Performing Practice and Indigenous Melodies

As I began listening to Revueltas’s La noche de los mayas (The night of the Mayans), I noticed a large instrumental fabric consisting of strings and flute, interspersed with a recurring motive in the horns. It materializes as rich and almost daunting with the timpani rolling underneath like thunder. To the ear, it sounds as the evocation of the music of the indigenous people (in this case the Mayans). The sound of rolling thunder ends the grand opening and leads to a sweet and beautiful melody combining strings and flute interspersed, yet again, with horn. As the piece progresses there is an active moving pattern in the clarinets, giving the sense of forward motion. The orchestra becomes fuller as instruments are added and there is a sense of darkening in the overall sound. The pound of the timpani guides back to a softer, more lyrical motive with the clarinet underneath again, giving the piece direction and motion. The timpani produce a steady beat underneath the orchestra, allowing the feel of a sort of indigenous dance.


La noche de los mayas is a wonderful example of the attempt to blend European and Mexican folk music. Revueltas’s more mature works blend folk-like melodies into a large instrumental fabric with principle melodies that are both tuneful and repetitive. This is most certainly seen in this piece with its evocation of indigenous melodies. I believe this piece kindles the idea of performance practice in that it elicits indigenous music.

Of course, there is no real way to truly comprehend what melodies of the music of the early aborigines sounded like. The lack of transcribed melodies in the Conquest period leads to no melodies of “provable antiquity”. The earliest were written down in the 19th century. This is of course a profound difference in the performing practice of early Western music. Although it is impossible to truly know what early Western music sounded like in that time period with those particular instruments and the particular conditions under which one performed, we at least have original scores. Whilst there is transcription of indigenous melodies beginning in the 19th century, it would be ridiculous to assume that these melodies, although passed on through tradition, have remained stagnant.

– Jamille Brewster –


Lychner, John A. “Instrumental Music Experiences from Mexico”. Music Educators Journal, 94/4 (March 2008): 40-45.

Martinez, Katynka Z. “Regional Mexican Music”. The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition (June 2011)
(accessed February 6, 2017).

Stevenson, Robert. Music in Mexico: A Historical Survey (Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., 1952), 10-30.

Stevenson, Robert. “Silvestre Revueltas”. Grove Music Online (accessed February 5, 2017).


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