Do Not Judge a Piece by Its Title

When a piece lacks a melody, is it still considered music? Or could it be images painted by notes? Based on the title of Silvestre Revueltas’s song, Duo para pato y canario, I was expecting to hear a duet featuring a sweet melody emulating a canary and a duck. I was wrong (at least about the sweet melody part). The piece begins with trumpet and trombone, forte notes rhythmically accompanied by the tambourine. In the background a piano is heard along with a bassoon. Moments later enters a soprano. I patiently waited for her duet partner to arrive but soon realized that this piece was just written for solo voice. Upon listening to the words, I managed to figure out a couple of stanzas. But as I listened along, I found the lyrics to be confusing and unstructured. There were, however obvious rhymes being used and I could figure out solfege syllables (Do Re Me, Fa Sol…) being sung. Thankfully the YouTube video I used to listen to this piece had the lyrics listed in the description bar. As I read the words it was evident that this piece was not about a canary or a duck but rather a seal, a goose and a cat. The piece opens with this stanza, “Cuando toca para que baile la foca, se disloca con la boca en la oca, oca en la oca, oca, ocarina, Gato remi en tres movidas.” Translated directly it does not make much sense but I interpreted it this way, “When it is time for the seal to dance, he dislocates his mouth for the goose, ocarina, cat re-mi has three moves.” Further along the stanzas mention a chess piece, a donkey, and a fat violinist. I was unable to make sense of this poetic structure as it appears to have none! The lyrics to Duo para pato y canario were based off of a poem written by Mexican poet Carlos Barrera. I wish I had found more information about the origins of this poem and the meaning behind it. Perhaps there isn’t any meaning to be found and this is what inspired Revueltas to compose such a “cartoonish” piece.yellow_canary

Where is the melody? Where is the “order?” Revueltas again manages to avoid a main melody and sticks to composing atonally. There does not appear to be any repeated motifs and he evades tonal cadences. Without looking at the score, one can hear a variety of meters and cluster chords. He also used many repetitive quarter note rhythms which took away the dimension for possible melodic patterns. Oddly enough, this music seems to capture the humor (nonsense) of the poem. Initially I wanted to delve into “word painting” as a compositional style but I am not sure this piece follows that description. According to Grove Music Online, word painting consists of the musical imitation of certain sounds through pictorial melodic or contrapuntal gestures. Onomatopoeia is often associated with word painting as well. My presumption is that Revueltas read the poem and wanted to illustrate what he read through his composition (giving each stanza a musical representation), not intending it to be a serious piece. Perhaps the soprano’s voice represents the canary and the brass is a representation of the duck? As far as the title is concerned, I could not find any indication of its origin. In Otto Mayer-Serra’s article, “Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico” it is stated that in many of his works the title has no connection to the score. I am not certain if Revueltas used the original title of Barrera’s poem or if he changed it completely to Duo para pato y canario. Regardless of the misleading title, Revueltas has painted a disorderly storyline through his music. Though both he and Barrera have left me wondering, what happened to the duck and the canary?300px-silvestre_revueltas
-Laura Aguirre

Carter, Tim. “Word-painting.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 20, 2017,

Hess, Carol A. “Silvestre Revueltas in Republican Spain: Music as Political Utterance.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 18, no. 2 (1997): 278-96. doi:10.2307/780398.

Kolb, Roberto. “Silvestre Revueltas: Tale of an Unforgivable Oblivion.” Accessed February 18, 2017
Mayer-Serra, Otto. “Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico.” The Musical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1941): 123-45.
Paraskevaidis, Graciela. “Homenaje a Silvestre Revueltas.” Accessed February 4, 2017
Vilar-Paya, Luisa. “Innovacion, espontaneidad y coherencia armonica en Silvestre Revueltas.” Accessed February 18, 2017


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