String Quartet No. 2
In March 1938, Silvestre Revueltas, sketched some autobiographical reflections, which provide insight into his formative years.
"I was born in Santiago Papasquiaro, Durango, on December 31, 1899. It is located, I think, near the mountains, since my earliest and most vivid childhood recollection is of a trip through the sierra tied to the back of a mule - I was just a little fellow - sleeping in a tent on the ground, hunting birds with a slingshot, picking berries at daylight, hearing the wolves in the night…
"Sky, water, mountains were my first loves. Then, music. And later, the music that is inside oneself.
"…I was very young, three years old, my mother tells me, when I heard music for the first time: the little village band playing its evening concert in the square. I stood listening for a long time and with what must have been spectacular concentration because it was so intense that my eyes crossed. And cross-eyed I remained for three or four days after. (Now, unfortunately, musicians no longer leave me cross-eyed.) As a small boy (and maybe as an adult) I always preferred banging on a washtub or dreaming up tales to doing something useful…
"I grew and I played music.
"I came to Mexico City. Mexico! I wrote the inevitable verses and letters with unfinished sentences followed by dots. My kind father became alarmed…
"I continued studying music but was not very diligent. I began to love Bach and Beethoven at a very early stage. It gave me much pleasure to stroll Chapultepec Park's romantic avenues, taking long strides, arms behind my back, long hair in disarray. Those lithographs of poor Beethoven, grim-faced, defying the storm, had a strong influence over me. I could do no less myself.
"I have had many teachers. The best of them, with no degrees, knew more than the others. For that reason I have always had little respect for degrees. Now, after many years I still study, have teachers, write music, dream of distant countries, and sometimes bang on washtubs."
After three years in Mexico City, Revueltas traveled to the United States, where he studied violin and composition in Austin and Chicago. In the late 1920s, he played violin in a theater orchestra in San Antonio and conducted an orchestra in Mobile, Alabama. He returned to Mexico in 1929, when Carlos Chávez invited him to become assistant conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1935.
It was during this period that Revueltas composed his three string quartets. The Second Quartet dates from 1931, and its title, "Magueyes," is Spanish for agave, a type of succulent plant native to Mexico and used as food, drink (ferment its juices and you've got tequila), and even for making cloth. The first movement begins with fast, folk-like passage, followed by a more relaxed second subject. Revueltas develops the opening thematic material briefly and dramatically before the movement closes with an extended, emotive slower section that acts as a de facto slow movement and provides the players with some wonderful expressive possibilities. The second movement revisits the opening thematic material of the first, transforming it into the basis of a harried scherzo complete with thrillingly spiky, high-lying writing for the violins. The imitative counterpoint that begins the short finale recalls Revueltas' early love of Bach, but its final chords, a minute and a half later, return the listener firmly to the world of the 20th century.
-- John Mangum is the L.A. Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.