Monday, January 08, 2007
A tale of two Chavez
Many column inches here, and elsewhere, devoted to the music education and freedom of press policies of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavéz. Wouldn't some of them be better spent reappraising the music of his namesake, Mexican composer Carlos Chavéz?
Carlos Chavéz (photo above) was born in 1899, and lived to 1978. During the mid-20th century he was a major influence on the Mexican musical scene, and his important achievements include the formation of the orchestra that is now the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional. His early works coincided with the period of post-revolutionary government in Mexico when Indian music and indigenous culture became a prized national asset. The Sinfonia India is the second of Chavéz's seven symphonies. The single movement work was completed in 1936, and incorporates authentic Indian melodies from the state of Sonora. The scoring is Indian exotic, including maraca, Yaqui metal rattle, water gourd, tenabri (butterfly cocoons), teponaztles (a member of the xylophone family), a rattling string of deer hooves, tlapanhuehuetl (bass drum) and rasping stick, as well as full orchestra.
I must declare an interest in this symphony. During the 1980s I spent some time in Mexico helping develop the classical music market in that wonderful country. For that project EMI recorded Chavéz's Sinfonia India as part of a two LP project Music of Mexico featuring 20th century works by local composers. The conductor was Enrique Batiz (left), with the Orquesta Sinfónia del Estado de México. The sessions were produced by Brian Culverhouse in the Sala Nezahuacoyotl in Mexico City. The vinyl LP of Sinfonia India plays as I write, and still sounds quite magnificent with all those wonderful percussion colours. If we want to celebrate the musical achievements of Latin America let's pay some more attention to Carlos Chavez and the other Mexican composers featured on those long deleted records.
* Music of Mexico Volume 1 was released in 1981:
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940): Sensemayá
José Pablo Moncayo: (1912-1958) Huapango
Revueltas: Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca
Chavéz: Sinfonia India
This release had a gatefold sleeve, and it was used to full advantage to display an allegorical mural by the Mexican revolutionary artist Diego Rivera depicting the independence of Mexico. Those were the days when sleeve art was art! View the mural via this link.
Volume 2 was released in 1984:
Revueltas: Ocho por Radio
Blas Galindo (1910-1993): Suite, Homenaje a Cervantes
Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987): Tripartia
EMI departed from their usual practice of shipping the recording equipment and house production team out to Mexico City from England. Instead freelance Brian Culverhouse acted both as producer and balance engineer, and the digital recording equipment was supplied by Soundstream, Inc from the US. Now read about a composer from Cuba - Odaline de la Martinez
* For more on Carlos Chavéz read Gustavo Dudamel's rattling deer hooves.
Image credit, from an excellent online biography of Carlos Chavéz Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk