During the years of the 1910’s through 1920, the Mexican Revolution was taking place, in response to political hardships focusing mostly on those of Porfirio Diaz and his abuse of power to the common folk of Mexico. The first challenge to Diaz’s reign was that of Francisco Madero, who won the presidency in the election of 1911- 1913, where he was forced to resign and later assassinated. This was just the beginning of a revolving door of figures to be in Mexico’s presidency. It was not until 1920 when the government disarray began to settle. With the appointment of Jose Vasconcelos as Secretary of public education, under President Obregon, Vasconcelos, was intent on artistic development to show Mexico’s history during the revolution.
A Mexican composer who not only lived in, but was also well aware of the Revolution going on at the time in Mexico was Carlos Chavez. A prominent composer and conductor Chavez was extremely crucial to music in Mexico After the revolution. Chavez was the self- proclaimed “first” composer to use Mexican politics to set the tone of his new nationalistic composition. This new approach led Chavez to tour around the world to expose him to new composition styles. He met Aaron Copland on one of his travels to New York during 1926-1928. It was this relationship that exposed Copland to more Mexican and South American folk musical styles.
It is these turn of events that could lead us to believe, would this composers hold the same prominence they have today without these backgrounds. It can be heard in Copland’s El Salon Mexico that Mexican stylings are used frequently with some jazz elements that Copland is known for using often as well. Although, much different for his “American” works, many similarities can be drawn, including his brass fanfares to his syncopated melodies. If Copland never visited Mexico would his music still sound the way it does today, and would these “Latin American feel” pieces even exist?
The same however cannot be said about Chavez, who not only grew up in Mexico but witnessed the revolution first hand. His music portrays true nationalistic Mexican styles as we here in his Symphony no. 2, where he incorporates not only Mexican but Indian themes as well. One could say however, that if it were not for the revolution and his obsession with pre-Hispanic culture Chavez would not be the great Mexican composer he is today.
Both of these composers are extremely talented, and without their life experiences whether good or bad we would not be able to enjoy their successes and failures through their music.
Copland,A. ‘Composer from Mexico’, The New Music, 1900–1960 (New York, 1968), 202–
Cowell,H ‘Chávez’, The Book of Modern Composers, ed. D. Ewen (New York, 1942, 3/1961 as The New Book of Modern Composers), 443–6
Parker, R ‘Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms’, American Music, v/4 (1987), 433–44
Womack, Jr, J. “The Mexican Revolution” in Mexico Since Independence, ed. Leslie Bethell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991, p. 125