Compositional Differences Between Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas

Half a century ago, Carlos Chávez was considered the most esteemed composer embodying Mexican music. Today, however, Silvestre Revueltas is considered as esteemed a composer. Chávez integrated nationalism into his music through the recovery of native melodies turned into large Western forms. Revueltas chose to integrate popular music from the mestizo tradition. Although contemporaries, Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas’ compositional mastery were completely un alike. Chávez favored Romanticism and Romantic forms, thus leaning more towards Western compositional techniques. Revueltas preferred a more avant garde style, allowing word painting and a very individual music personality.


Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the music of Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas is their varying use of nationalism as incorporated into music. The use of nationalism in music was integral to creating a hegemonic cultural identity in Mexico. Their is little coherence or uniformity in nationalistic Mexican works due to the variety of positions in the dialogue of Mexican artists.

“The retrospective and erudite tendencies of Chávez’s score-the evoking of the past by using primitive scales or archaic instruments, by reconstructing the musical phases of certain ancient rites, etc.-do not correspond to the live temperament and quick spontaneity of Silvestre Revueltas. He is interested in present-day Mexico, 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 music of the country as it exists today.”

– Otto Mayer Sera

Chávez’ music before 1921 is often described as Romantic and includes many piano arrangements of Mexican songs. This hints at Chávez’s two main musical interests of his mature period: traditional genres and nationalistic leanings. When writing music of pre-Hispanic origin, Chávez was careful to study indigenous instruments and study the accounts of Spanish historians and their encounters with this music. Revueltas’ music more closely resembles that of Stravinsky, specifically his work Sensemayá is very comparable to Rite of Spring. According to Robert Stevenson “Revueltas’s mature works weave melodies of folk type into a gaudy instrumental fabric.” He is also known for his use of hemiolas to invoke Mexican popular music. Often times Revueltas is known for integrating his cynicism into his music.

It is clear that Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas’s compositional practices and techniques are strikingly different. From the differences in Romanticism and avant-garde to nationalistic tendencies, the music of both composers is as unique as their respective personalities.

– Jamille Brewster –


Parker, Robert. “Chávez (y Ramírez), Carlos (Antonio de Padua)”. Grove Music Online (July 2005) (accessed March 20th, 2017).

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

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

Weinstock, Herbert. “Carlos Chávez”. The Musical Quarterly 22/4 (October 1936) 435-445.


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