Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas are two of the most influential Mexican Composers of their time. Whether we look at the film music the Revueltas has composed, one of his best known works being the film score for Redes, or one of the six symphonies that Carlos Chavez composed, the Sinfonia India being his most famous that utilizes the primitive percussion instrument of the Yaqui. It is no question, the influence in their own right, but to the modern “ear” of music, that we have developed today, these composers are almost unidentifiable, meaning if we hear their compositions today without a reference, being location, time period, or even the composers name itself, we would probably not be very successful in identifying their similar yet contrasting styles.
I would like to bring to the forefront two choral pieces, one from each composer, both I have performed in my own experience, I am aware that a single piece does not give a full background of a composer, but in the case of these two pieces I do believe it give us a small insight as to how each composers style came to be.
The first piece I would like to talk about is Frente a Frente by Silvestre Revueltas, this piece was written in1938 and is for brass and chorus, at least that is how it was performed when I was a part in performing it. Frente meaning “front” or “face” was used to confront the people and their government, “face to face”. As a chorus number this piece is slightly odd in its use of instrumentation (a brass choir and a drum) to accompany the singers on a simple yet strong melody. The words fly by in this piece at fast pace, with two verses sung in performance. The verses littered with mockery to Mussolini, Hitler and Pandilla, and exclaim that the people singing will not back down without a fight.
The second piece I was able to be a part of and perform was Arbolucu by Carlos Chavez was written in 1942 for acapella chorus. This piece has an overall somber feel to it, loosely translated to “tree of sorrow” it is not hard to imagine why it sounds the way it does. This piece utilizes imagery of “wailing” or “crying” in its “ah’s” and its descending passages. Not to mention this piece is fairly dissonant and can be interpreted as a remorseful or waning melody. It has several moments of power when the text seems to be recollecting the days in which the tree was still “full of vigor” and “full of love”.
In conclusion these two pieces are slightly similar in the fact that they each say something passionate, but very different in the subject matter. In Frente a Frente the many lyrics and the simple melody that many people could sing together helped bring together many different backgrounds to fight the government and for their rights. Arbolucu has passion in its phases and dynamics, greatly increasing the images and mood of the piece, though it seems to be just about a tree, the lyrics can be vague enough to portray something more.
These two composers although not well known in the big picture of the music world have done for the Mexican world many a great thing, by bringing attention to social politics and unique vocal colors and uses to get their messages across. Now you know of just a bit more music than you knew before.
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