About this Recording
2.110372 - REVUELTAS, S.: Redes (Film, 1935) (NTSC)
English  Spanish 

Redes 1935
Music by Silvestre Revueltas
Cinematography by Paul Strand

 

The most recent edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians—the major English-language, classical-music reference work—allots less than a page to Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940). It is a safe prediction that future editions will find a lot more to say about him—not only because American audiences and musicians are belatedly getting better acquainted with Revueltas, but because of changing aesthetic fashions: Revueltas is no longer eclipsed by his Mexican contemporary Carlos Chavez, who was part of a modernist community (also including Aaron Copland) into which Revueltas did not fit.

Revueltas blazed a short and disordered path. A product of rural Mexico, he was educated in Mexico and Chicago, and early in his career played the violin and conducted in Texas and Alabama. Chavez recalled him to Mexico City to be assistant conductor of the National Symphony (1929–35). In spirit, he resembles the Mexican muralists of the same seminal generation (his brother Fermin was himself a muralist of consequence). Seized by creative demons, he could compose for days without food or sleep. He travelled to Spain to take part in an anti-fascist Congress during the Spanish Civil War. He died young, weakened by drink, depressed and disillusioned by Franco’s victory in Spain and by the failure of the Mexican Revolution to radically redistribute wealth and power. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz summarized:

“Silvestre, like all real people, was a battlefield. Inside Silvestre lived numerous interlocutors, many passions, many capacities, weaknesses as well as refinement. …This wealth of possibilities, divinations, and impulses give his [music] the sound of a primal chord, like the first light that escapes a world in formation.”

Paz distinguished Revueltas from the muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros:

“All his music seems preceded by something that is not [simply] joy and exhilaration, as some believe, or satire and irony, as others believe. That element, better and more pure, …is his profound empathy with his surroundings which makes the works of this man, so naked, so defenceless, so hurt by the heavens and the people, more significant than those of many of his contemporaries. His music occupies a place in our hearts above that of the grandiose Mexican murals, that seem to know all except pity.

It is significant that unlike Copland or Chavez, Revueltas was not seduced by Paris, from which city he once wrote to his wife: “I’d love to perform [my music] here, simply to see the expressions of disgust in their faces. It would be as if something obscene, or tasteless, or vulgar had been uttered.” The “objectification of sentiment” Copland found kindred in Chavez has no equivalent in Revueltas.

Revueltas’s output contains no symphonies or concertos. His distinctive symphonic palette found expression in shorter forms. Of Revueltas’s orchestral works, the best known are Sensemayá (1938) and Noche de los Mayas—the second of which (as Roberto Kolb Neuhaus explains in an interview on the present DVD) is not composed by Revueltas. He also scored 11 films—the most important of which, both musically and cinematically, is Redes.

 

The first major composer to write for film was Camille Saint-Saëns, who supplied music for L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise in 1908. In later decades, Aaron Copland in the United States, William Walton in Great Britain, Sergey Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich in the Soviet Union were important composers who also importantly composed for film. Silvestre Revueltas belongs in this select company.

Redes (1935) was the first film Revueltas scored. It was co-directed by Emilio Gomez Muriel and an Austrian emigre: Fred Zinnemann, later the Hollywood director of High Noon, From Here to Eternity, and A Man for all Seasons. The cinematographer was an American: Paul Strand, called by Susan Sontag “the biggest, widest, most commanding talent in the history of American photography.”

“Redes” refers to fishing nets. (In the United States the film was released as The Wave.) The story of this 60-minute film is of poor fishermen victimized by monopoly control of their market. It argues for organized resistance as a necessary means of political reform.

Redes has a tangled background. Strand had come to Mexico in 1933, attracted by the revolutionary government and its reformist program. Like Copland the year before, he had been invited by Carlos Chavez. With Chavez, Strand conceived what became Redes and engaged Zinnemann. But in 1934 a new government (under Lazaro Cardenas) came to power. Chavez was replaced as Director of Fine Arts by Antonio Castro Leal. Leal reassigned the music of the proposed film to Revueltas.

This bumpy history may partly account for other discontinuities. Redes sits uneasily between two genres: fiction film and documentary. Most of the actors are non-professionals. Long stretches (actually, the best stretches, here given the chapter titles “Funeral,” “Good Fishing,” and “Unity”) eschew dialogue. Curiously, the spoken word is almost never backscored—the music speaks when the actors don’t, and vice versa. And yet the contributions of Strand and Revueltas are indelible—and indelibly conjoined.

Visually, Redes is a poem of stark light and shadow, of clouds and sea, palm fronds and thatched huts, with Strand’s camera often tipped toward the abstract sky. Metaphor abounds: a rope is likened to a fisherman’s muscled arm. Pregnant, polyvalent, the imagery invites interpretation equally poetic: music. For a child’s funeral, Revueltas furnishes more than a dirge: his throbbing elegy combines with Strand’s poised, hypersensitive camera to fashion a transcendent tableau. The recurrent visual motif of nets that catch fish subliminally suggests the confinement of men: a metaphor underlined by a musical motif of massive tolling brass. At every turn, Strand and Revueltas elevate the film’s simple tale to an epic human drama.

Redes was first screened with live musical accompaniment in Mexico City, and subsequently given in this fashion by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and PostClassical Ensemble, among other orchestras. The logic of this practice is obvious—the 1930s soundtrack (hastily rehearsed, badly recorded) is as transformed as a painting restored from centuries of grime.

The relationship of Redes to American cinema is ponderable. The three classic American film documentaries produced by the politics of the thirties are The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1938), both scored by Virgil Thomson, and The City (1939), scored by Aaron Copland. (PostClassical Ensemble has reproduced these films with newly recorded soundtracks on two Naxos DVDs.) Paul Strand was a cinematographer for The Plow, and Copland was a known admirer of Revueltas. In a 1937 article for The New York Times, he hailed its American premiere as follows:

“Revueltas is the type of inspired composer in the sense that Schubert was the inspired composer. That is to say, his music is a spontaneous outpouring, a strong expression of his inner emotions. There is nothing premeditated …about him. When seized with the creative urge, he has been known to spend days on end without food or sleep until the piece was finished. He writes his music at a table in the manner of the older musicians, and quite unlike the musical procedure of the modern composer, who, because he uses complex harmonics and rhythms, is as a rule forced to seek the help of the piano. I mention this as an instance of Revueltas’s extraordinary musicality and naturalness.”

“His music is above all vibrant and colorful. …The score that Revueltas has written for [Redes] has very many of the qualities characteristic of Revueltas’s art. …The need for musical accompaniments by serious composers is gradually becoming evident even to Hollywood. The Mexican Government, choosing Revueltas to supply the music for [Redes], is very much like the U.S.S.R. asking Shostakovich to supply sound for its best pictures.”

The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River, and The City, documentaries with narration but no dialogue, are purer and more finished films than Redes. And (whether fortuitously or consciously) their ingenious scores, with lean “black and white” timbre and sonority, are better suited to 1930s monaural reproduction than are the sonic heights and emotional depths of the Redes soundtrack.

As in the case of the Redes print it is not possible to separate the music from the dialogue, there is a substantial section of the film (beginning at 46 minutes) for which it is not practical to retain the spoken word—and so this stretch of Redes is “silent” except for the newly recorded music. The restored print utilized for the present DVD was created by the World Cinema Project.

Joseph Horowitz

Special Features

“Introducing Silvestre Revueltas” with Lorenzo Candelaria and Joseph Horowitz

Revueltas was a product of rural Mexico; the village banda on the town square was a crucial influence. His early schooling was partly in Austin, Texas, where as a teenager he acquired a local reputation as a violin virtuoso. His experience in creating and performing accompaniments for silent films (in San Antonio and Mobile) may align with his subsequent capacity to compose quickly; his entire compositional output occupies ten torrid years before his early death. The music historian Robert Parker called Revueltas “Mexico’s most famous unknown composer”—a remark bearing scrutiny. [19:32]

“Revueltas and Film” with Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus and Joseph Horowitz

The “silent” sequences in Redes remind us that Revueltas began his professional career in silent movie houses. Working on Redes, he disagreed with Paul Strand’s notion that the completed film be scored; instead, he began composing before seeing any part of the film. He sought a film-music genre that retained “autonomy”—two other examples being Música para charlar (which originated as a score for a documentary about railroads) and Itinerario (which originated as a score for a film about the Spanish Civil War). The latter score was falsely called “unfinished” by the conductor Jose Limontour, who replaced Revueltas’s morendo ending (a saxophone solo) with a “grand finale” of his own (the ending we normally hear today). He retitled the piece Itinerarios. Limontour is also the actual composer of Noche de los Mayas, which turns a Revueltas film-score into a four-movement symphony with added percussion, the final movement of the symphony being “90 per cent Limontour.” [15:39]

“Revueltas and Politics” with Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus and Joseph Horowitz

Revueltas is an “essentially political composer” very few of whose composition are “of purely musical interest.” During the first four years of his 10-year compositional odyssey, he is “more experimental,” a member of the Mexican “stridentists” (Estridentistas)—a playful adaptation of the European avantgarde; he uses “montage” and “collage” techniques, and also turns street cries into music. But the Spanish Civil War impelled Mexico’s political artists to become less “frivolous,” more didactic.” One result is Redes, with its “Romantic narrative” and masterly use of leitmotifs. While all of Revueltas may sound “Mexican,” he is not a “nationalist.” He does not consciously attempt to define the essence of a nation. His identification with the oppressed is international, ideological. [9:46]

“Revueltas Beyond Cliché” with Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus and Angel Gil-Ordonez

Revueltas uses “anti-bourgeois instruments”—the instruments of the village bandas. Popular Mexican musicians were “his true teachers.” With the muralists, he shared a socialist ideal and the subject of his music was always “the people.” He should never be reduced to an “exotic” Mexican; rather, he gives voice to a social class. “For Americans it wasn’t always so easy to realize that Mexicans had a mature voice …They weren’t just running around in loincloths.” And so Revueltas defended himself against “touristic Mexican-ness.” Certain episodes of Redes are musically “autonomous”—if Gil-Ordonez were to conduct the dirge for the dead child as a concert work, he would slow it down and make it “Mahlerian.” [10:12]


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