Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez was born on 13th June 1899 in Popotla, near Mexico City, Mexico. His brother gave him his first piano lessons, and before long Chavez became a student of Mexico's leading composer, Manuel Ponce. The boy composed from an early age, starting on his first symphony when he was fifteen (having only heard a symphony orchestra once before). Apart from his study at the National Conservatory he was mainly self-taught, making his own interpretations of the works of the masters. After the first public performance of his works (including the Sextet for Strings and Piano) in 1920, he was commissioned by the new revolutionary government to compose a ballet on Aztec themes, but El Fuego Nuevo was not performed until 1928. In 1922 Chavez married and began touring Europe, becoming inspired to concentrate on his musical heritage. He also went to New York , where he met Aaron Copland and Edgar Varèse, who introduced Chavez to the music scene. His works were now finally recognised. He returned to Mexico and took the post of musical director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Mexicana, and also became director of the National Conservatory.
Many of Chavez's best works were written in the 1930s, including Sinfonía de Antígona (1933), Sinfonía India (1935), 10 Preludes for Piano (1937), and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1938). Under an increasingly heavy workload, his composing dropped off in the late 40s, but in the 50s and 60s he devoted more time to making music, writing Symphonies 4 to 6 . His music is distinctively Mexican, making use of indigenous instruments and rhythms, and taking inspiration from native Indian cultures and folk tales.
A prolific worker, his oeuvre includes five ballets, seven symphonies, four concertos, a cantata and opera, and pieces for voice, piano, and chamber ensemble. He was also a writer of books and music criticism, and he made great changes in musical education. In later years Chavez grew disillusioned with Mexican musical life, and worked mainly in the US and Europe until his death on 2 August 1978.
Related composers: Ponce