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.