Silvestre Revueltas: Mexican composer and conductor born today in 1899


“The music evokes pre-Columbian landscapes and images with a cinematic grandeur, sweep and colorfulness that go beyond the merely picturesque. The suite reaches its climax (in more ways than one) in the fourth section, “Night of Sorcery,” featuring no fewer than a dozen percussion instruments–drums, gourds, rasps, even a conch shell–leading a Mayan sacrificial dance. Think of a manic cross between “The Rite of Spring,” Carlos Chávez and Philip Glass and you will get an idea of this astonishing finale. In his brief spoken remarks as well as in his rousing, rhythmically charged performance.”  — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, on “La noche de los Mayas”

Silvestre Revueltas, the “great free spirit of Mexican music,” was born on the very eve of the 20th century, on December 31, 1899. After early training as a violinist, he concentrated his talents on conducting and composition. At Carlos Chávez’s invitation, he became Assistant Conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra (1929-1935) and taught violin and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, also conducting the Conservatory Orchestra. In 1937 he conducted several of his orchestral works in Spain, lending his support to the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. In October 1940, barely 40 years old, he succumbed to pneumonia aggravated by alcoholism. In his last decade, Revueltas was astonishingly productive, writing almost 40 works – including 6 for full orchestra and 8 film scores – in a mature, vitally individual voice.

Recent performances and recordings have helped address the lack of attention given Revueltas’ music in the decades since his death. His monumental La Noche de los Mayas, with a finale requiring 11 percussionists, has thrilled audiences of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, and the American Composers Orchestra in recent years. The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s all-Revueltas CD on Sony Classical, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, won the 1999 Diapason Award. On Koch International Classics, Giséle Ben-Dor leads the Santa Barbara Symphony and English Chamber Orchestra in Revueltas’ last work La Coronela, along with orchestral works Itinerarios and Colorines. For a more comprehensive set, try BMG Classics’ “Silvestre Revueltas: Centennial Anthology 1899-1999”.

For an essay by Roberto Kolb Neuhaus on the life of Revueltas, click here.

String Quartet No. 4 (“Música de Feria”) (1932) : Cuarteto Latinoamericano

51++jWzYMiL._SS280“Music of the Fair,” written in 1932, proceeds in one continuous movement that nevertheless subdivides into sections that correspond to the usual four-movement quartet structure. After an initial burst of confusion, the first section bustles about, with several ideas being contrasted rather than developed. Here and in the later sections, Revueltas tries out almost all the string-instrument tricks common at that time. Pizzicati add color, and double stops thicken a texture already dense with at least two of the four voices usually enjoying melodic and rhythmic autonomy. A bridge employing harmonics leads to a slow serenade, the heart of the work. Next comes what would correspond to a spiky scherzo, spiced with Bartókian glissandi. (In fact, this entire ten-minute quartet is the sort of musical postcard Bartók might have written on a light holiday in Mexico, were he prone to such efforts.) Material from the opening section returns, and leads to a frenetic ending. (

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