Sensemayá : Work information
- Silvestre Revueltas ( Music, Images,)
- Performed by
- Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra, Fernando Lozano (Conductor)
- Work name
- Work number
- 1937-01-01 02:00:00
- Forlane CI
- Ivan Pastor
- Xavier Villapando, Jonathan Wearn
- Recording date
- 1980-01-01 02:00:00
Influenced by the street-music of his native Mexico without quoting actual folk song, Revueltas's music combines rhythmic drive with a colourful approach to instrumentation. His melodies are often repetitive and tuneful, though set in a dissonant texture, in a manner similar to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. His best-known work is the orgiastic orchestral crescendo Sensemayá.
Revueltas was born in the Mexican state of Durango on 31 December 1899. After initial training at Durango's Juárez Insitute, he studied violin and composition in Mexico City, and later in Austin, Texas and at the Chicago Musical College. During his early career as a violinist and conductor, Revueltas spent a great deal of time in the US, playing in a San Antonio theatre orchestra and conducting in Mobile, Alabama.
In 1929 Revueltas was recalled to Mexico City by Chávez to become assistant conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra. During these years (1929-35) he composed works for the orchestra to perform and taught violin and chamber music at the Conservatory. The remainder of his career was spent teaching, though he toured Spain in 1937 and allied himself with the Republican cause. He died in Mexico City on 5 October 1940, his early death caused by alcoholism.
Revueltas's colourful and picturesque music, with its rhythmic complexities and bold lines, often reveals a wry, even cynical, sense of humour. His works for orchestra continue to occupy a place in the repertoire, though only Sensemayá is regularly programmed outside Mexico. He also wrote songs, chamber music, and film music.
Sensemaya, Revueltas' orgiastic and terrifying orchestral crescendo, was composed in 1937. It was inspired by a. 1934 poem of the same name by the Cuban revolutionary poet, Nicolas Guillen, that tells of an Afro-Cuban ritual 'Mater la culebra' (Killing the Snake), danced every Epiphany to exorcise evil.
Originally written in a vocal and orchestral version, Revueltas' work was later transcribed for orchestra alone and stands alongside Ravel's famous Bolero as a supreme example of the art of the orchestral crescendo.
Using a battery of percussion, including traditional Afro-Cuban instruments such as the claves, maracas and raspador, Revueltas gradually builds up the tension with assymetric rhythms and snatches of repetitive melody, much in the manner of Stravinsky. Sensemaya thus wonderfully evokes the primal power of Guillen's poem and the ritual that inspired it; when it ends, the release and relief of exorcism is palpable.