Blog Entry #1: Introduction to Mexican orchestral music

Mexican orchestral music written between the Mexican Revolution and the steady influence of nationalistic ideas is clearly distinct from the periods that frame it chronologically.  The music written during this time is stylistically different from its technical European counterparts (which had already been written roughly two or three decades earlier), but not yet under the spell of the “Indianist” ideas of Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez.  In this way, this period represents a transition between old world and new world influences on Mexican music.

Mexican composition in the 19th century was dominated by piano music with popular inflections and operas in the bel canto tradition.  Orchestral music underwent most of its development in the later part of the 19th century.  Historically, this period is known as the Porfiriato because of the French-influenced cultural renaissance that accompanied the rule of Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915).  Over the course of this period, education in orchestral writing gradually became available, even though there were no institutions created specifically for this purpose.

In the late 1920’s, nationalistic tendencies developed gradually following the Mexican Revolution (which most historians date 1910-1918).  Modernist ideas, on the other hand, were slower to permeate musical thinking in Mexico. The most well known Mexican orchestral composers are Chávez and Revueltas—both of whom were influenced at least as much by their native folk music (as were Bela Bartók and Antonin Dvořák in Europe) as by modernist ideas such as primitivism (like Igor Stravinsky or Darius Milhaud).  Chávez became the central figure in the establishment and development of both performing and educational institutions.

Candelario Huízar, to cite one example of a composer active in this transitionary period, wrote four full-scale symphonies in the span of less than two decades. Interspersed among his larger works are shorter but no less compelling orchestral tone poems, many of which are reminiscent of late French romantic works.  Though he was upheld as one of the principal composers in Mexico during his most productive period, his music is rarely played outside of Mexico today.  My work is aimed at changing this lamentable status quo for the many composers from the Americas whose work has suffered a similar fate.

As a sampler for the interested listener, a great place to start would be the album Mi Alma Mexicana, a double CD recording by Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas.