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