Mario Lavista: Crossover Composer

Love, Corina

lavista     Mario Lavista, born in 1943, is a living Mexican composer who works in electronic music and acoustic music. If you were to listen to it, you’d see how they both come across in his music. We can especially see this in his Cinco Danzas Breves. To me, that is what makes him note worthy, he composed anything and everything he wanted. Let me give you some background information on him before continuing.

Mario Lavista was born in Mexico City, and he is related to Raul Lavista, another Mexican composer. He studied with Carlos Chavez, yes, THE Carlos Chavez. Lavista is from Mexico City, and his career really took off in the late 60s/early 70s. Around this time is when he met people like Ligeti and John Cage, fellow avant garde composers. He has written a lot, both musically (opera, chamber music, electronic music, etc.) and literally. Lavista founded two magazines; Talea (1975) and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (1975). He was also a teacher, even one at UNM in 2013.

mario lavista2

If you are not familiar with Ligeti or Cage, it’s quite alright. Type their names into a search engine and there you go! (I’ll also put a listening list down below.) These two composers are known in America for the avant garde pieces and having their music exist for music’s sake. Usually, they have a lot of repetition and a gradual development of music that is so small that sometimes one doesn’t notice it until the new theme is complete and has been repeated several times. This type of music, stereotypically, seems to have odd intervalic relationships and sense of time/meter. In Lavista’s Cinco Danzas Breves, one can hear all of these things.

mario lavista3

This piece is written for five instruments: Clarinet, Oboe, Bassoon, Flute, and French Horn. That seems to be an odd paring, doesn’t it? It is! However, once you listen to the piece, you can see that it isn’t odd at all. The honk sound from the bassoon and French horn go really well together. Then the instruments get progressively less squeakier or honky. The oboe and clarinet can be honky but also lyric like the flute. which has no honk. the piece itself is about 14 minutes long composed of different major sections or movements. It begins with a small downward moving motif with the clarinet that the other instruments seeming follow or at least mimic. Progressively, each instrument keeps in time but seemingly does their own motive. The rest of the piece is the same sort of construct just at different tempos and varies within which instrument “intones” the motif.

If you were to listen to something like Einstein on the Beach, by Philip Glass, it sounds similar in that they both use rhythm and sound to make their pieces work together. It’s very metrical and odd but not so odd that it’s off putting. Why is this important? Because it shows how the two composers influenced each other. It’s what was hot and happenin’ back then within that community.

So what makes Mario Lavista different? He was Mexican and he studied electronic composition also. This factor of studying electronic composition was what made his music different. We can see this electronic music influence in Cinco Danzas Breves, based upon how the sounds are working together. In the 70s, it became popular to work with the new equipment that was coming out to make electronic music. This isn’t to reference EDM, but it’s perhaps the grandfather to it all. It’s the idea of using electricity and electric items to make music. For instance, if a piece were to use a backtrack of prerecorded music and then is performed with a soloist, it is electronic music. If you were to use microphones swinging over speakers to give different pitches of sound, that is also electronic music. By the way, that has been done by Steve Reich.

Mario Lavista was different because he wrote everything he wanted to and didn’t stay in this little box that somehow people get stuck in. He wrote operas, chamber music, piano music, and electronic music. They all influenced each other and I believe that is what makes him so great. He is a well rounded musician.

mario lavista


Listening List

Cinco Danzas Breves (Lavista)

Musica Ricercata (Ligeti)

Water Walk (Cage)

Einstein on the Beach (Glass)

Pendulum Music (Reich) 


“Cinco Danzas Breves – Quinteto Prana.” YouTube. July 30, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.

Melton, Myelita. “Mario Lavista.” Home. Accessed April 18, 2017.

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

Talento, Romeo. “The Living Composers Project.” Mario Lavista – The Living Composers Project. Accessed April 18, 2017.


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