oaxaca.
Unlike modern organs or organs which have been restored in modern cathedrals, many of the organs of Mexico remain with the mechanisms with which they were built in the Baroque era. The sound is less biting than a modern, European organ and it is lighter overall, mainly on account of the size of the organs. Those clergy and composers who wrote sacred music (cantatas, motets, etc) utilized the organ in a different way then their European counterparts, though the style is still reminiscent of the European Baroque. Take a listen to Motete Quicumque Voluerit by Francisco López Capillas (1614-1674) to hear the delicacy of Baroque Mexican organs.
If you compare the recording of Bach's Fugue in G Minor and the recording of Aztec music, how do you think the native people reacted to organs?
By all accounts, European music took hold in Mexico after the Spanish conquest, most likely by force as the Hispanic colonies expanded their reach. Church organs were in great demand and soon organ workshops began to spring up around "New Spain" led by the Spanish using indigenous labor.
When all of these instruments were put together, a pre-Hispanic performance might have sounded something like this...
When you think about the Baroque period of music, what comes to mind? Probably these guys...
These men--Händel, Bach, and Vivaldi--are three prominent examples of the Baroque tradition in Europe. Since the Baroque period encompasses the point of time prior to the invention of the piano, the keyboard music these men published was for either organ or harpsichord. You may be familiar with this sound...
How did this sound cross the Atlantic Ocean and make its way to Mexico? Why did the Spanish import the organ of all instruments to Mexico? The history of Mexican organ music is quite fascinating, as is the preservation of that tradition.
Prior to the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish in 1521, pre-Hispanic music was performed mostly on wind instruments made of clay and hardened percussion instruments such as clay flutes, ocarinas, drums, and conch-shell trumpets used in religious rituals.
Our Music Unwound festival focuses on Aaron Copland's experiences in Mexico and how that shaped various pieces such as El Salon Mexico. But our other featured composer, Silvestre Revueltas, spent time in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century. Did that experience shape Revueltas' compositional style much like Copland's time in Mexico?
In January of 1919, Silvestre Revueltas and his younger brother, the painter Fermín, found themselves in Chicago, Illinois, just after the older Revueltas finished high school in Austin, Texas. When in Chicago, Silvestre was accepted to the Chicago Musical College and Fermín to the Art Institute of Chicago. During this time in Chicago, the second group of early compositions from Revuletas' output originates. These pieces are Andante, Moderato Opus 4, Solitude, and Valsette dedicated to Jule Klaracy. The Jule Klaracy to whom the Valsette is dedicated is the same woman Silvestre married on his 20th birthday, December 31st, 1919. It was also in 1920s Chicago that the Revueltas brothers developed their affinity to alcohol (despite the Prohibition) and leftist political ideals.
In addition to composing a giving recitals in Mexico (which he did in 1920 and 1921), Silvestre Revueltas was also an active union musician in cinemas which maintained pit orchestras for silent films. His first daughter, Carmen, was born in April of 1922. It was following the birth of his daughter and the settling of the Revueltas family in Chicago that his compositions began to achieve an air of sophistication. According to Roberto Kolb Neuhaus, a leading Mexican scholar of Revueltas, the composer's style became freer and more direct, revealing a French influence in both poetry and music
During this period, Revueltas met influential Mexican composer Carlos Chávez who himself had recently returned from New York. Chávez was responsible for bringing the music of Stravinsky, Debussy, Falla, Schoenberg, Poulenc, and Auric to Mexico City. Revueltas, however, never got to perform in Chávez's conciertos de nueva música because he needed to return home to Chicago and to his theatre job. Chávez certainly knew of Revueltas' playing, stating in a 1976 interview how impressed he was in 1924 with Revueltas' interpretation of Handel and Beethoven sonatas, as well as his performance of Chávez's own Sonatina for Violin and Piano.
Silvestre Revueltas was not truly settled when he returned to Chicago (to that "gray and white" cityscape, as he wrote to Chávez). He wrote to Chávez in 1925 that he desperately missed that "hellish Mexico." He continued, "Even if this place is worthless, you have to work for lack of better things to do." There was a cloud over Revueltas as movie theatre pit orchestras closed around the country, encroaching on Chicago. Technologies in sound recording and production meant these live musicians were being replaced as early as 1925. In fact, in March of 1925, Revueltas left Chicago for Mexico City...alone.
Although Revueltas returned to Mexico City and participated in several orchestras (being appointed concertmaster of an operatic troupe in Mérida in July of 1925), he kept his Union membership current in Chicago--just in case. Revueltas toured Mexico performing and eventually founded a trio with soprano Lupe Medina de Ortega and pianist Francisco Agea which toured Mexico with its final stop in San Antonio, TX. Revueltas would stay in San Antonio, working steadily as a violinist, until December of 1927. During his residency in San Antonio, Revueltas attempted to form a symphony orchestra. He informed him family that, if the orchestra failed, to either St. Louis or Chicago. In the midst of all of this, his wife Jule had filed for divorce, claiming desertion of the part of her husband.
After movie theatre work (and the fledgling symphony) failed in San Antonio and Mobile, Alabama, Revueltas returned to Mexico in 1929 as the associate conductor of Chávez's newly formed Orquesta Sinfónica Mexicana. This, coupled with his appointment as violin faculty and conductor of the orchestra at the National Conversatory, skyrocketed Revueltas in to a new era of growth and recognition.
Blog post edited by Kevin Eberle.
Original source document: Parker, Robert. "Revueltas, The Chicago Years." Latin American Music Review, 25 (2): Fall/Winter, 2004.