ed. Max Lifchitz

  • fl(pic), ob, bn, pf, va
  • pf
  • Soprano [=Tenor]
  • Carlos Pellicer
  • Spanish

Programme Note

I. El buque ha chocado con la luna
II. ¿A donde va mi corazón?
III. Cuando el trasatlántico pasaba

Program Note:
Carlos Chávez visited New York for the first time in December of 1923. The four-month sojourn in that exciting metropolis yielded significant musical benefits for the young composer and enhanced his rising international reputation. The visit afforded him the opportunity to become acquainted with many of the leading personalities in the world of music including Leopold Stokowski, Henry Cowell and Edgar Varèse. Stokowski would eventually introduce Chávez's orchestral works to American audiences; Cowell would publish some of his works through Cos Cob Press; and Varèse would invite the young composer to become a founding member of the Pan American Composers League.

Varèse was active overseeing the International Composers' League which had as its mission the promotion of music by emerging composers whose works espoused modern aesthetic viewpoints. Presumably, it was at the suggestion of Varèse that Chávez transcribed his recently completed voice and piano song cycle Tres Exágonos (Three Hexagons) for voice and chamber ensemble. While in New York, Chávez also completed a companion cycle simply titled Otros Tres Exágonos (One More Set of Three Hexagons) employing the same instrumentation in anticipation of a performance under the auspices of the League scheduled for February 8, 1925.

Inspiration for these vocal works was provided by the poetry of Carlos Pellicer (1897-1977), a close friend of the composer. A celebrated Mexican writer and politician, Pellicer's copious publications include over thirty volumes devoted exclusively to his poetry. One of the leading post-revolutionary modernist Mexican intellectuals, Pellicer held important positions in his country's government bureaucracy eventually being elected to the Senate representing his home state of Tabasco.

Unforeseen circumstances forced the Guild to program only the Otros Tres Exágonos. The audience was enthusiastic and a few days later Varèse sent a telegram to Chávez including comments by reviewers such as Paul Rosenfeld of The Dial and Olin Downes of The New York Times. Rosenfeld commented that the "…Carlos Chávez's work — on little Pierrot Lunaire poems by Carlos Pellicer — came like a whiff of Latin-American freshness and gaiety and dry sureness of means, and sent the audience away in some of the good humor that should have been theirs in much greater quantity." Downes stated that "Colin O'More sang very competently the Tres Exagonos, after satirical poems of Carlos Pellicer, of Chávez, music which has an element of satire and what may be called a literary quality."

Surprisingly, these decidedly avant-garde and expressionistic vocal settings were written by the same composer who later achieved world-wide fame for the intoxicating, primitive-sounding rhythmic patterns characteristic of the Sinfonia India. Robert L. Parker — the leading Chávez scholar — reminds us that Chávez's wide-ranging oeuvre exhibits broad stylistic tendencies in what could be described best as a "panoply of styles." While it might be expedient to classify Chávez's music in accordance to commonly assumed stereotypes, more appropriate would be to admire as well as enjoy the versatility and inventiveness evident in the far-reaching work of the eminent Mexican master. This fact is of special relevance when approaching his many works that are devoid of overt nationalism.

— Max Lifchitz, New York, 1994