REVUELTAS: Orchestral Music
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Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)
Sensemayá La noche de los Mayas La coronela
Silvestre Revueltas was born in Santiago Papasquiaro, Durango, a small town in the north of Mexico. As a child, he showed great interest in music, his early artistic bent apparent by 1906. When his family moved to Mexico City, he entered the National Conservatory of Music, studying the violin with José Rocabruna and composition with Rafael J. Tello.
In 1917 he moved to the United States to study at St Edward College in San Antonio, Texas, and later in Chicago, remaining there until 1924. After a rather long concert tour in Mexico and in the United States, he returned to his home country, where he remained from 1929 onwards. In 1929 Carlos Chávez offered him the position of assistant conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, which he held until 1936. Working together they were able to do much to promote Mexican music, offering a rich repertoire including works by the most outstanding and prominent names of the period. At the same time Revueltas began a very successful career as a prolific composer, activity which brought Cuauhnahuc (Cuernavaca) (1930), Esquinas (Corners) (1931), Ventanas (Windows) and Colorines (Coloured Beads) (1932), Janitzio (1933), Caminos (Roads) (1934), Homenaje a Federico García Lorca (Hommage to Federico García Lorca) (1936), Itinerarios (Routes) (1937) and Sensemayá (1938). This series of works constitutes a vivid example of his extraordinary contribution to the form of the national Mexican symphonic poem, with compositions that show his originality and freshness of inspiration, together with his technical mastery.
Sensemayá is the last of these great national "musical landscapes", a work that he began in 1937 and completed on 6th March the following year. Sensemayá was inspired by a poem of Nicolás Guillén, which deals with the ritual chant performed while killing a snake, a ceremony that harks back to Africa. This poem tells the story of Lucero, a princess transformed by a magician of the tribe into a snake, in revenge for her rejection of him. Men hunt the snake, which is eventually killed by the magician himself. As he does this, he dies and the spell is broken; Lucero has her soul back, to the joy of the tribe. Revueltas wrote two different versions of the work, the first dated May 1937 for chorus and an orchestra of modest dimensions. The second version, completed in March of the following year, was for full symphony orchestra. This version, the one generally given in concerts, makes use of wood sounds along with a huge variety of drums. Its first performance was an important event, given by the Mexico Symphony Orchestra on 18th December 1938. After the death of Revueltas, the work was given its first performance in the United States on 26th February 1945, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski, a mark of his appreciation of the composer.
An important aspect of Revueltas work is the eight scores he wrote for the cinema between 1934 and 1940. These include Redes (Nets) (1934) and La noche de los Mayas (The Night of the Mayas) (1939), which was conceived as the sound-track for the film of Chano Uruetas and heard principally in concert halls until 1960, when the INBA (National Institute of Fine Arts) organized a commemorative Revueltas anniversary. In the same year, the composer José Yves de Limantour, an enthusiastic admirer of Revueltas, arranged and edited the film score to provide four movements,
Noche de los Mayas, Noche de Jaranas, Noche de Yucatán and Noche de Encantamiento. These sections, very different, in view of their original function, make a coherent whole and suggest what Antonio Alcaraz has described as: "the equivalent of Mexican mural creations, with all their epic proportions, their incisive social and artistic motifs, and their enchanting, magical plasticity."
After this, Limantour enthusiastically embarked on another project, to revive La coronela (The Girl Colonel), an unfinished ballet score by Revueltas which had its first performance six weeks after the composers death, at the Bellas Artes Theatre in Mexico City, on 23rd November 1940. The work was completed by Blas Galindo, and the entire orchestration was by Candelario Huizar, since Revueltas had only written a piano short score for the first three acts. Twenty years later Limantour could not find the original score that had been performed, credited to Revueltas, Galindo and Huizar, and had to arrange for a completely new orchestration by Eduardo Hernandez Moncada, who had conducted the original first performance. For the last episode, Limantour used again some of the music that Revueltas had composed for two films based on the Mexican Revolution: Fernando de Fuentes Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (Lets go with Pancho Villa) (1935), and Los de Abajo (Those below), by Urueta (1939), so that La coronela was at last able to be presented again at the Bellas Artes, this time in concert form, on 25th May 1962 with Limantour conducing the National Symphony Orchestra. The book of La coronela, written by Waldeen Falkenstein, the well-known dancer and choreographer, whose company staged the first performance of the ballet, Gabriel Fernandez Ledezma and the distinguished theatre director Seki Sano, treats four episodes from Mexican life at the beginning of the twentieth century and the revolutionary movement against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaza. It is based on paintings by José Guadalupe Posada, an artist who dedicated his life to social reform and whose ideals were shared by Revueltas.
Francisco Mendez Padilla