“Les Six Tableau” from Wikipedia
It is interesting to compare Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas, two of Mexico’s most well-known twentieth-century composers, because really they could not be more different. Their divergences are myriad, from personality to relationships with colleagues to compositional style, to role in the development of twentieth- century music in Mexico, to their relationship with modernism and the canon.
At the most basic level, I see Chavez as a pragmatist, and Revueltas as an idealist. Chavez was a doer, always concerning himself with the most effective way to accomplish the task on hand. That task might be inclusion of indigenous flavors in his music in the service of nationalism, introducing artists and composers to each other across international boundaries, organizing and promoting concert series’ to promote twentieth century music (such as the concert series in 1925 that featured Revueltas with the Trio that would eventually bring him to San Antonio, described in Robert Parker’s article below), to arranging government funding for arts projects ( such as the Movie Redes), or bringing internationally known composers to Mexico to conduct their works. In his autobiography, Darius Milhaud says of Chavez, “ It is thanks to him that I went to Mexico to give a concert. He has trained a flexible orchestra which is astonishingly skillful in playing contemporary music. What other musical ensemble could give, as this one has done, within a single period of six weeks, festivals of Stravinsky, Hindemith and Milhaud conducted by the composers themselves? We were all three delighted with our trip to Mexico.”
Revueltas, on the other hand related to the rest of the artistic world more as the critic and conscience of the Mexican modernists. He was compelled to speak when he saw nationalism descending into insipid sentimentality, or when twentieth-century Mexican art of any type fell short of his ideal- that it should give an honest voice to the Mexican people.
While Revueltas eschewed fame, Chavez clearly saw its value and usefulness. For him pleasing his audiences (foremost of which was the Mexican government), was a way to advance his own and other twentieth-century works. Revueltas would admit no such thing and was only happy when he saw his work in the service of a revolutionary cause.
Chavez the teacher and Revueltas the student, they seem to have a relationship somewhat analogous to that of Satie and Milhaud. Satie, as the older member of Les Six, lit the path for its younger members. At first they followed him enthusiastically, but later they broke away onto their own paths (Milhaud and Auric especially). Yet without a doubt they never would have found those paths without Satie’s influence. The same can be said for Chavez and Revueltas. Chavez pointed Revueltas towards modernism, even if in the end Revueltas chose to take a path that diverged from Chavez. The solid foundation which Chavez laid also gave Revueltas a stable place from which to launch his critiques. While not the doer and organizer that Chavez was, Revueltas performed a necessary function, reminding Mexico’s music community of the need for authenticity and integrity.
Some see Chavez as the less serious composer of the two, pandering to nationalistic trends, even as a “sell- out”. Yet others, including Aaron Copland, saw Chavez as the serious composer and Revueltas as a “dilettante” who never properly honed his craft. Surely Mexican twentieth-century music has room for both in its canon, as the last century would have been quite different without the two of them and their interactions.
Copland, Aaron. The New Music 1900-1960. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
Milhaud, Darius. My Happy Life: An Autobiography. London: Marion Boyars, 1995.
Parker, Robert. “Revueltas in San Antonio and Mobile.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 23, no. 1 (2002): 114-30. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/780428.
Perloff, Nancy. Popular Entertainment and the Circle of Erik Satie. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991.