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Silvestre Revueltas (December 31 1899 – October 5 1940)

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One of the most interesting Mexican composers of the last century, overshadowed for a while by Carlos Chavez, Revueltas is starting to receive the recognition he deserves: colourful orchestration; attention to rhythm; superb craftsmanship.    

He was born into an artistic family of painters, writers and dancers. He decided on music; took up violin at a very young age thanks to his father and went on to study the instrument and composition in Mexico City, followed by a period in Austin Texas and the Chicago Musical College. 

His professional career started in San Antonio, Texas, playing violin in a theatre orchestra and conducting in Alabama. Spotting him, Chavez invited him to be assistant conductor of the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico. He started composing in earnest. But it was when he turned to film music he hit trouble. Receiving the commission for the film Redes (Waves), caused his breakup with Chavez who hoped to get the job. Political upheaval disfavoured Chavez who was also sacked from the Ministry of Education (that commissioned the score).

In 1937, Revueltas went to Spain as part of a tour organised by a politically left wing group, the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists  (Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios). They went to support the Republican cause during the civil war. Franco won and Revueltas had to return to Mexico somewhat crestfallen. Unfortunately he turned to alcohol that ultimately cost him his life, his health so weak that a bout of pneumonia overwhelmed him. He died in complete poverty.

His music says a lot about his ironic view of life, the political turmoil, his hardship as well as his joys but it is all delivered with verve and finesse. Notably, when his music sounds Mexican it never quotes Mexican folk tunes; but it’s somehow more than just Mexico.

His most famous work is Sensemaya, a ritual piece with its pounding 7/8 beat and complex rhythms. Bernstein made a great recording:


A suite drawn from the film score Redes has become well known. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrZDr9leDJU

Cuauhnáhuac for Orchestra. The preface to this score reads “This is a music without tourism. In the orchestra, the huehuetl (Indian drum) is used as a means of nationalist propaganda. Other instruments in the score are even more nationalistic, but no attention should be paid to them; it is all just anti-capitalist agitation!"


He also wrote 4 string quartets, all worth audition for those who like this genre. In particular the 1st and 4th “Musica de Feria”

Quartet 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jppLEmLYVkg

And several songs all easy to listen to. The Cinco canciones para ninos dos profanes:



Scores for these works are available but as usual, fairly expensive. (I have but 2 but they were worth study: Redes and Cuauhnáhuac.) I sometimes turn to South American music as a change from the European. Worth a look? Anyway, please add to the selection if you'd care to.




Edited by Quinn
format & a typo
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