Chavez and Revueltas, frame and imagination.

Ivan Lopez

Two composers born the same year, 1899. Two different ways to see Mexico. In my personal opinion, Silvestre Revueltas is more imaginative with his way of composing, He likes to put the chords or the sounds that he listened in his mind. On the other hand, Carlos Chavez is more repetitive and work more on paper. Trying to approach to a close assumption of how we Heard the music of our ancestors., the Mexican composers left us a couple of Works.

To be able to cover generally the style of both composers, I looked for some piece that had similar characteristics. Carlos Chavez´s ”Sinfonia India” was written in 1936 and based on the rhythm composed bay measures of 5/8 followed by 2/4 (been 4/8), and sometimes adding a 6/8 measure to stablish a kind of static rhythm. Based on the rhythmic formulas embodied in the score, Carlos Chavez seems to wrote “La sinfonia India”. This piece is almost twelve minutes in well-defined sections and symmetrically ordered. With sober diatonic melodies, Chavez approaches some Wind solos that propose a model that will be played in different sections in the orchestra.  Chavez has a very different element of composition from the way of Revueltas works.

“Indian music harking back to remote past obviously forms the basic material of the composition.” 1

Silvestre Revueltas has a very particular way of understanding the music, far from working on paper. He seems to listen to the music previously in his mind, no matter what the measure, harmony or symmetric structure was. The piece that had some elements to compare is called “Cuauhnáhuac” written six years before. Cuauhnáhuac is a Nahuatl word of Cuernavaca, a city in Morelos, Mexico. This is the piece of Revueltas that looks back on Indigenous themes. Both pieces try to conceptualize nationalism based on the Mexican past, the Aztec past.

 

While Chavez repeats again and again his unattractive melodies by many measures, Revueltas practically describes a whole plot in his music. Without abusing the repetition of his melodies, which are very distinctive, Revueltas manages to keeps us attentive in a kind of musical scene.  A conversation between the brass and the winds, or between the beautiful melodies that he gives to the strings, is accompanied by the exaggerated dynamics that suddenly appear to interrupt, as is Revueltas´s style. He referring to his music:

” Estas composiciones no están destinadas a ser publicadas; es por eso que no viéndome forzado a complacer más público que el de aquellos que quieran comprenderme, les he escrito a mi albedrio, siguiendo mis sensaciones, y no las reglas, a las que no podría sujetar, ni sus amores, ni mis sueños, ni mis dolores.” 2

(“These compositions are not intended to be published; That is why, not being forced to please more public than those who want to understand me, I have written to my will, following my feelings, not the rules, which I could not hold, their love, my dreams, nor my pains.”)

 

A pianissimo introduction playing by low strings in pizzicato begins to give way to the battle between brass section and winds in the Revueltas´s orchestral piece, while the ´´Sinfonia India´´ begins full with rhythmic game that composes it. Among the elements we can find some similarities in the use of the instrumentation. Both composers used for example, melodies in the piccolo flute. Chavez wrote the melodic lines with diatonic or pentatonic scales while Revueltas used the piccolo flute suddenly with some harmonic alterations over the melodies creating a particular nationalist sound, that gives us the impression of a Mexico that is full of life and problematic situations at the same time. That picturesque folklore that manages to taste a combination of cultured with popular music.

“Silvestre Revueltas had something of the same gift for speaking a musical language understandable by the masses, but at the same time eagerly accepted by the educated. His best symphonic works reach memorable climaxes, exploit pungent rhythmic figures, contain tunes that sound folk-derived, and are always colorfully orchestrated.” 3

Another instrument that both composers use to represent the primitive part of their country is the shaker or ´´maracas´´ which accompany the primitive moments. It is worth mentioning that Revueltas uses the Vibraphone simulating the hammer that constantly appears in his songs. Other recurrent elements in Revueltas´ music is the string passages that simulate a kind of persecution given drama to the work.

According to Robert Parker in “Chavez, Carlos from the New Grove Dictionary of Opera”:

“Motor rhythm, like that in the Sinfonia India, generates a driving force of unbridled propulsion. “, “On the whole he adhered to the principles of classical formal structure, but he rejected an over-use of repetition, harmonic pedals and obvious progressions and sequences, believing that the artist should reinvent old forms to give them new meaning.”4

Chavez is more calculating in his score and bases his pieces on some previous model either rhythmic or melodic. He used to use polyrhythms. The ´´Sinfonia India´´ has a combination of colors that is the result of diatonic melodies on a base of primitive percussions in crosses rhythms or groups of polyrhythms of two figures of three over three figures of two. Chavez helped his own melodic lines to weave dialogues between the instruments. On another hand, Revueltas incorporates irregular metrics in unexpected places in his compositions, creating a sound film related to musical situations that arise from his thoughts and not pre-written formulas.

The two most important composers of the early Twentieth Century try to approach the past of Mexico with some elements that live in their imagination. Definitely Silvestre Revueltas has a natural talent to imagine the music while Carlos Chavez spent more time composing based on repetition of melodic and rhythmic models

 

 

  1. New York Times, 2 January 1942, p. 24
  2. Revueltas, Rosaura. ”Los Revueltas” 48.
  3. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ´´Music in the modern age´´ 428.
  4. Robert Parker , “Chavez, Carlos from the New Grove Dictionary of Opera”. http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/05495?q=sinfonia+india&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit
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