MEXICAN concert music began with Carlos Chavez (1899-1978) and in many respects stands still in his shadow. He formed a national symphony orchestra in 1928, ran the conservatory in Mexico City, opened a workshop for young composers and won grants from the revolutionary government for his more promising pupils. Four of them - Jose Pablo Monoayo, Daniel Ayala, Salvador Contreras and Blas Galindo - formed 'El Grupo de los Cuatro' in 1935, modelled wishfully on the Russian 'Mighty Five' and the French 'Les Six'.
Chavez conducted dozens of their scores with his orchestra and started a publishing house to disseminate them further, but none achieved the popularity and renown of his own five symphonies and exotic ballets. Before the 'Cuatro' fell apart in 1940, Galindo emerged as the most adventurous of the group. Born in the Jalisco region in 1910, of partly Huichol-Indian descent, he ran the village band and played the church organ until, at the age of 21, he gained entry to the conservatory in Mexico City. He composed fluently in the spicy national style and scored Obra para Orquesta Mexicana (1938) entirely for indigenous instruments. Two folkloristic ballets were staged in Mexico City in 1940, but Galindo became disaffected with the banality of regurgitated national themes.
Sones de Mariachi, conducted by Chavez at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, on 16 May 1940, imitated the sounds and rhythms of traditional Mexican bands in a blatantly atonal idiom, its profusion of fourths sounding either like botched harmonies or intriguing combinations, depending on one's outlook. It won Galindo a year of studies with the ever-generous Aaron Copland, whose ballet El salon Mexico owed its genesis to Chavez. Galindo returned home to head the national conservatory, serving as a test circuit of technical experimentation to fellow-composers. His Second and Third Symphonies have a Hindemith-like astringency. His 1977 concerto for electric guitar was the first of its genre. Amid a proliferation of choral works, some requiring as many as 1,000 voices, the Letania erotica para La Paz (1985) involved polytonality and electronic tapes.
Galindo believed he was writing abstract music of no specific national character. To his mild irritation US critics dismissed it as typically Mexican. 'Quite sincerely, I don't try to achieve this,' he wrote. 'My music is like that because I am like that. I am Mexican so my music has to be that way . . . Mexicanness is implied deep in the score, deep in my music.' He never courted foreign approval, addressing himself first and foremost to Mexican audiences and issues. Several works were recorded in the US, but his music lacked the staying power of the Chavez symphonies or the shock value of Julian Carrillo's avantgardisms.
Taking it upon himself to advance Chavez's dream of making Mexico a musical mecca, Galindo learned that the triumphs of the 1930s were unrepeatable. A Third World country bordering the richest state on earth could no longer afford to make concert music a priority.