Around the World
Saturday, January 15, 2005 - 7:30 p.m.
Jim Rouse Theatre
CARLOS CHAVEZ (1899-1978)
SINFONÍA INDIA (Symphony No.2)
Premiered: New York, 1936 (radio broadcast)
Carlos Chavez’s maternal grandfather was a Mexican Indian, who saw to it that his young grandson was fully aware of the Native side of his heritage – not least the music of Mexico’s indigenous people. As Chavez himself described it, this music “has been able to resist four centuries of contact with European musical expressions.” The Sinfonía India is, paradoxically, both a fierce celebration of Mexican indigenous music and an example of its interaction with the musical tradition that came in the wake of Cortes. Though pressed into a broad (fast-slow-fast) approximation of symphonic form, traditional melodies are presented in a style that seems to hybridize near-orgiastic fervor with the world of the composer’s close friend Aaron Copland.
Pride of place is given to a melody originating among the Huicholes people of Nayarit (the composer’s own ancestors), proclaimed by the oboes after the listener has been thoroughly unsettled by the introduction’s jarring 5-and 4-beat alternations. It’s a symphony, but we are emphatically not in Vienna any more. The original score called for a string of butterfly cocoons and suspended deer hooves, but the composer eventually relented and allowed maracas and wood blocks into the battery. A song of the Yaqui people of Sonora dominates what would once have been a slow movement, before the demented E flat clarinet (ghosted by a muted trumpet) shrieks a melody from Tiburón Island to initiate the final detonation of Aztec vigor.
Intriguingly, almost all of this fiercely Mexican music was composed in a New York apartment, where Chavez spent much of the 1930s; Copland was nearby, similarly inventing the music of the great open spaces that he had never actually seen. Unlike much of Copland’s “folk” material, however, Chavez’s is the real thing – the ethnomusicology of his own soul.