Revueltas and the Tadpole

After reviewing some of Silvestre Revueltas compositions, the first thing that stood out was his use of brass.  El Renacuajo Paseadar is no exception.  Firstly, I wanted to experience this piece without knowing any details about the composition so my mind could come up with its own imagery.  I immediately noticed that Revueltas used a blend of brass and woodwind instruments in an undetectable meter.  From what I could perceive it is a duple against triple type of pulse.  The use of percussion (snare, bass drum, cymbal and tambourine) was not heavy but paramount throughout the piece.

As far as the character of this composition, the first image that popped into my head was that of a party.  The tone is very festive, upbeat and comical.  Immediately we are greeted with a snare drum hit and a trumpet blare which is followed by trombone and then violin.  It seems right when I was trying to follow the melody, Revueltas decided to hand it over to a different instrument.  The melody itself seems to be fragments of several melodies rather than one complete melody. Around thirty-seven seconds, Revueltas squeezes in a snippet of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.”  As I researched El Renacuajo Paseador, I was unable to find out the reason why he did this but he nicely worked Mendelssohn’s seven notes into this piece only for them to never return again.  There seems to be two or three main motifs passed around the orchestra.  Suddenly around the three minute forty second mark, there is a change in rhythm/character.  A long sustaining note from the clarinet/violin is followed by a descending chromatic scale.  Then the piece quickly concludes with one of the main motifs.1388729-tadpole

El Renacuajo Paseador translates to The Wondering Tadpole.  Revueltas had composed this piece in 1933 for The Fine Arts Puppet Theater, El Teatro Guinol de Bellas Artes. The main character is a tadpole named Rin Rin who one day decides to meet up with is friend the mouse.  The festive, upbeat music we hear signifies both friends playing, dancing and drinking together.  In the midst of all of this frolicking about, a cat appears and startles the tipsy characters.  Rin Rin is confused by the chaos that he ends up being swallowed by a duck.  Revueltas intended for the trombone to represent the tadpole (I personally would have guessed the violin or the piccolo).  As you listen to the piece it is very evident when Rin Rin meets is demise (as mentioned above roughly around 3:40 there is a sustained note played by a clarinet/violin followed by a chormatic scale, then repeated with trombone.  In the distance you can hear a ritardando drum pulse simulating a heartbeat).  These details definitely brought the piece to life (but unfortunately not Rin Rin).

Some researchers compare Silvestre Revueltas to Claude Debussy.  It was even stated by Louis Gazagne, Revueltas teacher at St. Edwards College, that he had a “Debussian” style of composing.  In Graciela Paraskevaidis’s article, she also finds that Revueltas compared himself to Debussy by saying they both have a “tactical plasticity” way of composing.  Interestingly enough, I found that particular piece, El Renacuajo Paseador did not “sound” French or Debussian to me (perhaps there are other pieces of Revueltas that do).  If I had to make a comparison, El Renacuajo Paseador made me think of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris (composed in 1928).  Both pieces have splashes of brass that occur throughout and a melody that is traded-off amongst the instruments.  My initial comparison is mainly focused on the first half of An American in Paris, as the piece does change character later.  On can argue, “If Gershwin’s visit to France inspired him to write this piece, shouldn’t it sound French?  Therefore, wouldn’t El Renacuajo Paseador also sound French if you are comparing the two compositions?”   Either way, this topic would need more investigation and I would need more exposure to Revueltas’s music to make a more education examination.

Side note:  Another thought that occured to me was the idea of program music; such as that of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (composed in 1936), which was also written with children in mind. In Prokovfiev’s composition each instrument represents a different animal (wolf signified by horns, birds signified by the flute, etc).  Revueltas chose the trombone to represent the tadpole so perhaps the other instrument represent the cat and the duck.  Having students listen to El Renacuajo Paseador would be another excellent piece to teach them about instrumentation and program music.

-Laura Aguirre

Candelaria, Lorenzo. “Silvestre Revueltas at the Dawn of His “American Period”: St. Edward’s College, Austin, Texas (1917-1918).” American Music 22, no. 4 (2004): 502-32. doi:10.2307/3592991.

Paraskevaidis, Graciela. “Homenaje a Silvestre Revueltas.” Accessed Febraury 4, 2017 www.gp-magma.net/pdf/txt

Sturman, Janet Lynn. The course of Mexican music. New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

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