The recognition of Latin America's emergence as a creative musical force to be reckoned with has been a thing of comparatively recent years; it would seem as much as anything else to be the result of this country's Good Neighbor Policy of the Second World War. With regard to this, it is an established fact that no discussion of Latin American music can justly continue long without reference to the unique work—in composition, musical education, and performance—of Carlos Chávez.
Chávez was born in Mexico City in 1899. Music was introduced to him through his brother and he later studied (somewhat superficially, it is to be gathered) with Manuel M. Ponce and Pedro Luis Ogazan. Chávez , however, was an independent soul ; he chose to acquire the largest part of his musical information by himself. He was from the beginning disinclined to accept the usual academic pedagogy in harmony and counterpoint. He preferred to examine the textbooks himself and arrive, by careful selection, at his own unfettered conclusions.
Aaron Copland, who is enthusiastically well-acquainted with the composer's work, has written this of him: "Carlos Chávez is one of the best examples I know of a thoroughly contemporary composer. He has faced in his music almost all the major problems of modern music: the overthrow of German ideals, the objectification of sentiment, the use of folk material in its relation to nationalism, the intricate rhythms, the linear as opposed to vertical writing, the specifically 'modern' sound images. It is music that belongs entirely to our own age. It propounds no problems, no metaphysics. Chávez 's music is extraordinarily healthy. It is music created not as a substitute for living but as a manifestation of life. It is clear and clean-sounding, without shadows or softness. Here is contemporary music if there ever was any."
In the early 'twenties Chávez undertook a period of travel, both in Europe and in the United States. Between the years 1923 and 1936 he began a kind of commutation between this country and Mexico during which he enjoyed a considerable rapport with the United States and its more adventurous young composers. In 1928 he founded the Mexico Symphony Orchestra and became its first permanent conductor; he later accepted a position at the head of the Mexican Department of Fine Arts. Through these instruments he was able to make great strides with his country's musical mentality, both through the introduction of new music of international importance and through the development of younger Mexican composers.
Nicholas Slonimsky has classified Chávez 's work in three clear-cut phases: 1) a period of abstract experimentalism represented by works like the ballet H.P. (horsepower), a symbolic evocation of the machine age. 2) A music of sociopolitical content, exemplified by the Sinfonía Proletaria. 3) A conscious move toward nationalism which is clearly represented by the works included on this record: Sinfonía India, Obertura Republicana and Corrido de "El Sol."
The final and enduring phase of the composer's work was perhaps the one that, of necessity, began most consciously. It was apparent that Mexico's tradition in serious music was founded on the well-established standards of the German conservatory. It was through knowing, skillful use of the material found in the ritualistic music of the Mexican Indian that Chávez was able to demonstrate to himself and others that the old rules could be challenged. He submitted to the influence at first through literal quotation; later he attempted a genuine assimilation of the material. To refer to Copland again: "... with keen intuition. singlehandedly, he created a tradition that no future Mexican composer can afford to ignore. If I stress this point, it is because I feel that no other composer—not even Bela Bartók or de Falla—has succeeded so well in using folk material in its pure form while at the same time solving the Problem of its complete amalgamation into an art form."
SINFONÍA INDIA was composed during one of Chávez 's visits to the United States in 1936. The work utilizes three Mexican-Indian melodies and includes scoring for an usually exotic variety of percussion instruments: Indian drums, a water-gourd, various rasps and rattles. The piece is in the form of a brief three-movement symphony, played without pause.
Jose Pablo Mencayo, one of his country's best known musicians, was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, in 1912 and studied music in Mexico with Carlos Chávez and Candelario Húizar. He came to prominence as a member of Mexico's "group of four"; his special aim, according to Slonimsky, is the incorporation of indigenous material into orderly classical form.
It is said that the word huapango is derived from a word meaning "on the stage" and the name is given to the popular festivities of the coastal regions of the states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas—as well as of the Huasteca which comprises a part of the previously mentioned areas.
Moncayo's HUAPANGO is a dance-like work of pressing rhythmic propulsion and extraordinarily plain harmonic and melodic material. The work is based on three sones of the port of Alvarado, the locale where the huapango still exists in its most pure style.
CORRIDO DE "EL SOL," an extended work for chorus and orchestra, was composed at the beginning of 1934. The text is made up of a series of small poems by Carlos Gutierrez Cruz; the dominating motif in the poetry is the sun. The first performance of Chávez's setting took place June 17, 1934. The following is a free translation of the poetry involved:
Oh, red headed Sun
Peering from the Orient
Arise and warm
the dampened sod.
All night it rained
with fitful fury—
"Jugsful" as people say.
The seed is numb and almost frozen.
Oh, Sun! Warm the seed and burst it—
Induce its flower to bloom
With all your hues and color!
Round Sun, red and hot—
The sower is at the plough
And you are in the East.
Oh Sun, while the sowers plough
You warm the earth.
And the earth warms the seed that it holds.
And now you will be my companion
For you deal with equality
Because like man
You're a toiler
Earning your daily bread.
Round and red, Oh Sun
A ring of copper—
You daily look at me
And daily find me poor.
Sometimes with the plough you'll see me,
Sometimes with the harrow,
At times you'll see me on the prairie—
At others, on the hillside
You see me when I rope the bulls—
You see me when I drive the herd—
But daily you see me poor
Like all of us who are down
Oh Sun, that spreads
Your light so evenly—
Your duty is to teach
The earthly masters
To be as fair as you.
Round and red, Oh Sun
A ring of copper—
You daily look at me
And daily find me poor.
The themes of the work have a strong local flavor, set in a
severely simple style of diatonic, block sonorities.
OBERTURA REPUBLICANA, composed in Mexico in 1935, is a work of self-explanatory structure, conceived in overtly popular style. The piece is in three parts: Zacatecas, a march; Club Verde, a waltz; La Adelita, a Mexican, revolutionary war song.
Chávez , in connection with the first performance of the work, supplied the following note: "I do not see why our audiences should be deprived of the beautiful melodies that I have combined into my 'Republican Overture.' I don't know how it turns out that our Republican music is not 'highbrow' enough for symphonic treatment when this is not true of minuets or colonial masses. I am certain that our orchestra complies with an unfulfilled duty when it brings to our symphony audiences this, our own music, which is so legitimate, so loyal to itself and its cradle ... Nobody will doubt, on hearing these delightful melodies, Mexico's very own, that they belong to an epoch and to a place. Here is the 'National' music, the Mexican music, from the nineteenth century.
Do not think that in presenting this composition under the name of 'Overture' that I assume to give the word its formalistic meaning. I have selected this title because the word itself sounds well."
About the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico...
Founded in 1928 through the initiative of its permanent conductor, Carlos Chávez , the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico has become through the years, not only a major cultural institution in Mexico, but also an orchestra enjoying world-wide renown. Its three-fold purpose of presenting fine performances of symphonic music to the music lovers of the country, awakening an interest for music in the general public, and of presenting the works of modern, particularly Mexican composers, has been magnificently fulfilled. The orchestra, a state subsidized institution, has a repertoire of 485 works, of which 237 were presented for the first time in Mexico. Mexican music is represented by 93 works by thirty-three composers. Among the orchestra's guest conductors have been the following world-famous figures: Ansermet, Copland, Hindemith, Klemperer, Milhaud, Mitropoulos.
- The Symphony Orchestra of Mexico
- Carlos Chávez, Conductor
- Carlos Chávez: Sinfonía India
- José Pablo Moncayo: Huapango
- Carlos Chávez: de 'El Sol'
- Carlos Chávez: Obertura Republicana
Other recordings of works by these composers:
- Carlos Chávez: The Complete Symphonies
- The Piano Works of Carlos Chavez/ Hsuan-a Chen
- Carlos Chavez: Chamber Works
- Carlos Chávaez: Sinfonia India; Sinfonia de Antigona; Symphony No. 4 (Sinfonia Romantica)
- Chávez: Complete Chamber Music, Vol. 1
- Chávez: Complete Chamber Music, Vol. 2
- Orquestra Filharmonica de Jalisco perform Chavez Marquez Moncayo Rolon