Archive of non-musical documents

As is often the case, history can be complicated by how artists’ archives are preserved. The materials contained in them may trigger in their guardians a series of emotions that range from indifference and neglect to obsession and possessiveness. In the case of the Revueltas materials, its conservation history was always marked by financial difficulties. During his years in the United States, Revueltas himself saved many personal and professional documents, dating from 1916 to 1918, allowing us to follow the course of his life as a student and as a professional musician. Besides this group of documents, there are also the many letters that José Revueltas wrote to his son, which shed light on the genesis of Silvestre Revueltas’s aesthetic and ethical concerns. In 1929, Silvestre became romantically involved with Ángela Acevedo, with whom he would live until the day of his death. At that time, she took on the chore of organizing and preserving a substantial part of the documentary archive.

The couple’s financial situation was dire when he died, and the owner of the home they lived in demanded that his widow turn over all musical work and every other related document as payment for back rent. Silvestre’s sister Rosaura Revueltas was the only well-to-do member of the family, so she paid off the debt and took charge of all the material. Days later, with the consent of the entire family, including Ángela, Rosaura was appointed executor and guardian of Silvestre’s daughter Eugenia Revueltas. From the early 1940s until her death, Rosaura took charge of these materials and initiated a chain of events that led to the first publications of Silvestre Revueltas’s work in the United States. Rosaura’s willingness in her early years as executor diminished as time went by, due either to disappointment or prejudice. After her death, all the material passed on to Eugenia, who was heir to the Revueltas archive. It had always been kept in Rosaura’s home, first in Mexico City and then in Cuernavaca during the last quarter-century. Despite the city’s adverse conditions, the material remained in good condition, though not properly organized. The documents were made available to researchers more so than to the media, despite the great interest that Mexican writers had in producing works about Revueltas.

Cataloguing and digitalization of the archive of non-musical documents

The compilation of texts contained in Silvestre Revueltas por él mismo, published by Editorial Era, is of course valuable, as it contains most of the documents in the archive, thus enlightening the reader with regard to Silvestre Revueltas’s philosophy and political activities. But a comparison of the book to the recently catalogued materials reveals a certain bias or one-dimensionality, as the compiler selected only that which she considered characteristic and noteworthy about his persona.

The names of certain individuals considered to be of only local or fleeting interest were omitted. The date and place of certain original writings were not recorded, perhaps because the thoughts contained in them were considered to be of only transitory importance. Notes alluding to everyday activities, such as union meetings or cultural events, were not considered for publication. More contentious was the decision to eliminate some of the correspondence addressed to Silvestre Revueltas, in the belief that they could distort or misrepresent the meaning of the composer’s own letters.

But for a researcher, no information is irrelevant. Names that seem insignificant, dates implied by everyday events, changes in the formulation of a study, furtive notes jotted in the margin: any of these could be a determining factor in realizing an accurate reconstruction of the Revueltian textual discourse, which would then form the basis for a work’s performance. Without omitting a single item, the entire documentary archive connected to the composer’s life has been digitalized. Researchers can inspect documents in every detail, even zooming in on them. Given the difficulty in deciphering the composer’s handwriting and that of some of his correspondents, the manuscripts have been transcribed and may be read alongside the original (this is also true for many typewritten documents). Users will be able to search the entire digitalized archive to quickly locate relevant information, as well as comparing information contained in different documents.

The Revueltas archive is not a dead file. The composer’s heir has taken care to update it, adding documents referring to the diffusion of his work (programs for concerts following his death), its reception (concert reviews), and analysis of his music and personality (testimonials and essays by a number of authors). The volume of additional information has exceeded the limits of the current project of digital compilation, so for practical purposes, and given that these are fundamental documents for research purposes, only those documents dating from the composer’s lifetime have been included in the Digital Library, either written by him or by people who interacted with him. In addition to the fascinating correspondence with family members, friends, and professional contacts, the library also includes texts about music and politics, as well as autobiographical writings. Researchers may also examine the composer’s writings from two periods when he was staying at Doctor Falcón’s sanatorium. The archive is complemented by documents such as concert programs, personal documents (credentials and IDs), and photographs (including ones by Álvarez Bravo and Moncayo).

Political essays

Among the text documents in the Digital Library, several will be recognized as having previously been published in different books. The interest in rereading them here lies in the chance to reconstruct the history of their gestation, by reviewing handwritten notes from different stages of their development, as well as the “final” typewritten transcription. But more importantly, it allows us to compare them to unpublished documents. Thus, the “Informe completo sobre España [escrito] en el Sanatorio del Dr. Falcón [el] 10 de Enero de 1939” (Complete report on Spain [written] in Dr. Falcón’s Sanatorium on January 10, 1939) is augmented by less ambitious pamphlets, such as those denouncing the activities of the Falange in Cardenist Mexico. Likewise, Revueltas’s “Apuntes sobre problemas gremiales de los músicos” (Notes on trade-union problems among musicians) takes on new meaning when read alongside unpublished texts on the “Situation of the musician in the face of imperialism, fascism, and war” or notes for speeches to be delivered at assemblies organized by the League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (LEAR). For any scholar specializing in Revueltas’s music—particularly the music he composed during his first creative period in the early 1930s—the unpublished manifesto of the “Frente único de lucha contra la reacción estética” (United front in the struggle against aesthetic reactionarism, co-written with Xavier Villaurrutia) is required reading.

Correspondence with colleagues

One of the unwritten chapters of Revueltas’s life deals with his relationships with professional connections, particularly avant-garde composers in the United States. Very little is known about the performance and repercussions of Revueltas’s music in that country. Correspondence contained in the archive is illuminating in this sense: it paints a panorama that contradicts common prejudices, like the notion that Revueltas’s music had little impact beyond Mexican borders. Many of the people he corresponded with—directors, composers, musicians, reporters, promoters, writers—acknowledged his importance and actively sought him out. Most of these documents have never been made public, and they suggest countless lines of investigation. Just the list of names is impressive.: Edgard Varèse, Nicolas Slonimsky, Vladimir Dukelsky (Vernon Duke), Juan Marinello, Paul Strand, Gerald Murphy, Wallingford Riegger, Robert Desnos, Don Phillipini, Ernest Ansermet, Henri Barbusse, Aaron Copland, and Lan Adomian, among many others.

The vast diversity of individuals that Revueltas was in contact with in Mexico also describes an insufficiently explored aesthetic and political panorama. These included Carlos Mérida, Samuel Martí, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Antonio Mediz Bolio, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jacobo Kostakowski, Graciela Amador, Rodolfo Halffter, María Izquierdo, Waldeen Falkenstein, Otto Mayer-Serra, Juan Soriano, Carlos Chávez, Alfonso Esparza Oteo, Celestino Gorostiza, Carlos Barrera, Luis Cardoza y Aragón, and Hernán Laborde.

Letters from friends

Though they are already familiar to many, it’s a privilege to be able to read the original handwritten letters that Revueltas addressed to his close friend, the architect Ricardo Ortega, husband of the singer Guadalupe Medina, for whom Revueltas composed many of his songs. Perhaps even more so than his titles, these letters reveal much about the composer’s aesthetic development. But Revueltas also received letters from perfectly ordinary people—page-turners, fans, admirers, reporters—which gives the sense that he was a simple and approachable person in his everyday life.

Family correspondence

Revueltas was not in the habit of saving the letters he addressed to others, so in terms of correspondence with friends, the archive only conserves letters that were addressed to him. However, many of the letters he wrote to his family during different periods of his life have been recovered. The earliest ones date to the time when he was enrolled at the National Conservatory in Mexico City. These were followed by those he sent to his parents from St. Edward’s College in Austin, Texas. Nearly all of the letters he sent from Chicago were addressed to his first wife, Jule Klarecy. The archive conserves notes he made before writing the letters, and it interesting to read them alongside the letters he received from Jule, also part of the archive. But the most moving ones are those he exchanged with Ángela, the love of his life. Unforgivably, Ángela’s letters to him have been left out of all anthologies of Revueltas’s writings, thus taking the many letters he wrote to her out of context in the public eye.

This section also includes letters addressed to other members of his family, and some curiosities, such as letters written to him by his young daughter Carmen.

Typewritten transcriptions of Revueltas’s letters made by his sister Rosaura while preparing for the publication of Revueltas por él mismo have also been included.

Professional documents

Much of the biography of a public figure may be inferred from the professional documents he or she leaves behind. The ones conserved in the archive include professional appointments, contracts, documents related to union membership, salary records, letters of safe conduct, invitations, payrolls, programs of study, budgets, and finally, a notice of discharge following the composer’s death.

Essays about music

There is no better window onto a composer’s musical philosophy than his remarks about other musicians and composers. The archive contains introductory texts on musicians such as Francisco Contreras; composers such as Jacobo Kostakowski, José Pomar, and Candelario Huízar; and the musicologist Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster. These texts are already publicly known, but the archive also preserves unpublished program notes where he adopted a witty tone when discussing the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Franz Joseph Haydn, Georg Friedrich Handel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Franz Schubert.

His writings about Mexico’s musical environment are well known due to previous publications: “Panorama musical de México” (written in Valencia in 1938), “Disonancias,” and “Sombras de sombras.” Revueltas also wrote musical criticism, but much more important is his critique of criticism in his highly ironic debate with the journalist Salomón Kahan, in the newspaper articles entitled “Sobre la crítica,” “En defensa y elogio de la crítica,” and “Contracanto.” But no less illuminating are several unpublished texts on music education (“El problema del conservatorio”) and work-related topics (“Música y situación actual”), which discuss issues that in many ways are still topical.

Writings from the sanatorium

Some of Revueltas’s most widely discussed writings were the ones he produced during several periods confined to Dr. Falcón’s sanatorium. The most important of these have been published: “Los indiferentes,” “A una desconocida,” and “Del pesimismo ardiente.” But the composer also wrote about daily life in the institution and the people who lived there, as well as poetry. All of these writings are unpublished and they shed light on Revueltas’s private life. There have been no studies made of his psychological problems, and the archive provides all the relevant materials for carrying out this urgent task.

Concert programs

Revueltas was not very meticulous when it came to documenting his achievements, but his wife Ángela kept many of the newspaper reviews and programs from the concerts he directed with the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. These are illuminating in more than one sense: not only do they paint a picture of the music scene of the time, they also give us access to different texts that Revueltas wrote about his own music, and permit other approaches to his musical context: orchestra members, ticket prices, sponsors, etc.


The photographs where Revueltas appears have been divided into three categories: individual portraits, family portraits, and group photographs. The latter in particular provide ample material for future research, given that they permit the reconstruction or corroboration of networks of creative, political, and social interaction in the time and context that Revueltas inhabited.

Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus

Eugenia Revueltas Acevedo

The SRDL team would like to express its gratitude to Dr. Eugenia Revueltas, the composer’s daughter, for her trust and support throughout this process.

© Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (DVD)
© Roberto Kolb Neuhaus (cataloguing of Silvestre Revueltas’s musical manuscripts)
© Eugenia Revueltas Acevedo (cataloguing of Silvestre Revueltas’s non-musical documents)

Any publication or reproduction of any of Silvestre Revueltas’s musical and non-musical manuscripts, or of the catalogue entries contained in this product, is strictly prohibited, except for not-profit academic purposes.