Silvestre Revueltas and Nationalism of Present-Day Mexico

Both Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez were advocates of Musical Nationalism in Mexico. However, they chose to approach it in two distinctly different ways. Carlos Chávez chose evocation of the past through the use of primitive scales and archaic instruments whereas Revueltas’s focus was centered on present-day Mexico and “with the festivities of its market places, the comical, sad atmosphere of the carpas – the crude little playhouses of the capitol, the tumult of the crowd in the street, the shrill colors of the people and the landscapes, the songs and the music of the country as it exists today” according to Otto Mayer-Serra. I believe this all can be heard in his piece El tecolote (The owl).


El tecolote opens with a quickly moving pattern in the piano, the notes moving sporadically with no real sense of direction or key. As the voice enters, it appears almost unsettled with extreme highs and lows happening alternatively. Throughout the first half of the piece the piano and voice converse back and forth with light and playful themes. The vocal line jumps with considerable flexibility, almost as if imitating the piano. The piano plays a steady and repetitive motive in the left hand nearly throughout the piece, ending right before the final verse where both the vocal line and the piano dissipate to simple rhythms and sparse accompaniment. The final chord gives a clear sense of minor, allowing this light song to end with an almost wicked undertone.

It is clear here that Silvestre Revueltas is completely enthralled with present-day Mexico. I heard no evocation of the primitive, no drawing upon the past to write this piece, just simply what he was hearing at the present. The titles of all of his scores are extremely revealing in that they relate to many aspects of the Mexican scenery. However, his greatest concern was not evoking the scenery but the people, how they sound and the way they speak and walk. He pays great attention to minute detail in all of such works. In El tecolote a rancher overhears his girlfriend speaking of her love of a horseman. When hearing this song, it is easy to imagine the woman’s light sounding voice in the vocal line. I can hear the horseman in the steady accompaniment of the left hand of the piano. The rancher remembers that his rival is an Indian, and knows that when the owl sings, an Indian dies. The seemingly light and happy song ends with a wicked undertone as the rancher wait’s for the owl’s song.

Revueltas’s use of present-day Mexican music is extremely unique. Hearing the people and the landscape through his music is inspiring and moving. As a nationalist composer, what better way to represent your country than as it is at the present?

– Jamille Brewster –


Mayer-Serra, Otto. “Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico”. The Music Quarterly, 27/2 (April 1941): 123-145.

Stevenson, Robert. Music in Mexico: A Historical Survey (Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., 1952), 10-30.

Stevenson, Robert. “Silvestre Revueltas”. Grove Music Online (accessed February 20, 2017).

Taruskin, Richard. “Nationalism”. Grove Music Online (accessed February 20, 2017).


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