Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas were two twentieth-century composers that compare and contrast to one another in fascinating ways. Both were products of the Mexican Revolution, a point in time when music and the arts played a critical role in strengthening the country’s image. For me, this is where the similarities between these men cease.
To make the comparisons between these composer’s music more interesting, I think it is wise to first analyze these men on a more personal note. Chavez and Revueltas were both born in 1899, but did not see a similar lifespan by any means. Chavez lived to reach the age of seventy-nine while Revueltas died shortly before his 41st birthday. Chavez died peacefully of natural causes while Revueltas’ fate was brought on by alcoholism. Knowing this you can safely make a judgment on the lifestyles led by these men. Do I think these factors influenced the music of these composers? Oh yes.
The music of Carlos Chavez is widely considered to be of mostly romantic influence. First of all, Chavez composed many traditionally inspired pieces such as symphonies, concertos and an opera. He also wrote several single-movement piece of a more abstract nature, but not to the extent of Revueltas. Revueltas, however, did not follow in the steps of classical music heritage whatsoever. His music is a perfect representation of the new ideas and sounds that emerged from the twentieth century and is often labeled as avant-garde. Most of Revueltas’ music does not follow the traditional structure of concertos and symphonies, but rather tends to exist within itself. There is indeed form within his music, but it is designed to portray a certain idea or point of view instead of categorizing itself as a type of piece such as a symphony or concerto.
Let’s now consider how the music of these composers sounds. I will use one piece from each composer as an example, each being one of that composer’s most popular works. Sinfonia India by Carlos Chavez. Is a single-movement symphony that contains three main themes that are often interpreted as separate movements within the piece. The work is lighthearted, tonal, and very easy to listen to. Even the title suggests to the listener what they are about to hear. Sensemaya by Silvestre Revueltas is a different kind of animal. From the very first notes the audience knows they are dealing with a much darker subject. The piece portrays a battle between good and evil with tense melodies, complicated rhythms and heavy amounts of dissonance. The piece is difficult to grasp from one hearing alone and is definitely the type of music that needs to “grow” on most people’s ears.
The differences in style between these composers is of course not 100% consistent, but the idea is hard to ignore. The link between these composers’ lifestyles and their style of writing go hand in hand from Carlos Chavez’s long and prosperous life to Silvestre Revueltas’ filled with alcoholism and a bitter marriage.
Parker, Robert. “Chavez, Carlos.” Oxford Music Online. August 20, 2005. Accessed March 19,2017.http://0www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/05495?q=carlos chavez&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.
Saavedra, Leonora, ed. Carlos Chavez and his world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Weinstock, Herbert. “Carlos Chavez.” The Musical Quarterly 22, no. 4 (October 1936): 435-45. Accessed March 18, 201. JSTOR.
Wilkie, James. The Mexican Revolution: Federal Expenditure and Social Change Since 1910. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1967.