About this Recording
8.572250 - REVUELTAS, S.: Coronela (La) / Caminos (Itinerarios) / Colorines (Santa Barbara Symphony, English Chamber Orchestra, Ben-Dor)

Silvestre Revueltas (1899–1940)
La Coronela • Itinerarios • Colorines


As a candidate for the pantheon of tragic cult figures, Silvestre Revueltas was as perfect as they come. At his death in 1940 the composer had left a substantial body of revolutionary work, kept many personal details of his life obscured, lived hard and died young in poverty. So perhaps we can look the other way if his work has long been overshadowed by the legend. The common perception at mid-century, expressed by no less a figure than Leonard Bernstein, was that Revueltas might have been a great composer “had he lived”—a position later attacked by composer Peter Garland as being valid only for people who know his entire body of work in the first place. Throughout his lifetime, Revueltas faced charges of dilettantism, fueled by his alcohol dependence and his inadherence to European models, the latter (as with Charles Ives) often perceived as insufficient training rather than a rejection.

As we glance back over the twentieth century, however, we find that wherever we look, Revueltas, like Ives, was already there. Putting European models to rest? Revueltas used folk-lore not as quotations within a familiar structure, but in ways that pulled that structure apart. Breaking down barriers between high and low art? His Homenaje a García Lorca has the body of chamber work and the soul of a mariachi. Rhythm as an essential basis of structure? His film score to La noche de los Mayas is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on mescal. Writing in Modern Music the composer and novelist Paul Bowles called Revueltas “The Mexican Falla” in that both took the music of the taverns and dressed it for the concert hall with little of the edge lost.

For Revueltas, growing up amidst the Mexican Revolution, music was inextricable from national identity, much the way Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo approached painting. Revueltas is often linked to his fellow nationalist composer Carlos Chávez, though the pairing tends to highlight their differences. Where Chávez, like Aaron Copland, was drawn to landscapes and a broad sense of “Mexicanism”, Revueltas’s inspirations lay in the world around him. Shutting the door on old cultural models was, by extension, a rejection of colonialism; his musical “vulgarity” an embrace of the people. In a quite literal sense, Revueltas’s art was revolutionary.

This is no more apparent than in his ballet La Coronela. Written for the choreographer Waldeen (the single-named pioneer of Mexican modern dance), La Coronela follows a scenario of skeleton figures by the Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posade depicting the overthrow of the decadent bourgeois by the working class, a theme dear to Revueltas’s heart. Following the composer’s death from bronchial pneumonia, the unfinished work was turned over to the composer Bas Galindo to compose and Candelario Huízar to orchestrate. The première went on as scheduled on 23 November, 1940, at Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The troubles, however, did not stop there. When the conductor José Limantour began compiling a Revueltas tribute in 1957, he found no trace of the Galindo-Huízar version. Undaunted, he began reconstructing the original manuscript, commissioning a new orchestration of three completed episodes from Eduardo Hernández Moncada, who had conducted the première. Limantour compiled the final episode himself from Revueltas’s film scores to Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (1935) and Los de abajo (1939). This version had its première in 1962 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, with Limantour conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

As a concert work, La Coronela (The Lady Colonel) arranges the ballet episodes in four unbroken movements. The first, The Upper Crust of 1900, further divides into three sections, each constantly shifting duple and triple metre. The second, The Disinherited, is more plaintive, recalling working class life under dictatorship.

The next movement, Don Ferruco’s Nightmare, opens with The Party, where a steady waltz tempo binds discordant harmonies clearly revealing cracks in the social façade. The party begins to turn sour with the appearance of The Scoundrel and the Simple Girl, and The Middle-Class Lady, as the waltz alternates with an increasingly complex Mexican song that slowly dominates the proceedings. The movement finishes with The Lady Colonel, surrounded by her military theme harkening back to the days of the Revolution.

The fourth movement, The Last Judgment, begins abruptly with an appropriately violent passage entitled The Battle. The military call of a solo trumpet then honors The Fallen, and the piece concludes with a reprise of The Lady Colonel theme with full orchestra.

Understandably, controversy surrounded the project, its authenticity called into question even during its first rehearsals, when Limantour embellished Moncada’s orchestration, arguing that that the personnel constraints of his film-score models were irrelevant to a symphony orchestra. Controversy aside, Moncada’s version (recorded here) is filled to bursting with Revueltas’s spirit, its characters unfolding in the musical equivalent of a Diego Rivera mural.

The other pieces on this recording Itinerarios (Travel Diary) and Colorines showcase the beginning and end of Revueltas’s most fertile creative period. Itinenarios (1938), one of the composer’s most solemn works, is less rhythmically inventive than his more radical pieces, though even its intense lyricism maintains a rhythmic function. Colorines (1932), a symphonic poem for chamber orchestra, reveals a fully developed voice even in Revueltas’s earliest orchestral works. Though he would develop greater skill in utilizing folkloric materials, breaking conventions with greater confidence, a complex rhythmic propulsion is already balanced by meditative lyricism in an unmistakably personal sense of proportion.

Ken Smith


Conductor’s Note

The present recording of La Coronela is a faithful, unadulterated rendition of the only surviving version of the work, the one by Limantour/Hernández Moncada. As such, it is recorded for the first time for commercial distribution. Since both the original realization and orchestration by Blas/Huizar and the original piano part have been lost, any discrepancies between the score and the parts, or lack of clarity in the general intention had to be left to interpretation. For example, the last movement, The Last Judgment, calls for a toque de silencio (the solemn military “taps”). The score does not indicate whether any particular “toque” should be used, or even if there is any room for choice. I opted for the internationally known call, which emphasizes the universality of struggle and liberation, and their high price. As a moment of calm and introspection, it seems to be the intention of the composer. An odd metric change occurs at number 23 in the third movement. At first, it may seem to be a mistake, bombastically interrupting the flow of the predictable popular tune. But if performed exactly as written—a 5/8 bar—the “interruption” reveals the humorous, “bonachón” character as an original concept. Having said that, I must add that this version is so impressively orchestrated and structured that no “touch-ups” or changes seemed necessary. Therefore, the integrity of Limantour’s excellent version has been respected.

It was illuminating to perform the United States première of this magnificent work with its ballet realization. Working with this aspect of the music informed certain decisions regarding tempo and character, as well as infusing the theatrical perspective anywhere from the Stravinskian rhythms in Los Privilegiados, to the restless, mounting anger and desperation in Los Desheredados, the “Old World” humor and charm in La Pesadilla de Don Ferruco, with its errant English horn and brass parody, or the cataclysmic force contrasting with quiet contemplation and unbridled popular rejoicing in La Lucha.

The music of Revueltas has fascinated me for many years now. Born and raised in Uruguay, where the various Latin American cultural forms were constantly manifested, I was routinely exposed to Mexican music. Years ago, when I decided to record La Coronela, I came upon the book Silvestre Revueltas por el mismo (Silvestre Revueltas in His Own Words), which is only available in Spanish. There I discovered an extraordinary personality, deeply touching both in its radiant, life-embracing moments and in its melancholy and despair. Itinerarios then acquired a new meaning, with the saxophone solo sounding not merely a sad melody, but a very personal cry, away from sentimentality, amidst the more extrovert explicit, disjointed outbursts in the rest of the work.

Gisèle Ben-Dor

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