Mario Lavista is one of Mexico’s leading avant-garde composers. Lavista’s style is experimental and avant-garde with a fondness for improvisation. Although having formally studied under Carlos Chavez, his style grew into a significantly different compositional technique. Upon listening to a few of his works and a study of his background, Lavista would be classified as an experimental music composer.
The first work I listened to was his String Quartet No. 2 “Reflejos de la Noche”. It has little to no harmonic progression with interesting sounds created on the strings of one instrument while the rest are sustaining octaves or other intervals. There is no melody, just a few motives in the piece that would be quite difficult to recreate aurally. What makes this piece experimental is the use of the strings in an alternative manner. It sounds much like when a guitarist moves their fingers up and down the strings without lifting their fingers, creating somewhat of a screeching sound. Later in the work, he uses harmonics on the strings to create high pitched sounds that do not seem that they create melody. He also seems to write for a bow to be pulled across a string with little pressure, creating a screeching sound, much like a young amateur string player would as they learn to play their instrument, only with more technique.
Lavista’s Natarayah was the next piece I chose to evaluate. It is written for guitar, and with Lavista being a Mexican composer, one would think it would have more traditional Mexican sounds to it. However, it was a more experimental work, exhibiting uses of unusual melodic intervals, such as the tritone. It is also written in a mixed meter and often changes so that one can never follow where the beat lies. The only saving grace for the beat is the staccato bass notes on every “big beat”. Although lacking in traditional harmonic progression, the piece ends with a pure minor chord.
Mario Lavista’s Dusk is another example of his experimental compositional technique. It is written for solo double bass and begins with notes in a very high register for a double bass. The piece begins with a double stop unison note with one note sliding up to a minor second creating tension through dissonance. The piece then progresses into more traditional intervals, but lacks in harmonic progression. The experimental music truly begins about a minute and forty-five seconds into the work as the lower register is utilized. Here, Lavista explores interesting techniques with the low register on the double bass, including pizzicato while changing the tuning after plucking the note.
Although I was unable to find a recording online, Lavista’s Kronos seems the most John Cage like piece and most experimental work in his repertory. It is written for fifteen alarm clocks, which is obviously a nontraditional instrument that an avant-garde composer like Lavista or Cage might compose for. Lavista’s use of instruments that are not traditionally written for such as an alarm clock and his development of new techniques on string instruments are apparent examples of his avant-garde status as a composer and his use of experimental technique. Many composers in the sixties and seventies, much like Lavista, and even today, attempted to find new ways to play our “old” instruments. It seems that Mario Lavista succeeded in this and will remain in the cannon of experimental composers for generations to come.
“Lavista, Mario.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 18, 2017,.