Ranas, a vocal work by Revueltas, is a prime example of the way that he chose poems to set to music, not because of its fame or reputation, but rather the opportunities a poem offered for musical setting. The poem, Ranas, was written by Mexican poet, Daniel Castañeda, and though it is short and simple, it provides references to music and unusual imagery that I’m sure Revueltas, being the witty composer he was, found delightful. With Castañeda’s words, Revueltas was able to create a new and unique perspective with his own musical language.
The work begins with dark and ominous brass chords interrupted by a chirping piccolo. Accompanied by a single percussive sound, what sounds like the scraping of a stick, the setting for this work is established. Soon after, multiple instruments enter with phrases of their own and creates a cacophony of sounds that don’t quite seem to fit together. To me, this introduction portrays a swamp or lake and all of the different instrument phrases represent different animal calls that can be heard while visiting these places. When the soprano voice first enters, it almost sounds as if she doesn’t belong or she’s trying to find her place within the musical swamp. Similar to many of Revueltas’s other works, this piece has very distinct rhythms and does not really contain a primary melody. However, Castañeda references several different musical features- “sweet dissonance” and “parallel fifths”- as well as various wind instruments that are cleverly portrayed by the instruments themselves- “whistling of the reeds, of the flutes, and the bassoon”. As the voice sings the lines about parallel fifths and dissonances, the music conveniently portrays these musical characteristics. Also, when she sings of the reeds, flutes, and bassoons, they can be heard underneath her voice, as if she is calling to them. At the end of the first two stanzas, phrases like “trapeze of space” and “reach the stars”, are heard as the soprano explores the upper registers, displaying whimsical musical imagery. The instruments then explode into a hectic frenzy of noise until they come to abrupt halt and bring us back to an ominous scene. Ironically, the only time the rhythmic activity and dark color of the accompaniment shifts is when the poem mentions “sweet dissonance”. The music immediately shifts back to its original rhythmic motion in the last stanza, especially in the vocal line. As if by tradition, Revueltas finishes the piece abruptly with fast moving lines in all the instruments creating a rambunctious end to what seemed to be a somewhat calm, but witty story.
Although I wouldn’t listen to Ranas on repeat, I found it very entertaining and more enjoyable when I discovered how much the lyrics and music coincide with each other. This piece clearly demonstrates Revueltas’s humor and his ability to write music to portray imagery. I’m sure when he discovered this poem he found it the perfect canvas to set music to and he did it in his own unique way. Revueltas was able to put his own twist on what seems to be a very simple poem and brought new life to it in his typical witty fashion through musical imagery.
Aktories, Susana G. and Katherine A. Dory, liner notes to Sensemaya: The Unknown Revueltas, Camerata de los Americas, Dorian Recordings 90244, CD, 1996.
Chase, Gilbert. “Creative Trends in Latin American Music-II.” Tempo, no. 50 (1959): 25-28. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/944015.
Mayer-Serra, Otto. “Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico.” The Musical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1941): 123-45. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/739461.
Stevenson, Robert. “Revueltas, Silvestre.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 21, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/23289.