Mexican composers Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas envisioned to establish a true Mexican style of composition; thus, guidelines from European art was meant to be avoided. However, European guidelines for music cannot be ignored in its entirety. While Chavez and Revueltas used atonality, multimeter, and even humor in their works, both demonstrate their own identity in their compositions. Despite the fact that both composers were born in 1899, another coincidence crossed their paths: Chavez and Revueltas composed their String Quartet No. 2 in 1932.
Chavez and Revueltas made immense efforts of creating a true Mexican style; however, there are two little details that do follow European traditions in terms of writing for String Quartet. The first one is the type of ensemble. String Quartets were originated in Europe. Second, the overall-structure of the pieces, also follows a European approach. Chavez String Quartet No. 2 has four movements, and Revueltas has three. Perhaps, this is the reason Chavez and Revueltas did not write that many string quartets. According to Roberto Kolb, Revueltas worked on a few string quartets once; but Revueltas never worked on that style ever again. That is the case with Chavez as well. One can speculate that Chavez and Revueltas did not write for string instruments frequently due to the European background that the instruments imply.
How are the quartets Mexican? Certain features help capture the idea. For example, Chavez uses hemiolas which is traditional from Mexican music. On the other hand, both pieces sound serious, atonal, and with unstable meters but somewhat they are hilarious and probably have a hidden message too. For instance, Chavez features a half scale here and there in the middle of complex rhythms on the other lines. Perhaps this represents the unstable pollical situation of that time, and that there is a voice of hope. In contrast, Silvestre Revueltas literally takes a motive from a popular tune and used in the first movement of the String Quartet. Revueltas, perhaps, simply intended to truly portray what the Mexican culture was all about.
Chavez and Revueltas have in common the idea that a Mexican style of composition needed to be designed without following European guidelines. Both composers experimented with String Quartets and played with motives and counterpoint, but the issue is that the ensemble has European roots and since their ambition was to create a Mexican style of composition, instrumentation mattered; therefore, composing for string quartets was out of the picture after a few experiments. Chavez and Revueltas string quartets are not easy to enjoy at first glance. The question is: how can a performer make justice to the music? In unfortunate cases a situation like this can happen:
“…Maybe the fault is with the musicians [when performing Chavez String Quartet No. 2], who sound as if they are sight-reading much of the time. Their playing is uninspired, sometimes out-of-tune, and often ugly. Perhaps Chavez didn’t understand how to write for strings, or maybe he was simply not a very good composer.” Elaine Fine, Author American Record Guide.
Not everyone understands Chavez and Revueltas music. Our generation is responsible to take the lead and perform more of this type of pieces, to the point that this type of music sounds familiar to audiences.
By Sandra Rivera
Fine, Elaine. “CHAVEZ: Quartets 1, 2, 3; Goddard Homage; Invention 2.” American Record Guide 70, no. 1 (01, 2007): 80. https://0-search.proquest.com.lib.utep.edu/docview/952833?accountid=7121.
Jiménez Ramírez, Talía, (Author). n.d. “Los cuartetos de cuerdas de 1932: Estudio comparativo del Cuarteto número 2 de Carlos Chávez y de Música de feria de Silvestre Revueltas.” In Collected Work: Diálogo de resplandores: Carlos Chávez y Silvestre Revueltas. Series: Ríos y raíces: Teoría y práctica del arte, Published by: México, D.F., Mexico: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) (Dirección General de Publicaciones), 2002. ISBN: 978-970-18-8409-6; 970-18-8409-4. Pages: 47-67. (AN: 2002-10442), México, D.F.: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) (Dirección General de Publicaciones), n.d. RILM Abstracts of Music Literature (1967 to Present only), EBSCOhost (accessed March 21, 2017).
Robert Stevenson. “Revueltas, Silvestre.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 21, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/23289.