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Carlos Chávez (13. June 1899 - 2. August 1978)

influential Mexican composer/conductor, author, and educator, of Spanish and some Indian descent, was born Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez in Mexico City, the seventh son of Augustin Chávez, an inventor, and Juvencia Ramírez, a teacher. His mother supported the children after her husband's death in 1902. Chávez began his musical studies at an early age and studied piano, first with his elder brother Manül, then with Asunción Parra, and later with composer and pianist Manuel M. Ponce (1910-1914) and pianist and teacher Pedro Luis Ogazón (1915-1920). Chávez credited Ogazón with introducing him to the best classical and Romantic music and with developing his musical taste and technical formation. He received little formal training in composition, concentrating instead on the piano, analysis of musical scores, and orchestration. Chávez's maternal grandfather was Indian, and from the time Chávez was five or six his family frequently vacationed in the ancient city-state of Tlaxcala, the home of a tribe that opposed the Aztecs. He later visited such diverse Indian centers as Puebla, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Michoacan in pursuit of Indian culture, which proved a significant influence on his early works. The period of the Mexican Revolution, beginning with the overthrow of Díaz in 1910, coincided with Chávez's development as a composer. Mexico's growing nationalism was a reaction against the long Díaz dictatorship, in which Indian and mestizo lands had been confiscated and the middle class oppressed. Chávez's interest in indigenous culture, concurrent with this rise of Mexican nationalism, facilitated his exposure to the inner circle of Mexican cultural politics. A concert of his works was performed in 1921, and the same year Vasconcelos, the vigorous minister of education and government patron of the arts, commissioned Chávez to compose El fuego nuevo (The New Fire), a ballet on Aztec subject matter. The production fell through, but Chávez became an accepted member of the Mexican cultural elite.

Chávez married Otilia Ortiz in 1922; they had three children. After their wedding, the couple immediately left for Europe; they visited Berlin for five months and made short stops in Vienna and Paris. The European trip was followed by two longer visits to the United States (1923-1924 and 1926-1928). Chávez lived in New York during the second visit and established what would become long-standing connections with composers, publishers, and performers, including Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, and Edgard Varèse. Varèse, in particular, helped involve him in the International Composers' Guild and later in the Pan American Association of Composers, organizations that sponsored performances of works by living composers. Chávez gained further prominence at home by writing a regular series of articles on contemporary music and art for the Mexico City newspaper El universal, beginning in 1924 and continuing during his travels.

In the summer of 1928 Chávez accepted the directorship of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the first permanent professional symphony orchestra in Mexico. Under his direction for the next twenty years, the orchestra became known for its promotion of new works by Mexican and internationally recognized composers. Chávez held the equally important directorship of the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City from December 1928 until March 1933, and again for the 1934 season. The Chávez family lived in Mexico City until 1933, when they moved permanently to suburban Lomas de Chapultepec. Chávez also served as chief of the Department of Fine Arts in the Mexican Secretariat of Education from March 1933 to May 1934 but resigned because of political changes.

Chávez founded the National Institute of Fine Arts at the request of the president of Mexico in 1947 and served as its director until 1952. He helped revise the National Conservatory music curriculum to incorporate twelve-tone technique and new scales, and with the support of the conservatory and the Mexico Symphony he strove to establish significant musical performance and study in rural areas. He also founded advanced academies for research of music history and bibliography, new music, and folk and popular music. Chávez's versatility, organizational skills, and multidimensional musical skills allowed him to become a driving force in the growth of Mexican music in the second quarter of the twentieth century. For his diverse contributions Chávez received many formal honors from Mexico, the United States, and other countries, including the Mexican National Prize of Arts and Sciences, honorary memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the French Légion d'honneur, the Star of Italian Solidarity, the Swedish Order of the Pole Star, and the Belgian Order of the Crown.

Chávez's works reveal the influences of Romanticism, particularly the music of Robert Schumann, Mexican folk music, and pre-Hispanic Aztec myth and ritual. Notable Aztec-influenced works include the ballet Los cuatro soles (1925) and Xochipili (1940) for winds and percussion. His scoring for the latter includes traditional Indian drums, bone and wooden rasps, and trombone to imitate the ancient shell trumpet. Chávez quotes popular Mexican dances in Caballos de vapor (Horse-Power Ballet Suite, 1926-1932). He draws upon Indian themes of the Yaqui, Seri, and Huichole tribes in Sinfonía India (Symphony no. 2, 1936). Politically motivated works from the mid-thirties include Llamadas (Sinfonía proletaria, 1934) for mixed chorus and orchestra and Obertura republicana (1935) for orchestra.

Chávez's seven symphonies were composed between 1933 and 1960. The first, the Sinfonía de Antígona (1933), is based on incidental music he composed for Jean Cocteau's modifications of Sophocles. From the Third Symphony (1951-1954) on, the symphonies lack programmatic connections (though the Fourth Symphony [1953] is subtitled "Romantic"). Chávez's popular Toccata (1942) for percussion is scored for Indian drums and Latin percussion but does not otherwise have a particularly Mexican flavor. His four Soli (1933-1966) feature wind soloists with a variety of supporting ensembles and embody a fresh personal idiom of continuous variation that avoids conventional methods of repetition. Chávez died in the Coyoacan suburb of Mexico City.

Chávez's many strengths as a composer include his versatility with small and large musical media, his rhythmic vitality and contrapuntal flair, his sparkling orchestrations, and his unique angular melodic style. These justify his place as one of the foremost Latin-American composers of the twentieth century.

Toccata for percussion (1942)

"Chávez's work presents itself as one of the first authentic signs of a new world with its own new music" -Aaron Copland The 7th child of a Mexican father and Native American mother, Carlos Chávez, born in Mexico City, was a renowned composer, conductor, educator, and author. Chávez's first musical training was from his brother. Trained primarily as a pianist, his compositional facility was largely self taught, though he did eventually study with Manuel Ponce. As a writer of music and music criticism: he wrote two books and more than 200 articles on music. His oeuvre includes five ballets, seven symphonies, four concertos, a cantata and opera, and innumerable pieces for voice, piano, and chamber ensemble.

Maturing at the close of the Mexican revolution at a time of renewed cultural nationalism, Chávez brought vigor and prominence to 20th-century Mexican music through his use of native instruments and his investigation of indigenous Indian cultures, native folk elements, and dance forms. His compositional style was marked by its incorporation of Mexican, Indian, and Spanish-Mexican elements. His music was fundamentally percussive, hallmarked by polyrhythms, cross-rhythms, syncopation, and numerous irregular meters. The Toccata is one of his most popular and frequently performed works.

In the late 1930's, John Cage asked Chávez to write a piece for Cage's Percussion Ensemble in Chicago. The result, was the Toccata for Percussion in 1942. However, Cage's group was unable to negotiate the rolls, and did not premiere the work. The premiere waited until 1947 when the percussion section of Chávez's orchestra performed it in Mexico City. There was not much of a precedent for music written solely for percussion. One thinks of Varese's Ionisation (1933), and Bartok's Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion.

The Toccata, for 6 players and in 3 movements, utilizes traditional orchestral percussion instruments. It has been performed as a ballet by the Toxcatl Academy of Mexican Dance in 1952, choreographed by Xavier Francis. However, Chávez emphasized that this work is fundamentally abstract. The 3 movements are of contrasting timbers. The first and last movements share a sonata-like conception, and feature drums. This creates a certain symmetry. The first movement, in a rounded repetitive form, spotlights the drums. The different musical material assigned to each drum, combined with the voicing creates a contrapuntal texture. Since drums lack pitch, it is difficult to let individual strands of the rhythmic melody emerge. The second movement is for the metal instruments and xylophone. The drums return for the third movement and are joined by the glockenspiel.

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  von HYPERWERK 2002