Mario Lavista: A product of Chavez in more than one way

By Edwin Cordoba

When I found out Mario Lavista was a product of Carlos Chavez’s compositional teaching, I knew I was immediately interested in doing a little more research on him. He enrolled in the Composition Workshop at the National Conservatory in 1963 and studied with Chavez and Rodolfo Halffter. As I browsed through YouTube to get a brief understanding of his repertoire, I wondered if there was a connection to Chavez’ music.

In an interview with the Mexican Cultural Arts, Lavista is quoted saying, “I had the opportunity to meet, through my dear friend Rosa Covarrubias (wife of Miguel Covarrubias- the great dance animator and great Mexican painter), Carlos Chavez. I discovered that I was really fascinated by that kind of approach to music. Little by little I started to leave behind the interpretive part and I started to take on the creative. I started to write small themes for Piano.”

I immediately started to recognize a uniquely characteristic style to Lavista’s music. I noticed vast implementation of contemporary techniques- Lavista likes to explore both traditional and non-traditional timbres. I also noticed an affinity towards wind-instrument multiphonics and string-instrument harmonics and artificial harmonics. He has an affinity towards starkly static sonorities- a quality that made me think more of John Cage’s music than Carlos Chavez. However, his music is generally melodic in nature, and has direction and dynamics.

In another interview, Levista says, “Music has to find not only its own style, but its own language… this is what our struggle is as 21st-century composers. The need to re-invent our language. Music is an art of the time. In fact, music is made up of time and of sounds…” In many ways, his contemporary music is his attempt at re-inventing this “tonal” language into something new.

Clepsidra, an orchestral composition written in 1993 strikes me as “celestial” in character, with its muted brass, ostinatos and use of string harmonics in these static sonorities. It really speaks of the

One of the things that strikes me the most after reading about Mario Lavista was how similar he was to Chavez in his involvement with the international and national academic music community. In 1970 he founded Quanta, a collective improvisation group. He worked at the electronic music studio of radio and television in Tokyo in 1972. In 1982, he founded Pauta, one of the most important music journals in Latin America, and to this day serves at its chief editor. Today he is a prolific guest lecturer, and is the teacher of music analysis and composition at the National Conservatory in Mexico City. He has composed incidental music for plays, film scores, orchestral pieces and vocal music. In many ways, Lavista was not just a student of Chavez, but a continuation of his legacy.

Ricardo Miranda Pérez. “Lavista, Mario.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 18, 2017,

Lavista, Mario. “Clepsidra”. Filmed November 2009. YouTube video, 9:56. Posted November 2015.

Lavista, Mario. “Mario Lavista Entrevista”. YouTube Video.


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