Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Carlos Chávez

Carlos Chávez (1899-1978)”, circa 1950
Carlos Chávez (1899-1978)”, circa 1950

We mark the death on August 2, 1978 – 43 years ago today – of the Mexican composer, pianist, conductor, music educator, and journalist Carlos Chávez at the age of 79, in Mexico City.

What’s the Problem Here?

Allow me, por favor, to express a pet peeve framed as a question: why has the concert music of twentieth century and early twenty-first century Central and South American composers been so rarely performed and discussed in North America? 

Note, please, that I qualified my pet-peeve-framed-as-a-question with the phrase “so rarely performed.” That’s because such performances are admittedly ticking up, particularly in those states bordering on Mexico: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. However, had I broached that question before moving to California in 1978, I would have asked – based on my own admittedly spotty experience – “why is the concert music of twentieth century Central and South American composers never performed in North America?” That’s because, speaking personally, in all my years attending concerts in the great American northeast while growing up, I never, not once, ever, heard a piece of authentic Central or South American music performed. Of course there were performances here and there, but not frequently enough to register on this casual concert goer. The closest I got to hearing Latin American concert music would have been George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture of 1932 and Aaron Copland’s El Salón México of 1936. Let us note that both Gershwin and Copland were born in Brooklyn, New York. …

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