Chavez, Revueltas and Dissonance

Chavez, Revueltas and Dissonance


In comparison of a few instrumental and choral works by Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chavez, I have found that there are some similarities between the two composers’ styles, but they also have some different compositional techniques as well.  The biggest difference I found between Arbor Lucu by Carlos Chavez and Frente a Frente by Silvestre Revueltas was the use of dissonance.  While these two pieces have different purposes behind being composed, Revueltas uses almost no dissonance while Chavez uses a good amount.

                Arbor Lucu is an a cappella mixed voices choral piece, performed in America for the first time by the University of Texas at El Paso Chorale on their February concert in 2017. Arbor Lucu is characterized by dissonances in the static harmonies beginning with a unison note and then a minor second becoming layered on top of it. The sopranos mostly have the melody at times passed to the tenors and altos. The rhythms in the harmonies are simple with difficult rhythms in the melodies. The melodies also have some unusual intervals, more traditional to the Mexican style that you see in Mexican art songs. The contour and the range exhibit a sound much like wailing.  The title of the piece is Arbor Lucu, which translates to “Tree of Sorrow.” The piece exhibits a feeling of sorrow using a minor key, using tight dissonances, and the wailing melodies. gs-chavez-portrait

                Frente a Frente is an accompanied vocal solo by Silvestre Revueltas. This piece has a much happier feeling to it than Arbor Lucu, as it is not only in a major key but also has bouncier rhythmic melodies. This work is accompanied by a small brass choir that has a boom-chuck accompaniment in the low voices and the high brass voices (trumpets) are the response to the vocal melody. It is my opinion that this song sounds like a lot of drunk patrons in a bar. The trombone playing quick four notes descending chromatically in between verses of the melody is played like punctuation to the preceding melody. The trombone motive gives the distinct feeling of silliness.

                Both pieces were written as a statement to the public, as the two composers often did. Both composers wrote with a nationalistic style, writing music for the people. Arbor Lucu (Tree of Sorrow) could be considered a metaphor for the sadness of the people in Mexico, while Frente a Frente is obviously a piece making fun of a famous aristocrat or politician. Even though they were written for similar reasons, their styles are very different. While The use of dissonance Arbor Lucu and the lack of dissonance in Frente a Frente is quite possibly due to the message these works are to convey, I believe that it also speaks to the compositional styles of both composers.


 Joshua Lott


Mayer-Serra, Otto. “Silvestre Revueltas and Musical Nationalism in Mexico.” The Musical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1941): 123-45.              

Weinstock, Herbert. “Carlos Chávez.” The Musical Quarterly 22, no. 4 (1936): 435-45.

Hess, Carol A. “Silvestre Revueltas in Republican Spain: Music as Political Utterance.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 18, no. 2 (1997): 278-96. doi:10.2307/780398.

Parker, Robert L. “A Recurring Melodic Cell in the Music of Carlos Chávez.” Latin American Music Review / Revista De Música Latinoamericana 12, no. 2 (1991): 160-72. doi:10.2307/780087.


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