Carlos Chávez was one of the most influential champions of modern Mexican concert music. He was passionate about his Mexican musical heritage, and recognized this richness. In 1928, he helped to organize the Orquesta Sinfónica de México and was its principal conductor until 1949, when the orchestra became the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, as it is now known.
With his Orquesta, Chávez conducted dozens of Mexican and world premieres, and commissioned new works by Mexican composers. He composed seven symphonies of his own, and dozens of other orchestral pieces. As his style developed, he began to incorporate native percussion instruments into his orchestrations, and he drew on the musics of indigenous Indian cultures for inspiration and techniques.
In this case he drew on the music of the composer and organist Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Buxtehude was the keyboard master whom the young J. S. Bach allegedly walked 200 miles to hear play. The chaconne, a form in which a single chord progression is reiterated and redecorated over and over again, has come down to us from the Baroque period. But it is easy to forget that the chaconne can trace its origins to a late 16th-century dance which was imported to Spain and Italy from Latin America. Chávez orchestrated the Buxtehude piece in 1937, and his already-mature orchestral style is used to great effect to bring out the dance qualities of the Chaconne.
Ryan Dorin is a Ph.D. composition student at New York University and annotates program notes for the Washington Square Contemporary Music Series.