Revueltas: Musicological Perspectives

By: Edwin Cordoba

Upon reading, Revelta’s “Notas y escritos teoricos”, it’s very evident that Revuelta’s was very much interested in the sociology of music. Perhaps not in a 21st-century sociological musical perspective, where one observes empirical information to formulate conclusions- but rather from an idealistic perspective. Whether he’s talking about an abstract concept such as “seriousness”, the merits of musical colleagues, or on concepts such as the value of “musical critique in the 20th century”- everything he writes may be speculative- but has a definite social consequence.

Here is a translated summary of selected topics in Silvestre Revuelta’s “Notas y escritos teoricos”:

On seriousness: (January 1938)

Revueltas claims that seriousness is an “art” that “requires tedious entertainment” and that those not inflicted by seriousness run away, “inconveniently and disrespectfully”. He notes how serious men only seek each other’s respect, and notes that few end up reaching the esteemed “doctorate” level. Indeed, those that do reach that level realize in “incredulity” that nobody actually reached “true” seriousness. Those that have blind faith that they have reached “true seriousness” are incapable of enjoying it and have such “deep thoughts” that they are indecipherable to the common observer. He has an obvious frustration with systems in place that divide the proletariat with academia.

Shadows of Shadows: (January 1938)

Shadows run after each other. “Our musical medium are shadows that walk around playing the violin, shadows without tone aren’t shadows.”

Revueltas notes that nothing about our musical world is forward thinking (except salaried publicists). There is a dire need for an independent youth. He criticizes the youth for their pompous attitudes. “We are terrible; we can’t even put on a good Haydn concert.” He claims that a solution for this generation disillusionment is productivity: “We must always be studying something, always working on something, if we are able. We either become a virtuoso, or a clown. Sometimes clowns make money, too. We must choose.” As an educator myself committed to the excellence in performance of my students- I appreciate his relentless expectations. (I especially like his sarcasm and humor).

On critique: (March 1937)

In this article (his views on this subject evolve throughout his career), Revueltas feels that most artist’s disdain for critics is justified. Revueltas writes that there are factors that make critiques unnecessary and disingenuous (factors affecting live performance, a critic’s personal preference and bias). However, he also points out that a critique free of a critic’s bias would not have any value to the collective culture! The only way to have effective critique is by having a true understanding of the material being critiqued. Only then will it be “beneficial, constructive, clear, honorable and just.” Instead, Revuelta’s claims that critics are influenced by a commercial press that “scruples.” He goes on to describe them an “occulted lie with an ability to traffic.” He criticizes their impunity, calls them reactionary and extremely hurtful. Fortunately, it is possible to have such little knowledge over a subject matter that one cannot form an opinion over it; only others to pave the way. Unfortunately, critics are destroying the paths towards classical music, and it is up to us to fight this trend towards uninformed, negative, hurtful criticism. Revueltas talks about how the artist must not just have musical merits, but also must be of service to a socially just cause: the liberation of the proletariat and of his/her culture. Every other attitude is sterile and unproductive. Critique doesn’t account for idealistic differentiations. It considers art as a holistic experience (art for it’s own sake), and doesn’t take into consideration what class it might belong to!

In defense and praise of critique (October 1942)

Moved by a desire towards justice, Revueltas decides to defend musical critique. He concedes that the musical critique has the noblest of intentions, and finds beauty in sharing with the audience his/her many years of acquired musical knowledge. But critiques do more than that- they memorialize the works being performed into history into written words. Words that, in the future, can be reflected upon and admired.

Unisons and harmony: dissonance (January 1938)

There is a generation of composers- Revueltas pays his respects for those composers that preceded today’s generation. He then proceeds to review various concerts and performances, and talk about upcoming performances. He does so in such a positive light- it is clear that this is a textbook example of what he constitutes a proper artistic review to look like. “I don’t care if people listen to me or not. I simply want people to see their ineptitude, our lack of companionship, our egotism.” In this paper, he lays the groundwork for an interesting sociomusicological perspective- the idea of fraternity amongst a music society- and its effects on the greater society.

Francisco Contreras (February 1938)

Revueltas proceeds to describe a musical colleague of his- violinist and teacher, Francisco Contreras and the contagious spirit of musical sternness and loving nature. He describes him as somebody that loves teaching due to it’s very nature. He also takes the opportunity to talk about the “death of dreams” of musicians in the practice room. Musicians practicing music of the past, unable to look forward- and calls for action, for a drive towards the future. For a new music! “Students must realize this and burn their pianos, their instruments, their sheet music, their illusions without direction to feed their new bonfire!”

Jose Pomar and the revolutionary chant (January 1938)

Revueltas talk about the difficulty of carrying out quiet and modest work due to the amount of publicism of the day. Jose Pomar is an exception. He worked on a series of revolutionary chants with translated texts, new harmonies, special arrangements and new elaborations. But Revuelta’s bigger point is that we must not be blinded by our need to only be receptive to “great” works- symphonies, concertos, etc. That these unconventional projects are just as valid, just as important.

Mexican Musical Panoramic (1937)

In this entry, Revuelta’s takes a historical approach to music to explain the “musical panoramic” (as opposed to his usual sociological perspective). Him and his friends, organized by him and Carlos Chavez, “fought against ancestral apathy”. They “cleaned and swept the Conservatory which collapsed in tradition and sad glory”. They founded the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. He explains that it wasn’t until Chavez had success that Mexico got rid of it’s negative musical criticism and started cultivating a new generation of Mexican musicians- a more forward thinking generation. But Mexico didn’t just develop a new generation of musicians- it also developed a new generation of listeners; audiences more awake, more voluntary, filled the concert halls.

Problems of music and musicians. Opinions. Perspectives.

Revueltas compares the exploitation of the Mexican musician to that of the land worker. He claims that they are the least supported subculture in the proletariat since they compose for those that have no contact with the realities of life (the aristocracy). It’s therefore important that the companion of the musician (aka, other subgroups of the proletariat) leave their apathy and egotism behind and stand up for the artistic working class. He writes a call for action!

Notes regarding gilded problems of musicians

The Mexican symphony orchestras are the only place where Mexicans can study music at a high level. No other training organization exists because the state doesn’t believe in it’s necessity. He calls the problem of the Mexican musician one of vanity, cowardly disengagement, and hysterical revelry- making it difficult to work with fragile material. And it isn’t the “subversive screams, the theatrical attitudes, the infantile reactions” that will yield change- it is the firm action, the firm decisions, the inflexible conscience of one’s goals, the most energetic unions and compact ideologies that will cause change.

Although Revuelta’s perspectives tend towards a sociological and sociomusicological one, he loves to talk about historical perspectives as well. This combination of ideas concludes with a call for civic activism- which, in my opinion, make Silvestre Revuelta’s one of Mexico’s most important musicologists of the 20th century.

Bibliography

Revueltas, Silvestre. Por el Mismo: Apuntes autobiograficos, diarios, correspondencia y otro escritos de un gran musico. Mexico, D. F.:Ediciones Era,1989.

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One thought on “Revueltas: Musicological Perspectives

  1. jlbrewster says:

    I believe his comment about productivity still stands true today in a world where everyone feels entitled without actually putting in any work.

    Like

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