La noche de los Mayas by Silvestre Revueltas provides a hint to be programmatic music. Beginning with an intense film-like introduction, the timpani and diverse percussion effects set the mood of a Mayan ritual. The solo brass counter-melodies add tension and the rhythmic unison on the strings, resemble greatness. If this would be a movie, this section could be considered the beginning and the end of a cycle. The rest of the movie would be about how to complete the cycle.
Featuring calm melodies on violin and flutes, Revueltas changes the texture and sets a peaceful atmosphere. It probably represents the beauty of nature – sunshine, refreshing air, and majestic trees. The accompaniment material sounds like the river flowing and occasionally gentle raindrops. The mood changes out a sudden, woodwinds lead a dissonant section and the “Mayan ritual” motive comes back. Perhaps Mayan ritual section represents the night, and the calm section the represents day.
Next episode, upbeat rhythms provide a happy atmosphere. It sounds like Mexican folk tunes – melodies are presented in simultaneous thirds and constant eighth-notes. However, there are hidden dissonances that probably represent some sort of discomfort. In certain areas sounds like Bernstein’s West Side Story. If this would be a movie, the scene would be about a big celebration with dancing and colorful decorations.
Third section resembles the night, it features slow rhythms, long notes on the strings, and thin instrumentation that allows woodwind solos to shine like stars – literally! Then, the texture changes again with a simple rhythmic pattern with maracas, and a cute little melody with the flute (https://youtu.be/cdl3iG_0glI?t=17m50s) This section features the most authentic Mayan elements. I have had the honor to meet Israel Elias Bojorge, a Salvadorian musicologist with expertise in Mayan music, and when attending his concerts, this is how the music will sound like (https://youtu.be/8ACv_Wo5Lo8). The Mayan section then is followed by a stunning slow section by the strings with wind solos. There is a beautiful tonal center and it can take anyone’s breath away. If the story would end here, it will be a joyful ending. However, that is not the case. Atonality comes back with dramatic percussion resembling gun shots. Chaos is in the air, it sounds like a person (or group of people) hurt the Mayans and that means SACRIFICE!
The last section then is the preparation to the Sacrifice. It is the night of the Mayans. All the Mayan community is dancing to adore the Gods has begun. The percussion elements portray the different stages of the sacrifice. Revueltas eventually also add the winds to the scene, and to add more tension the strings are added and the tension feels uncomfortable. Percussion sections is predominant in the last movement. The cycle has been fulfilled. The Mayan ritual is back, this time with more intense percussion.
It is impressive how Revueltas manages to combine tonality with atonality, the transitions sound smooth. In addition, Revueltas features different music styles such as Mariachi, Mayan, and Classical which is phenomenal! The fact Revueltas was in Mexico when composing this piece, probably inspired him to combine all the music elements he could. On the other hand, this piece has a certain similarity to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in terms of the eighth-note rhythms and the sacrifice idea. Also, la noche de los Mayas is similar to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, it begins and it ends with the same theme. This piece can be analyzed in several branches of musicology especially Ethno-musicology and socio-musicology.
By Sandra Rivera
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Gerard Béhague, et al. “Mexico.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 7, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/18539.
Robert Stevenson and Arturo Chamorro. “Maya music.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 7, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/18154.
Robert Stevenson. “Revueltas, Silvestre.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 7, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/23289.