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