Troka by Silvestre Revueltas and the use of Spanish children’s song.


At the very beginning listening to this song I noticed that it was a march introduction. It was not until the second time that I listened to it that I realized that there were five sections separated by clearly long fermatta spaces. Those sections were full of rhythmic lines with groups of seven and a-tonality appears through out the song. I separated this song into five sections, although some parts seem to be the same, and I realized that Revueltas embody a couple of Spanish children melodies in sections two and three. Both sections seem to be the same, only that they are separated or have in the middle a bridge in other tempo and textures like ghost around there. I’m going to make a description of each part describing some musical aspects and incorporation of children’s elements and satiric moments.

The first section begins with an entrance of the trumpet announcing that something big is going to happen, something important is going to start or some character makes his appearance. With the arppegiated C diminished chord and a crescendo the trumpet starts to propose a dialogue with the brass section while they play a march rhythm, in 2/4, and other melody is played by trombones with glissando fragments ending in a string and brass passage in ascending sixteen notes and crescendo and the winds playing a short a-tonal passage. This is an introduction that represents a heroic presentation followed by this composer’s  picardy characteristic  in which he shows us what the piece is about.

Second section is initiated with the trombone making patterns in 7/4. An ostinato is starting in a quarter doted note and an eight note and then five quarter notes to complete the seven beats per measure. For me that rhythmic bass line of trombone was the clue to wish I realized that I was attracted to this song because he works with another group of seven metric song based on an Ostinato supporting a lot of colors and metric rhythmic models as well as in Sensemaya. In this case, it’s a humoristic trombone ostinato at times looking awkward, preceded by something like an alto trombone with sordine doing glissandos, a flute and a brass section and also a xylophone doubling the melody and figuring being a joke scene, a sneer. This section starts with three measures of 7/4 preceded by one of 2/4 in which there is a diatonic passage of horns or the brass section crescendo. After two more measures of 7/4 and other making a rhythm pattern that’s going to appear at the end of this section, which is a quarter rest, a triplet, a half note, another quarter rest and the last two beats of this seventh beat measure were triplets. After that he presents a theme and develop of it through different tonalities. Brass and Xylophone play descending fragments of a scale in something that seems to be 3/8 that ends with the beginning of 2/4 string passage that seems to be a fight.

The brass section plays 3/8 measures while they interrupt the main melody, increasing the tempo and dynamics with an interchange of passages between horns, trombones also xylophone. All the section pretends to increase as much as harmonic development as in speed until they crash leading to the first appearance to a popular Mexican or Spanish melody, a kind of variation to the childish song called “ A la vibora de la mar ”(to the sea viper). A Spanish children’s song that the Franciscans teach to the kids on arrival in the west, with the aim of learning to speak their language. This melody played first with flutes and clarinets over a string passage, then by trumpet with sourdine while other trumpet in lower register plays a bass melody. Finally, the tuba ends the sequence with a melodic bass line leading to a final ostinato of seventh beats to end the song with the rhythm measure that I talk about before. By the way, I used to hear this song when I was a kid, I can’t remember where I learned it, I think children play it around and was transmitted by oral tradition as Mendoza mentioned in “La cancion Mexicana”.

Popular children songs of the colonial period are used by Revueltas. According to Lourdes Turrent in his book “La conquista musical de Mexico” based in the colonial period, Torquemada account that at the beginning to learn the indigenous language, the friars played with children by means of signals and taking notes they became acquainted with the indigenous words and their meaning. Then, the friars attempted to influence the families of the principal through the children. In the same way they teach Spanish through the Spanish children’s songs. Gabriel Saldivar account that “a la vibora” form is derived from another song called “Pasen, caballeros” (welcome gentlemen) a children’s song with the thematic of the entrance of a King and the permission of him to the entrance of the people, similar to the objective of the first song.


The third section starts with a 4/4 percussive measure that later interchanges 4/4 and 6/4 measures to create a dynamic atmosphere at the bottom while flutes, piccolo and strings play groups of phrases with glissandos followed by trombone and trumpets. It seems to be a ghost scene; a little passage that is mysterious and at the same time terrifying. A staccato measured 4/6 beats announce the second arrive of the children’s song called “A la vibora de la mar” by the violins and a strophic phrase of “Una Mexicana que fruta vendia” (A Mexican women who fruit was selling) “ciruela, chabacano, melon o sandia” (plum, vulgar, cantaloupe or watermelon) played by the winds and ending in a pianissimo moment that carries us to an urban Mexican moment where the pizzicato of the strings allude to a harp melody and the basses the Guitarron with the fragment of the third children’s  burlesque passage “El que no brinque es burro” (the one who does not jump is dumb). Finally, this part finds its end with three 4/4 measures, a 2/4 measure and a 3/8 measures respectively.

The fourth section of the song, the quietest part starting with two beats of a percussive instruments that seem to be the Huehuetl, an instrument named by Dr. Ulloa as one of the favorites of the natives Mexican instruments. Ruben M. Campos states:

There was a standing vertically hollow cylinder which the bottom was cropped in zig-zag and the top  was covered by a stretched and prepared skin., it is understood, to produce a ristup and sonorous, like the drum, since tradition states that huehuetl was beat with the palms of the hands.

Measures of 7/4 and 5/4 seem to appear with the wind section in this relaxed moment that remind me a piece of Jose Pablo Moncayo called “Tierra de temporal” (Land of storm). I hear in those notes and that space a beautiful photo of the field of Mexico, ¨El campo¨. The calm. The strings start to playing a beautiful melody and then appears above it an abrupt passage with piccolo and flute with dissonance like a Pre-Hispanic allusion followed by a tuba. It seems like it was a polytonal song or two melodies playing each at the same time. Tritones seem to be the alert of a kind of fight or war it untied. Snares and gran casa helped to create like a dramatic scene movie and this section seem to end with a double bass section notes simulating a machine that goes out.

In the last section, the fifth, after a new victorious march rhythm the fight continues and the orchestration making in this moment the climatic part of the song. Some spaces, crash, cymbals, seem to refers to strikes or hits making by a character or in this case by a machine.The string passages alluding to the thought of the situation. The brass section connects perfectly the crescendos with the different types of emotions that the author wanted to show. Also appears a sound of a triton like a telephone or waves or hertz making by an alarm refers to warning about something. Finally, the march of the victory.

Silvestre Revueltas enjoys incorporating children’s passages and circus marches creating a sarcastic moment over the harmony sometimes tonal and in other passages blended with non-tonal elements. The use of childish elements somewhat sarcastic, reminded me how Tchaikowsky used the ridiculed Marcellesa melody. Maybe Revueltas was trying to demerit Spanish children’s melodies or just he wanted to do allusions to the children’s Mexican rounds that the settlers imposed into the New Spain during the colony. That way seems to be that he tries to defend nationalism.

 Ivan Lopez


Campos Ruben M. , El folklore y la musica Mexicana . Investigacion acerca de la cultura musical en Mexico. (1525-1925),21.

Mendoza Vicente T. La cancion Mexicana, ensayo de clasificacion y antologia. Tezontle (1987),12.

Saldivar Gabriel , Historia de la musica en Mexico. (S.E.P. Publicaciones del departamento de Bellas Artes, 1934) ,212.

Turrent Lourdes, La conquista musical de Mexico. Fondo de cultura economica, Mexico (1993), 117.


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