Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon – Sounds of Mexico and Crumb

Who is Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon? Upon my quest to find a modern day Mexican composer, the name Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon stood out.  For starters, the name does not sound quite Mexican but he is in fact from Mexico.  He grew up in Guadalajara.  Both of his parents were armature musicians (mother a pianist and father a guitarist) and they exposed their son to music early on in his childhood.  His first instrument was guitar, then piano, then back to guitar.  As he grew up, Zohn-Muldoon enjoyed music but did not necessarily see it as a future career (as he put it, during his teenage years, Ricardo formed a band with some friends, mainly to get the attention of girls).  He assumed he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become an architect but with all the exposure and work he put into his band, he decided to go the musical route for his college education.  For his undergrad, he studied at the University of California at San Diego.  For his graduate education, he was enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania where he studied composition with George Crumb and received a master’s and doctorates in composition.  Now a member of the Eastman School of Music faculty, Zohn-Muldoon has an extensive resume that you can view on their website.  His musical journey got me thinking…in America, does being from a different country make a person’s compositions more appealing?   Ricardo-Zohn-Muldoon-web

In an interesting interview by Tom Moore, Zohn-Muldoon discusses some of his interactions with Crumb. One particular comment that stood out to me was the mention of Zohn-Muldoon’s name.  He had asked Crumb why he has accepted him as a student and Crumb replied, “Well, it was your name, Ricardo!”  I can only guess what Crumb meant by this comment.  Did he mean that he liked Zohn-Muldoon’s unique name?  Or that he was intrigued by his origins?  In the interview, Zohn-Muldoon does not quite explain what Crumb meant but proceeds to break down why he hyphenated his name (his father was an Austrian Jew and his mother’s family immigrated from Ireland).  What is interesting to me is that technically Zohn-Muldoon is not ethnically Hispanic but nationalistically he is (did I say that correctly?).  Perhaps Crumb liked the idea of both?  It made me think of how Carlos Chavez used his nationality to “sell” his image and gain some popularity for being one of the few Mexican composers around during his prime time.  Zohn-Muldoon did not have the same experiences as Chavez but he does use Mexican cultural ideas in his music.

Regardless of Zohn-Muldoon’s family roots, I have found that he also likes to use Mexican tales as subject matter for his compositions. Flores de Viento is a song cycle he composed early on that uses text from “Quetzalcoatl,” a character from a pre-Hispanic tale.  Initially he was not too pleased with his composition and was not sure whether to quit it or not.  Crumb told him if he throws the piece away to tell him where (basically saying he would go dig it up to save it!  Another cool Crumb story).  After the indirect compliment, clearly Zohn-Muldoon kept the piece.  Another composition that caught my attention was NinoPolilla.  It is a miniature opera with a story line written by Juan Trigos (famous Mexican playwright).  The story is about a young boy who contracts a virus that gradually makes his body parts turn into dust.  His parents tell him it’s because he is being punished by God for not being an obedient child.  As the music goes on, the boy eventually dies collapsing into dust.  Zohn-Muldoon even writes in coughing and wheezing sounds to illustrate this.  To conclude the opera, the parents seem pleased about what happened but they also get infected.  A strange tale, a bit humorous and satirical, but neatly executed with Zohn-Muldoon syllabic style of composing.  This also made me think of Silvestre Revueltas’s composition Duo para pato y canario, where he also uses syllabic composing.

Though time has passed since the days of Chavez and Revueltas, does the charm of a foreign composer still appeal to the public? It is evident that Zohn-Muldoon uses much of his Mexican heritage in his compositions and works closely with other Mexican composers (Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez: childhood friend and colleague.  Juan Trigo: same name has father, is a composer and conductor that worked with Zohn-Muldoon on NinoPolilla).  His works reflect Mexican culture and as well as influence from George Crumb.  In today’s society, with more known Mexican composers, it is safe to say that it is ones talent that attracts the audiences, no matter where they were born.  But a little cultural influence also helps.

-Laura Aguirre

“Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.” Eastman School of Music | Composition. 2017. Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.esm.rochester.edu/faculty/zohn_muldoon_ricardo/.

Huckabay, Deidre. “An Interview with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.” Newmusicbox. December 22, 2010.  Accessed April 16, 2017.  http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/An-Interview-with-Ricardo-ZohnMuldoon/

Mireya Obregón. “Zohn-Muldoon, Ricardo.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 18, 2017, http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.lib.utep.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2263482.

Moore, Tom. “An Interview with Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.” Opera Today.  January 7, 2010. Accessed April 16, 2017.  http://www.operatoday.com/content/2010/01/ricardo_zohn-mu.php

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