Carlos Chavez: Toward a New Music

It seems that Carlos Chavez has a passion for history, especially that of the native American Indians. In his music, he uses indigenous instruments and Indian rhythms. In his book, Toward a New Music, Chavez repeatedly speaks of the music of the Native Americans. He touches upon subjects that are all comparatively undiscussed such as the indigenous history of music and the development of music and sound physics through the ages. After having studied the music of Carlos Chavez for the past three months, I have noticed a trend: pioneerism with a homage to the indigenous Mexican past.

The majority of Chavez’s compositions contain indigenous materials and Indian rhythms. Sinfonia india, Chavez’s Second Symphony and his most famous work, have these materials riddled throughout the piece. In Toward a New Music, he mentions how the development of understanding of physics has progressed music for millennia. I have spent much time in the second year of my masters studying the history of wind bands and brass instruments. It is interesting to me that Carlos Chavez approaches this fact with a study of physics. As physics developed, so did the ability for better musicality and expression through a stronger understanding of what the instrument is doing. I have never heard or read much about this approach before, so it begs the question, why?

Carlos Chavez spends his first Chapter discussing the habit, especially in music, of studying the past instead of studying the present. I believe that we spend more time studying physics of today instead of science of the past. Once we entered the age of the valve, or even before the chromatic keys on instruments, there was not much of a desire to study the non-valved brass instruments and keyless woodwinds. We may study the music still, but we do not speak of the instruments and the physics behind them. Some ensembles around the world focus on early music, playing on early instruments. The University of North Texas has an early music ensemble that includes early versions of the string family, playing music of the Baroque era.

The chapters of Carlos Chavez’s book that I read mostly spoke of pioneerism through the ages, beginning with early music until the modern era in which he wrote the book. He obviously had a strong interest in electronic music and recording as he mentioned this is the only way that music can be a permanent art, much like that of architecture. It is interesting to see how much we have developed since his day; we now have amazing ways of recording music. The University of Texas at El Paso now Facebook live streams their concerts and graduate and faculty recitals so that the public that is unable to attend (or wishes to just stay home for the night). YouTube has millions of videos on the website collection, many of which are recordings of classical music, live performances, and other musical sources. You can download music directly to your computer and your phone in almost an instant through our technological advances.  The earlier methods of mass-producing recordings such as vinyl records and then the later counterparts of tapes and compact discs would have been exactly what Carlos Chavez was speaking of.chavez album cover

I believe that Carlos Chavez would have been extremely impressed with our technological advances that we have made today. His desire to have a more perfect way to produce, record, and broadcast music has developed in an unimaginable way. I have always wondered what Mozart would have thought about our current modern music, not even having been able to even compose with the assistance of a lightbulb. Carlos Chavez, of course, had the technology of a lightbulb, but computers were just beginning to be mass produced for the public at the end of his life and internet was only a thing in the military. I would love to see the smile on Carlos Chavez’s face if he were alive today, watching a live streamed concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker.


Joshua Lott


One thought on “Carlos Chavez: Toward a New Music

  1. fnewberry says:

    Wow! I like that phrase ” pioneerism with an homage the the indigenous Mexican past”. You found a totally unexpected perspective! AND UNT has some great historical wind players(notably trumpeters:)


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