ed. Max Lifchitz

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

Programme Note

I. Amar. Toda la vida en llamas
II. Llegad, oh dulces horas
III. Amada, d&eeacute;jame ver la luna

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, 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.

Decidedly lyrical and passionate, Pellicer's miniatures concern themselves with nostalgia and unreciprocated love. Each brief poem comprises only six lines in the manner of the Japanese haiku. Chávez's vivid musical settings capture the compact structure of the poems while projecting their fragile and sentimental atmosphere. The demanding vocal line is surrounded by an intense polyphonic texture consisting of unusual harmonies on occasion built around perfect and augmented fourths. The accompanying instrumental ensemble functions as a "mini-orchestra" capable of reaching the extreme registers while generating a multitude of innovative timbres. Musicologist Roberto García Morillo traces the lineage of these innovative songs involving a mixed chamber ensemble to Stravinsky's Three Japanese Lyrics and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

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