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Thread: 20th Century: Music in Mexico - A brief look

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    Default 20th Century: Music in Mexico - A brief look

    Ok, I thought I'd make a contribution.. Here's a little something I wrote for a class this semester.



    One of the most eclectic, interesting and influential eras in the history of our world was the 20th Century.
    New technological advances, scientific discoveries and cultural acheivements marked these years. Humankind rose to heights unimagined beforehand.
    A renewed preoccupation with peace, equity and human rights demonstrated that man was getting to understand, to some extent, the concept of living in harmony.
    Not withstanding, there were a series of conflicts we all know about that led thousands upon thousands of people to suffering and oppression. This led to a growing feeling of national identity in many countries, which was, of course, reflected in the arts.
    We’re all familiar with Russian nationalism, Czech nationalism, Polish, American, etc. However, people seem to forget one of the more important conflicts in the American continent. It brought a unified voice and identity to the people of its nation: the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

    Mexico at the beginning of the 20th Century was immersed in a world of growing social and political changes, and in a feeling of uncertainty.
    The Mexican Revolution brought with it a total re-organization of the country, in aspects both social and political. This, of course, caused a complete renewal of thought and a total change in the lifestyles of the mexican people.
    Thus, Mexican artists and composers made it a priority to find and preserve the rich traditions of Mexican culture and of the indigenous music of the past.
    Mexican nationalism can be divided into two strong movements. The first of these, which could be called traditional nationalism, has its foundation on the idea of using traditional folk melodies of the mexican people in the classical music of the time. The foremost exponent of this movement is perhaps Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948), who wrote a large number of songs, both popular and academic. Maestro Ponce incorporated into his music a strong sense of Mexican identity. He was highly influential in passing along this idea to other composers like José Rolón (1876-1945), Arnulfo Miramontes (1882-1960) and Candelario Huízar (1883-1970). Huízar, in particular, was the first of these composers who utilized melodies of indigenous origin, thus beginning the second movement of Mexican nationalism.

    The so called “Indigenist” Nationalism, was more preoccupied with the nation’s most primal origins, turning for their inspiration to the Mexico of the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Toltecs, etc. They were unlike the traditional nationalists in that they consciously made an effort to distantiate themselves from romantic influences and methods. They searched for new methods that would allow them to incorporate indigenous music, not as a mere element, but as the foundation of a whole new musical language.
    One of the composers who were at the forefront of this movement was Carlos Chávez (1899-1978), who is perhaps the mexican composer with the most influence on today’s cultural environment in Mexico.
    Chávez’s influence was exercised not only as a composer, but as a teacher and activist. Maesto Chávez had most of his musical formation abroad. He had the opportunity to meet many renowned composers, such as Paul Dukas, Edgar Varèse and Aaron Copland. Upon returning to Mexico, Chávez had brought with him the musical ideas of Stravinsky and Schönberg, previously unknown to the Mexican people. He put his effort into creating and organizing concert series in Mexico that brought to the attention of the Mexican people names such as Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schönberg and Claude Debussy.
    Thanks to his efforts, Mexico now has the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, a government agency dedicated to the advancement of the arts in Mexico. He was also one of the most important composition teachers of his time.
    He was highly interested in new forms of music, including electronic music, on which he wrote one of the first treatises. In his writing, Chávez emphasized the creation of what he called “useful art”. He emphasized the need for an art that would be useful for the masses without any discrimination of social classes. He maintained that art is not a luxury or a privilege.
    Chávez set a precedent for other Mexican composers in that he distantiated himself from traditional tonality, rejecting the romantic rhetoric.
    One of his most representative pieces, and of the indigenist nationalism, is the “Sinfonía India”, which utilizes various indigenous instruments and elements to create a pastiche of Mexican culture. Other noteworthy compositions include his ballets “Caballos de Vapor”, “El Fuego Nuevo” and orchestral pieces like the Republican Overture and the Piano Concerto.
    Other composers who, along Chávez, stressed the importance of indigenous music, were Blas Galindo (1910-1993) whose “Sones de Mariachi” is already a classic of Mexican music; José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958) whose “Huapango” is one of the most beloved pieces in the Mexican repertoire; and Miguel Bernal Jiménez, most remembered for his carol “Por el Valle de las Rosas”. Other important composers of this generation include Eduardo Hernández Moncada, Luis Sandi, Daniel Ayala and Salvador Contreras.

    Even though he wasn’t a clear part of the indigenist nationalists, Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) is considered to be the most important Mexican composer of the 20th Century. He never utilized indigenous music as his direct source, yet he managed to compose pieces clearly infused with a strong sense of Mexican folklore.
    In his own wors:
    “In most of my works I’ve looked to express the indifferent, maybe sentimental, always energic, content, and very definitely sarcastic, character of the people of my country. I don’t use popular or folkloric themes, but most of the motifs I use have a popular character.”
    Even with his great nationalistic influence, Revueltas was at the forefront of modernist innovation in Mexico, a fact that can be proved by pieces such as “Sensemayá”, “Planos”, “Ocho x Radio”, and “La Noche de los Mayas”.
    Another one of the most singular personalities in Mexican music was Julián Carrillo (1875-1965), who developed his own theories regarding the division of the twelve-tone scale in intervals smaller than the half-step. He named his theory “The 13th Sound”. With this theory, Carrillo placed himself as the direct precursor to the proponents of “microtonality” that would come later.
    Towards the mid-20th Century, nationalist ideology started to lose its prominence in Mexico. Technologic growth, together with opening of foreign exchange and faster means of communication facilitated the arrival of many European schools of thought into Mexican art.

    Important teachers of the time, such as Rodolfo Halffter and Carlos Chávez, who formed a whole generation of new Mexican composers, made the teaching of European serialist ideas, aleatoric experimenting and sound exploration through electronic means, an important part of the curriculum.
    Out of Maestro Chávez’s composition course came composers like Mario Lavista, Francisco Núñez, Héctor Quintanar and Julio Estrada, who are at the forefront of innovation in Mexican music. Quintanar has devoted his efforts to the advancement of electronic music, while Lavista and Estrada have ascribed to the movements of “Instrumental Renaissance” and the “New Complexity”, respectively.
    Perhaps the most influential composer of the second half of the 20th Century was Manuel Enríquez (1926-1994), who was one of the pioneers of electronic music in Mexico. He left behind a vast repertoire of music for string and percussion instruments, as well as orchestral music, which shows his interesting and unique way of dealing with orchestral texture and timbre.
    Other important composers in recent time include Carlos Jiménez Mabarak, Joaquín Gutérrez Heras, Alicia Urreta, Mario Kuri Aldana, Leonardo Velázquez, Manuel de Elías, Arturo Márquez, Antonio Russek, Javier Álvarez, Roberto Morales, Manuel Rocha Iturbide, Graciela Agudelo, Federico Ibarra, Daniel Catán, Marcela Rodríguez, Ernesto García de León, Roberto Medina, Eduardo Soto Millán, Victor Rasgado, Hilda Paredes, Ana Lara, Gabriela Ortiz y Juan Trigos.

    Perhaps Mexican music history is not as rich as some of the European countries can boast of having, but it is sadly neglected in today’s musical environment. It is time people open their eyes and see that Mexico is not about the sombreros, the donkeys and the swine flu. There’s important music being created in our country that is waiting to be discovered.


    Some nice songs to listen to:
    Manuel M. Ponce - Intermezzo
    Manuel M. Ponce - Estrellita
    Carlos Chávez - Sinfonia India pt. 1
    Carlos Chávez - Sinfonia India pt. 2
    José Pablo Moncayo - Huapango
    Blas Galindo - Sones del Mariachi
    Silvestre Revueltas - Sensemayá
    Arturo Márquez - Danzón No. 2

    (Sorry about all the Dudamel videos, Dudamel haters, but he's the only conductor right now who seems interested in bringing Mexican music to a wider audience..)
    Life is a long lesson in humility.

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    Thanks for the informative thread.

    Both Mexico and the United States are late bloomers in regards to classical music. What about Canada? I'm completely clueless about Canadian classial music.

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    Mexico not so much late, they had great classical composers since the Spanish arrived there. I actually know quite a lot about colonial music from the Americas, studied it in college, and Mexico had quite an important school, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla is perhaps the most interesting composer from the Americas up until the C20th.

    But the thread is about Mexican music in the 20th century, I knew Revueltas and Chávez, but these other composers were interesting to discover. and it is also a very good text mentioning the main schools in Mexico. A question, there is, specially in Revueltas and Chávez, a lot of references to the two pre-columbian civilzations of Mexicon, is there any influence of them in the music of Mexican composers or it is much like a spiritual influence?

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    BTW, Sensemayá is very good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bdelykleon View Post
    Mexico not so much late, they had great classical composers since the Spanish arrived there. I actually know quite a lot about colonial music from the Americas, studied it in college, and Mexico had quite an important school, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla is perhaps the most interesting composer from the Americas up until the C20th.

    But the thread is about Mexican music in the 20th century, I knew Revueltas and Chávez, but these other composers were interesting to discover. and it is also a very good text mentioning the main schools in Mexico. A question, there is, specially in Revueltas and Chávez, a lot of references to the two pre-columbian civilzations of Mexicon, is there any influence of them in the music of Mexican composers or it is much like a spiritual influence?
    Yeah, there are definitely composers of note since colonial times. I'm familiar with the music of composers like Manuel de Sumaya and Ignacio Jerusalem, who wrote in a very baroque influenced style. Also in the romantic period there were some good composers too, like Melesio Morales and Juventino Rosas.

    Concerning your question, I think this varies in every composer.. I'm not overly familiar with Aztec or Mayan music, apart from snippets I've heard and the music performed at various archaeological sites.. I mean, you have works like Revueltas' Night of the Mayans, which does utilize a lot of elements of Mayan music, so there you can see a direct influence of the music. Same goes for the Indian Symphony by Chávez. However, I think in recent times, each composer brings to the table something of his own culture. Mexico is a very diverse country, and every area has different cultural aspects to explore. I mean, there are obviously composers who have started to compose music in a very, well, "International" way.. But there are still composers around who explore their roots. Take Arturo Márquez, for example, who is really into exploring the art of the Danzón, which is a typical dance from his area of origin. Then there's this young composer I know called Abelardo Olivera, who also explores in his works the tradition of his own ancestors, like in a clarinet piece he wrote called Tepeíhuitl, about an old traditional ritual. And I mean, you have pieces popping up everywhere called Nepantla, Chapultepec, and other names derived from old indigenous languages.. These cultures are still definitely the main source of inspiration for mexican classical music.. I mean, I don't know to what extent the music of the pre-columbian civilizations has influenced up until now, but there's definitely a spiritual influence that you can see in Mexican people in general, not just in art.
    I don't know if that answers your question or not..

    Quote Originally Posted by bdelykleon View Post
    BTW, Sensemayá is very good.
    I definitely agree. Revueltas was quite an able composer, and he should appeal to any fans of Bartók, Stravinsky and composers like them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mirror Image View Post
    Thanks for the informative thread.

    Both Mexico and the United States are late bloomers in regards to classical music. What about Canada? I'm completely clueless about Canadian classial music.
    Thanks for commenting, MI. It's not so much that they are late bloomers, it's just that they tend to be overlooked.. It's sad, really..
    I've no idea about Canada, btw.. It would be interesting to know more about that.. Do we have any Canadians on the board??
    Life is a long lesson in humility.

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    I thought I would also share this track by a composer called Sergio Cárdenas.. He's starting to make a bang outside of Mexico, so much so, that one of his pieces, The Flower is A Key (A Rap for Mozart), was recorded by the cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic, with Sir Simon himself rapping.. That's right, Simon Rattle rapping! (Well, it's supposed to be rapping anyway..) It's actually quite a good piece with really great rythmic constructions, and it's certainly one of the better Mexican compositions I've heard recently..

    The Flower is a Key (a rap for Mozart)
    Life is a long lesson in humility.

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    Now that was very fascinating piece, I hope to hear more of this composer in the coming years.
    I adore art...when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.

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    Here are two links to Ernesto Garcia de Leon, Mexican composer & guitarist:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oK3geTzpsME

    http://ernestogarciadeleon.com/htdocs/bio.html

    http://ernestogarciadeleon.com

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    I think not just Mexico, but Latin America as a whole is one of the most sadly underrated ares of classical music.

    Chavez, Revueltas, Ponce, Marquez, and Ponce are probably my favorite Mexican composers. To branch out a bit I also enjoy Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, Estevez, Orbon (though he was born in Spain, but lived in Cuba), Piazzolla, Brouwer (his guitar concerti are amazing), Carreno, and some of Guarnieri's music.

    Thanks so much for writing that paper and for bringing these wonderful Mexican composers to people's attention. I think it's so sad that people don't branch out more. As classical listeners, I think sometimes our minds get stuck in Europe and we don't explore beyond this continent.

    I look forward to conversing more with you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LatinClassics View Post
    I think not just Mexico, but Latin America as a whole is one of the most sadly underrated ares of classical music.

    Chavez, Revueltas, Ponce, Marquez, and Ponce are probably my favorite Mexican composers. To branch out a bit I also enjoy Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, Estevez, Orbon (though he was born in Spain, but lived in Cuba), Piazzolla, Brouwer (his guitar concerti are amazing), Carreno, and some of Guarnieri's music.

    Thanks so much for writing that paper and for bringing these wonderful Mexican composers to people's attention. I think it's so sad that people don't branch out more. As classical listeners, I think sometimes our minds get stuck in Europe and we don't explore beyond this continent.

    I look forward to conversing more with you.
    Thanks for reading. I share your view that this music should be heard more often all over the world, and hopefully it looks like this might be the case, with more world-sensitive conductors taking the stands these days. (I'm looking at you, Dudamel.)
    If you ever need more info on anyone or help finding a recording, just holler . I'll do my best .
    Life is a long lesson in humility.

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    Quote Originally Posted by andruini View Post
    Thanks for reading. I share your view that this music should be heard more often all over the world, and hopefully it looks like this might be the case, with more world-sensitive conductors taking the stands these days. (I'm looking at you, Dudamel.)
    If you ever need more info on anyone or help finding a recording, just holler . I'll do my best .
    I'm quite familiar with almost all of the Latin American classical repertoire or at least the recorded repertoire.

    One should only hope that Dudamel continues exploring and recording this music. I think all it takes is someone to be exposed to it. Hopefully, Dudamel will deliver the goods with Los Angeles Philharmonic. Right now, I'm not too impressed with what he's doing with them, but that's just my own opinion. Dudamel only has one recording I enjoy and it's the "Fiesta" recording. There's a new one out called "Discoveries" that I haven't heard yet and he performs Marquez's "Danzon No. 2," but this appears to be the only Latin piece on the album.

    I would seriously like for Dudamel to record a Chavez symphony cycle since the one with Mata on the Vox label is so dated (and not really up to his usual standards).

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    Viva Silvestre Revueltas!
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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