The Kennedy Center

Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca

About the Work

Silvestre Revueltas Composer: Silvestre Revueltas
© Richard Freed

Revueltas began composing this memorial tribute (homenaje = "homage," or "tribute") for chamber orchestra almost immediately upon hearing of the death of García Lorca, in the middle of August 1936, and completed it in time to conduct musicians from the National Conservatory in the premiere, at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes, on November 14 of that year. The work enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.

The score calls for a piccolo, and E-flat clarinet, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, tam-tam, violins, and a double bass. Duration, 11 minutes.

It was only in the final quarter of the last century, decades after his premature death at age 40, that Silvestre Revueltas began receiving anything like the recognition his music calls for. He was one of those creative phenomena (Schubert and Bizet are others who come to mind) who leave us wondering what they might have achieved if they had lived out a normal lifespan-even as we marvel over the extraordinary music they did leave us. It is not at all surprising that so dynamic a creative spirit, with so emphatic a regard for the Spanish element in his people's heritage, should have responded to the genius and the personality of his Spanish contemporary Federico García Lorca, who in his even shorter life (1898-1936) so distinguished himself as a playwright, poet and novelist (and on a lesser scale with his paintings and drawings) that he was enshrined as a personification of the spirit of the free creative artist, not only in his own country (where his works were under a ban until the end of the Franco regime in 1975) but throughout the world.

García Lorca was an outspoken anti-fascist at the time Francisco Franco was coming to power in Spain. He was arrested in Granada by the notorious "Black Squad" on August 16, 1936, and after three days of savage beatings (particularly violent, apparently in punishment for his homosexuality as well as his anti-fascist stand) he was driven to the village of Viznar, where he was shot and buried on farmland. On hearing of this, Revueltas immediately composed this memorial work and introduced it less than three months after the poet's death. In the following year Revueltas toured Spain, and while enjoying a pronounced success with his music he was able to identify himself with the Republican forces and speak of his sorrow over the death of the writer whom he so revered and had never been privileged to meet. When he returned to Mexico he composed his song cycle Cinco canciones de niños y dos canciones profanas ("Five Songs for Children and Two Secular Songs"), five of whose seven texts are poems by García Lorca.

It might be noted here that Lorca himself was active as a musician-he collected folk songs and composed music for the theater-but, while his music may have some incidental interest, it is of course his poems and dramas that have provided the more significant impact in musical form, by inspiring numerous works from composers as diverse as the Hungarian Sándor Szokolay, the German Wolfgang Fortner and our own Geroge Crumb. Among outright memorial tributes are works by Luigi Nono and Francis Poulenc as well as this one by Revueltas. ?

The Homenaje comprises three brief sections. The first is headed BAILE ("Dance"). Following a recitative-like introduction in which the trumpet suggests the mood of "Taps," without actual quotation, the dance begins, and it is not a dirgelike piece, but animated in the way of a children's game, with the contrasting timbres of the piccolo and the tuba supporting an impression of make-believe totally unconcerned with propriety or logic. The dance is suddenly cut off, and the prefatory trumpet lament returns to introduce the second section,DUELO.  To Anglophones, this term may suggest an "affair of honor," but its actual meaning is "Sorrow,"and that is what is conveyed in the music, an image of utter and inconsolable devastation, in which individual instruments toss out anguished interjections suggestive of outbursts of bereavement. The final section, clearly finished with lamentation, is headed SON ("Sound"), and listeners for whom that term is a reminder of Blas Galindo's entirely festive orchestral piece Sones de mariachi will find that they are definitely on the right track. The Mexican musicologist Eduardo Contreras Soto refers to Revueltas's use of it here as "one of those musical styles with authentic Mexican sound created entirely by Revueltas, in which the orchestra assimilates the true sound of the mariachi with a disquietingly cheerful tone."