Julián Carrillo’s Sonido 13 in 1920s New York
Christina Taylor Gibson, Catholic University of America
Mexican composer and conductor Julián Carrillo (1875-1965) saw the turn of the 20th century as an entry into the “epoch of the New World.” Like many artists of the time, he viewed the growing status of the United States on the world stage, the Revolutionary fervor in Mexico, and the invigorated arts communities in Mexico City and New York as portentous of change. Yet Carrillo did not turn toward traditional expressions of nationalism to trumpet this new era. Instead he searched for a new music so avant-garde as to place the Americas, particularly Mexico, at the center of the international music community. Expanding upon his training in Germanic symphonic music and building upon Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone system, Carrillo derived “The 13th Sound,” a method of composing and performing with microtones. It was, in his eyes, the perfect response to a new world order:
With my theory of the 13th Sound we have in the New World the elements to be the most powerful musicians on earth.
This is what the revolution of the 13th sound means: new tones, new intervals, new scales, new rhythms, new timbres, and new instruments to produce sensations. . . .
The epoch of the New World is in sight.
The theory of the 13th Sound will produce the new music that composers are looking for.(1)
Carrillo initially presented his approach toward microtonality as an answer to Mexican composers’ quest for a “Revolutionary music.”(2) For the composer, it was indeed a radical departure: before Sonido 13, his musical style was conservative and tended toward the symphonic style of Schubert and Beethoven; afterward, he was among the most radical composers in Mexico. Carrillo viewed this about-face as a direct reflection of post-Revolutionary optimism about Mexico’s future, and a natural direction for other Mexican composers. But, despite the support of a core group of students, many critics and composers, even former colleagues and friends, considered his theories unfounded and his rhetoric ill advised. The first objections came from a group calling themselves “The Nine,” led by Nicaraguan composer Luís Delgadillo. They expressed skepticism about the applicability of Sonido 13, which inspired Carrillo to begin to write microtonal music appropriate for performance; these works were first presented in Mexico City in February 1924, and then later in several smaller cities in Mexico and Texas. That same year, Carlos Chávez began to criticize Carrillo’s work, but on different grounds; Chávez thought that language proclaiming Carrillo the discoverer of microtonality was misleading, and he reminded readers that other composers and cultures had been using microtones for some time.(3)
Rather than abandon microtonality, Carrillo sought a new audience for his ideas and music. Specifically, he left Mexico City and moved to New York. There he found a modernist artistic community absent in Mexico City. Concert series organized by the League of Composers and the International Composers Guild presented avant-garde chamber music to small but influential audiences. These societies, and the critics who reviewed their performances, valued innovation, and—partially because they had been introduced to the idea through works by Belá Bartók, Alois Hába, and Charles Ives— were interested in microtonal new music.
Yet Carrillo’s entry into New York musical life was far from painless. At the time he had written very few pieces using microtones, and, as might be imagined, he faced difficulties training musicians able and willing to play his scores. Thus, only a handful of performances were realized: the Sonata Casi Fantasía was performed at a League of Composers concert on March 13, 1926, and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the Concertino (a version of the Sonata arranged for traditional orchestra with a microtonal chamber ensemble) three times in March 1927. Additionally, he made very little attempt to alter the promotional language he had adopted in Mexico; vague allusions to “revolutionary music” fell on deaf ears while strident claims of Christ-like re-birth seemed overblown in a city awash with musical experimentation.
This study of Carrillo’s activities in New York and the critical response to them shines light on a peculiar type of Mexican expatriate activity in 1920s New York. At the time the city was so influenced by mexicanismo that authors refer to the period as the “Mexico Vogue” or the “Mexican summer.”(4) Much, if not all, of the writing, scholarship, imagery, and commerce connected to the Vogue, including Diego Rivera’s murals, Manuel M. Ponce’s songs, and Francis Toor’s Mexican Folkways, was decidedly “Revolutionary” in its celebration of folk, native, and ancient Mexican culture. Yet although Carrillo saw Sonido 13 as fruit of the Revolution, he and his work were not presented or reviewed as mexicanist, partly because he received little support from the expatriate community in New York. Thus, Carrillo occupied a rarely observed corner of the New York music scene: a Mexican without nationalist appeal, a modernist with traditional training and a heretofore traditional career, a near-success forgotten within the space of a few years.
Before New York
Carrillo spent the years between 1923 and 1928 in a futile effort to present his Sonido 13 theory to the Mexican music community and to prove its efficacy. In so doing, he made many advances in the practical applications of the theory, at first publishing several theoretical documents, both in Mexico and in the U.S., and then, in response to a request from José Gómez Ugarte, the editor of El Universal,(5) Carrillo and his students used his theories to compose several works which were then presented in the first concert of microtonal music in Mexico City.(6) The performance, funded and promoted by the El Universal newspaper and radio station, occurred 15 February 1924.(7) It included several works by Carrillo’s students—Rafael Adame, Elvira Larios, and Soledad Padilla—as well as five of Carrillo’s own works.
Although Mexico City critics were less enthusiastic, Adolf Schmid reported to Musical America that “It was marvelous . . . without dissonance, and utterly new in effect on the listener. It was like nothing that I had ever heard before and yet, because of the perfection of the new system, it was at all times logical and pleasing to the ear.”(8) Over the following months, this concert was repeated many times as Carrillo led the musicians in his performing ensemble, nicknamed “El Grupo 13,” in a tour of Mexican and Texan cities. The press reports surrounding these performances indicate that many of them were greeted with anticipation and pleasure.(9)
One of the works presented in 1924 is also one of Carrillo’s best-known compositions: Preludio a Colón. Probably Carrillo’s first microtonal work, Preludio exemplifies his early approach to microtonal composition. At this stage, Carrillo notated his music by altering the traditional style, indicating microtones through the attachment of diagonal lines to note heads.
Example 1. Quarter-tone scale written in altered tonal notation. (Carrillo, 2 Bosquejos, Manuscript Score, Carrillo Archive, Mexico City.)
In 1944, Henry Cowell’s New Music Quarterly printed an edition of the score which used numeric notation derived several years after the initial performance. A fixed number is assigned to every 16th tone, starting with C=0 and ending with B+15/16=96. Thus a quarter-tone scale in C major would begin: 0, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, etc., with the numbers 0, 16, and 32 representing C, D, and E respectively. The octaves of the numerically notated pitches were indicated by placement relative to a single horizontal line augmented by a ledger line placed, when needed, above and below the central line. Numbers written on the central line were to be played in the octave above middle C, numbers above the line an octave higher, and numbers on a ledger line two octaves above.(10) The examples below are taken from the New Music score and are written in the numeric notation.
As others have observed, in Preludio Carrillo combines traditional and avant-garde approaches, relying upon tonal relationships to structure the work while elaborating those relationships in a microtonal foreground.(11) Thus, while form and harmony are governed by Western tonality, it is the melody that best exhibits Carrillo’s microtonal innovations. Carrillo demonstrated his facility at composing microtonal music from the very beginning of the work through a long, haunting line exchanged between the soprano and violin.
Example 2. The opening passage to Preludio demonstrates Carrillo’s facility with microtonal melodies; the harmonies, by contrast, are sparse and simple. Permission granted by the current holders of the copyright, Carl Fischer, on behalf of Jobert.
The harmonies found in Preludio are very simple; in the example above, there is a sparing use of block chords to accompany the long solo passages. In passages where multiple voices move in harmony, they usually do so by moving in parallel thirds up and down a quarter-tone scale. A short passage toward the end of the work provides the only moment of true contrary motion.
Example 3. In the middle stanza, the violin moves downward whilst the guitar line rises. The final cadence reiterates the centrality of pitch class E. Permission granted by the current holders of the copyright, Carl Fischer, on behalf of Jobert.
In other passages, only the arpacitera, a harp constructed for the express purpose of realizing Carrillo’s microtonal music, slides in a direction contrary to the other instruments while playing 16th-tone glissandi. This is perceived as a superficial addition to the principal lines.
The lack of harmonic complexity in Preludio is one indication of the difficulties Sonido 13 presented to Carrillo. Bereft of the systematized procedures developing out of traditional tonal harmonic composition, Carrillo needed to create a method suited to microtones. Harmony continued to provide obstacles for the composer in microtonal works written over the next several years. In Preludio, the inflexible approach toward harmony seems to have limited the structure; the entire work elaborates E, never modulating to another key.(12)
Nonetheless, there are moments of beauty, particularly in the microtonal scales used to decorate the melody, and the composition has been written with care and thought. Perhaps for these reasons, it remains a compelling example of the possibilities inherent in Carrillo’s early microtonal music. It has been recorded several times, first in 1930 by Ángel Reyes and his Sonido 13 group in Cuba, and, most recently, at the American Festival of Microtonal Music in 2004.
Advance Press in New York for Sonido 13
Despite Preludio andthe acclaim accorded the “Grupo 13” concerts in other Mexican cities, opposition to Sonido 13remained formidable among Mexico City musicians. By contrast, New Yorkers showed intense interest in Carrillo’s Sonido 13compositional method, even at its earliest stages. The Musical Advance was the first to share Sonido 13with New Yorkers. In May 1923, just months after Carrillo first presented his ideas about microtonality to Mexicans in Pláticas Musicales,(13)the magazine printed a translated version of the same document, dedicating nearly an entire issue to Carrillo’s article.
The February 1925 concert of Sonido 13 music in Mexico City also attracted attention from New York publications, leading to two series of articles explaining Carrillo’s theory to interested readers of Musical America and the Musical Advance.(14)Among the most significant articles was one printed in Musical America describing Carrillo’s invented notational system, probably the first detailed explanation of his notational method before the writing of Pre-Sonido Trece in 1926.(15)
When he arrived in New York in 1926, the music community was particularly taken with the idea of hearing microtonality.(16) The recent studies of Eastern European folk music conducted by Belá Bartók and Zoltan Kodaly, as well as increasing recognition of refined musical developments in cultures outside the Western tradition such as Indian classical music, had made Europeans and Americans aware of the use of quarter tones in world music. Experimentalists, admired by those participating in modernist music circles of New York, had long shown interest in microtones. One year before Carrillo’s first concert, the Pro-Musica Society organized a performance of quarter-tone works by Charles Ives and Hans Barth in Aeolian Hall.(17) Such performances were extraordinarily rare, however. Usually, New Yorkers could only read about microtonality. For example, they had recently received news of Alois Hába’s compositions in quarter tones which were available in score but unperformable on available instruments.(18) Critics expressed frustration at not being able to experience microtonal music, and delight at Carrillo’s upcoming presentation:
The quest for new timbres, chords, scales and tones which is characteristic of the restless contemporary development of music will be illustrated by an experimental performance included in the League of Composers’ third concert. . . . This is the first time that instruments made for such subdivisions of the ordinary scale will be heard.(19)
In early 1925, Carrillo announced his intention to move to New York through articles published in the Mexico City press.(20) Numerous plans for performances followed, many documented in the Sonido 13 periodical, a mouthpiece Carrillo created and edited to allow the dissemination of his theory and communication amongst its adherents. In August 1925, Carrillo wrote of plans to write a symphony for a large orchestra and a cello concerto in 16th, 8th, and 4th tones. (21) As evidence of his progress, he printed the first page of the symphony on the cover of Sonido 13,(22)using invented notation he had earlier described in Musical America. According to an article in Sonido 13, Carrillo intended to premiere the symphony in New York.(23) A few months later the composer relayed a request from the Pan-American Union in Washington, D.C., for the organization of a concert of microtonal Sonido 13music to be transmitted by radio in October.(24) U.S. “Grupos 13” formed and requested that the composer arrange opportunities for the members to learn about his compositional methods and music. Such writers suggested that Carrillo publish his magazine in multiple languages and send instructors to the U.S. to teach others how to play microtones.(25) Some of these performance plans were alluded to in articles for the Musical Advance(26)and Musical America.(27) The attention from New York publications was noted in the Mexico City press, resulting in articles in El Universal Gráfico and El Universal that were then re-printed in Sonido 13.(28)
Unfortunately, at this stage Carrillo was unable to write and rehearse music at the rate required to fulfill all the performance requests, and many of the announced performance plans did not materialize. New York premieres of a microtonal symphony and cello concerto did not occur. The final draft of the symphony was not completed until 1930 and that of the cello concerto in 1945;(29) neither was performed in New York City. Carrillo refused the opportunity proffered by the Pan-American Union almost immediately because he did not have time to recruit and rehearse a group of musicians by the proposed concert date.(30) Such logistical impediments were among the greatest barriers Carrillo faced in the promotion and distribution of his music.
Preparing for Sonata Casi Fantasía in New York
Shortly after he arrived in New York in January 1926, Carrillo began planning a performance under the auspices of the League of Composers. Initially he wanted to repeat several works from the Mexican Sonido 13 concerts, but for reasons that are not entirely clear, he instead wrote a new work, Sonata Casi Fantasía, and premiered it in a League concert held in March 1926.(31) In less than three months, Carrillo recruited a small group of performers [Example 4], trained them to play new microtonal instruments, composed the Sonata, and rehearsed the new group. In his autobiography, Carrillo remembered writing the work in a “few days”(32) and recalled that the musicians had met for forty-eight rehearsals, each one three hours long.(33)
Although he had initially planned to offer performances of several works, Sonata Casi Fantasía was the only work by Carrillo played that evening. The composer used the rest of his allotted time to offer a brief lecture and demonstration about Sonido 13, assisted by the performing musicians, and to repeat the work, allowing audience members another chance to observe the microtonal techniques.
Example 4. The inscription at the left is in the composer’s hand. It reads: “First ‘Grupo 13’ of New York that performed Julián Carrillo’s Sonata Casi Fantasía in 4th, 8th, and 16th tones in Town Hall, 13 March 1926; the first group to do so in the world.” Emil Mix holds the octavina and Margarita Rein stands next to the arpacitera. Permission to use the photo granted by Carmen Viramontes on behalf of the Archivo Julián Carrillo.
Sonata Casi Fantasía
Sonata Casi Fantasía, as its performance history would suggest, seems to be more of an experiment with the techniques described in his theoretical treatises as a composition in its own right. Like the Preludio, it reveals a combination of traditional and radical compositional techniques. The microtonal scales and timbres were new, exhibited upon a set of instruments created to perform Sonido 13music, including a microtonal horn and an altered bass called an octavina [Example 4].
The form and harmony were not as innovative as the melodies, but instead were based upon traditional tonal practices.(34)
Example 5. Cello solo passage between two movements of Sonata Casi Fantasía. Permission use excerpts of the autograph score granted by Carmen Viramontes on behalf of the Archivo Julián Carrillo.
As in Preludio, it was in scalar passages like the one found in Example 5 through which Carrillo most ably presented the innovations of Sonido 13. Such passages not only demonstrated the various new tones found in the microtonal scales of Sonido 13,but they also exhibited the new timbres of Carrillo’s invented instruments. Realizing that the most avant-garde aspects to Sonata Casi Fantasía were found in the melodies and timbres it presented, Carrillo wrote in the program notes for the League concert that the purpose of the work was “to illustrate the possibilities which the development of the instruments themselves offer to the composers of the future.”(35)
In addition, during a demonstration preceding the performance, the composer urged listeners to pay close attention to the melodies of the work.(36) Accordingly, favorable New York reviewers found the scales to be the most valuable aspect of Carrillo’s work. In her article for the New York Evening Post, Olga Samaroff noted that:
the demonstrations of the new scales by single instruments were so interesting . . . that I did not even attempt to find form or significance in the work from the point of view of composition. Good, bad, or indifferent, it certainly presented a musical experiment that was extremely interesting.(37)
As in Preludio, Carrillo struggled to create a harmonic language amenable to the use of microtones. Olin Downes observed, “There is very little harmony—a few combinations of quarter-tones—and this is very suggestive—but the net result was the charting of a certain field of experiment rather than an achievement of artistic significance.” Much of the harmonic movement is in parallel thirds—with one note a quarter tone higher or lower than normal. In the first thematic section of the work [Example 6], the monotony of this approach is mitigated by a little counter melody, also moving in parallel thirds. The larger-scale harmonic motion apparent in this passage is derived from tonal procedures elaborating a G-major/minor chord which arrives in the third measure of the example.
Example 6. The first half of the first thematic section of Sonata Casi Fantasía.
Everywhere, Carrillo combined innovative new scales with third-based harmonies grounded in the tonal system. Even the most adventurous sections of the work demonstrated this combination. The music at rehearsal section K [Example 7] falls at the end of the development section and can sound extremely avant-garde. The most radical sounds come from the microtonal glissandi of the arpacitera and the slow moving microtonal scale in the octavina. Yet, despite the unique timbres and tones of the arpacitera and octavina, the compositional approach of this section is similar to that found elsewhere. At first the microtonal scales are supported by block chords, played by the strings and the horn. Then the cello and horn break away to exchange variations of the first theme, only to be interrupted by a riotous scalar passage in the upper strings, drowning out the melody. Throughout, microtonal scales and glissandi are combined with block chords. The only significant difference in the harmonies presented by this passage from the harmonies found in Preludio and other parts of Sonata Casi Fantasía is the growing harmonic tension between the violin and guitar, which spell clashing chords in the second system. But this dissonance is resolved in the next few measures when a series of ternary block chords sequence to E.
Example 7. One of the most experimental passages occurs after rehearsal K.
The adherence to the strictures of sonata form, the application of Baroque-style sequences, and the use of tertiary harmony demonstrate the conservativeness of Carrillo’s approach in Sonata Casi Fantasía. However, as the composer recognized, the work sounded radical because it introduced new timbres and melodic formulations to audiences. Furthermore, it presented a new type of microtonal music to a modernist public curious about the applicability of microtones in contemporary music, generating enormous interest among critics and concert-goers.
Reception of Sonata Casi Fantasía
Numerous critics attended and reported on the 13 March 1926 League concert. Reviews appeared in several periodicals including the New York Times, New York Telegram, New York Herald Tribune, New York Evening Post, and New York Sun.(38) Nearly every critic, from the conservative W.J. Henderson to the modernist Pitts Sanborn professed interest in Carrillo’s theory and devoted significant space to Sonata Casi Fantasía in their reviews of the concert. Reviewers in New York were far more inclined than their Mexican counterparts to view experimentation with microtones in a positive light; however, with few exceptions, New York critics were dissatisfied with Carrillo’s music.
Those most approving, such as Sanborn and Olga Samaroff, went to great pains to excuse the perceived structural and harmonic flaws in the composition. For example, Sanborn confessed that, “The sonata consists largely of scale passages and glissandi, sometimes fascinating in color and cadence, at other times unduly suggestive of normal music played more or less out of tune.” But in the next sentence he cautioned, “However there is no underrating the importance of Mr. Carrillo’s chosen task, whether it is destined radically to influence the future or not.”(39) Other critics did not offer such excuses for Carrillo and his music, judging it to be “naïve and tentative”(40) and “an exhibition of chromaticism and nothing more.”(41)
Although the reception of Sonata Casi Fantasía had been mixed, Carrillo found the excitement about Sonido 13 encouraging, and he eagerly shared the news of his successes with his more skeptical colleagues in Mexico City through the Mexican press. Upon arriving in New York, Carrillo wrote a letter to the editor of El Universal, informing him of the formation of a “Grupo 13” in the city and of plans to premiere a work with the League of Composers. The letter was subsequently printed in the newspaper. A few weeks later, following the concert, a shortened and translated version of Olin Downes’ review was printed in El Universal.(42)Another El Universal article summarized the reviews printed in various New York periodicals.(43)The excerpts of reviews printed in El Universal were among the most positive evaluations of Carrillo’s work.Months later, the composer printed similar excerpts in a special issue of the Sonido 13 magazine, the only issue to be printed entirely in English [Example 8].
Perhaps the greatest encouragement came from someone who did not even attend the League concert—Leopold Stokowski. Shortly following the concert of Sonata Casi Fantasía, Stokowski requested an interview with Carrillo and his Grupo 13.(44) After studying the music and hearing a performance and demonstration, Stokowski requested that Carrillo write a composition that could be accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra in whole and half tones. This request led to a new arrangement of Sonata Casi Fantasía for orchestra and chamber group which Carrillo titled Concertino. Stokowski made plans to premiere the work in the spring of 1927.
Example 8. The first page of the only English-language issue of El Sonido 13 that Carrillo would publish. Unlike the other issues of the magazine, which range between twenty and twenty-five pages in length, this issue is four pages. Permission to include a photograph of the publication granted by Carmen Viramontes on behalf of the Archivo Julián Carrillo.
After Sonata Casi Fantasía: Writings in New York
Assured of a Sonido 13 performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra and encouraged by the reception of his Sonata Casi Fantasía, Carrillo remained in New York during the year between the League concert in March 1926 and the Philadelphia Orchestra performances in March 1927. A few months after the League concert, Carrillo distributed the first English language Sonido 13 magazine. More like a pamphlet than a periodical, the magazine was just four pages long and frankly promotional in content. It contained one article introducing Sonido 13, a reprint of excerpts from reviews of the March 1926 concert, and an open letter by Carrillo tothe editors of Le Ménestrel in response to a series of articles printed in that publication the previous January.(45) The following three issues of the Sonido 13 magazine were bilingual, for the most part written in Spanish by Carrillo and others, and translated by Mary Lindsey-Oliver into English.(46) Each bilingual issue contained one significant theoretical article, usually excerpted from Carrillo’s previously published theoretical treatises.
The longer technical articles found in the November and January issues demonstrate how Carrillo wished to convey the tenets of Sonido 13 to a new audience. For example, the 13 November issue provided an analysis of ways Sonido 13 might assist contemporary composers of all genres, broadening the appeal of the theory beyond those interested in microtonal music. The 13 January 1927 issue’s theoretical article provided further justification for the creation of a new system of composition and notation. In all cases, the articles followed the teleological justification for the Sonido 13 theory and its applicability found in Carrillo’s earlier writing. Everywhere he proclaims microtonality, particularly the method he proposes, as the next step in musical development.
The advertisements in the Sonido 13 magazine suggest the variety of projects the composer undertook during his stay. For example, the first bilingual edition, dated 13 October 1926, included advertisements for three business ventures, each related to Carrillo’s mission to propagandize on behalf of microtonal compositional techniques.In the first advertisement the “Grupo 13” managed by bassist Emil Mix announced their willingness to work for hire as an ensemble, claiming a specialty in all kinds of microtonal music. Another advertisement promoted a musical academy giving instruction in microtonal music and non-microtonal masterworks. The third advertisement was for the magazine itself, and it appended a new subtitle to the publication—“The Herald of America’s Musical Culture”—borrowing Pan-American language from a profile article about Carrillo printed in Century Magazine in 1915.(47)
The promotional language in the Sonido 13treatises and the magazines published in the U.S. show that the image Carrillo wished to cultivate in New York varied little from that presented in Mexico. In publications distributed in both countries Carrillo frequently referred to the “revolutionary” aspects of Sonido 13.(48) Such references appear to reflect Carrillo’s desire to ally his inventions with the political, social, and cultural changes of the Mexican Revolution. However, the word “revolutionary” was employed in two senses: it also alluded to the broader modernist movement. Aiding this interpretation, words such as “progress”(49) or “advance”(50) are also frequently found in Carrillo’s writings. It was this modernist reading of the word “revolutionary” that resonated with New York critics; the Mexican Revolution was not associated with his work in the critical literature, despite Carrillo’s own clear desire to link Sonido 13 with Mexican identity.
Leyes de Metamorfosis musicales and the composition of Concertino
While in New York, Carrillo wrote two theoretical books that explained aspects of Sonido 13—Pre-Sonido 13 and Teoría Lógica de la Música—and began a third, Las Leyes de Metamorfosis Musicales. It was the third book that proved most relevant to his Concertino.(51) The text concerns the technique of metamorphosis whereby the composer exercises systematic mathematical manipulation of the numerical spelling of a note to arrive at a transformation of a musical line. For example, if one had a quarter-tone piece with C as tonic, then the numerical spellings would be as follows: C=0, C+1/4=4, C#=8, C+3/4=12, D=16, etc. Using “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” the original first phrase’s numeric spelling of the melody would be 0, 0, 56, 56, 72, 72, 56. If one wanted to metamorphose by half, one would merely divide the numbers by 2: 0, 0, 28, 28, 36, 36, 28 leading to a melody that sounds quite a bit different: C, C, D+3/4, D+3/4, E+1/2, E+1/2, D+3/4. But metamorphosing can also work in the opposite direction; that one could double the numerical value of a given tone, thus deriving whole tones and half tones from quarter tones.
The technique allowed Carrillo to metamorphose whole lines of the entirely microtonal Sonata into passages that a traditional orchestra might play in the Concertino:
Use of metamorphose to the double can be heard in my orchestral ‘Concertino,’mentioned previously. In this work, soloists use quarter-tones, 8th-tones, and 16th-tones. In the orchestral accompaniment, the quarter tones are metamorphosed to the double for the orchestra which accompanies on a semitonal basis.(52)
No specific examples are provided in the document, but his use of the technique is found in the very first line of Concertino, where a metamorphosed version of the initial theme was played in the orchestra part [Example 9]. The theme retains its identity by maintaining the same rhythm and a similar tonal orientation.(53)
Example 9. Comparison of this example from the beginning of the Concertino with example 6, from the beginning of the Sonata Permission to reprint an excerpt of the score granted by Carmen Viramontes on behalf of the Archivo Julián Carrillo. Addition permission granted by the current publishers, Carl Fischer, on behalf of Jobert.
Metamorphosis was just one of several techniques employed in the new arrangement of Concertino. Metamorphosis to the double provided a limited solution, only assisting the re-composition of sections in quarter tones—smaller divisions remained too small after doubling to be played by traditionally tuned instruments. As a result, highly microtonal sections, such as the passage reproduced as example 5, were often changed beyond recognition. Meanwhile, microtonal solo passages were copied microtone-for-microtone from one score to the other. The resulting piece is one that sounds far more tonal than its predecessor. Using metamorphosis, many quarter-tone sections were literally converted into tonal equivalents. Highly microtonal sections were re-composed, decreasing the importance of microtonal passages to the structure of the piece. Only solos and decorative passages were retained in their entirety, pushing the role of the microtone further into the foreground.
Reception of Concertino
Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed the Concertino three times—twice at the Music Academy in Philadelphia (3 and 4 March 1927) and once at Carnegie Hall (8 March 1927). Collectively these performances generated enormous publicity for Carrillo and his music. Reviews appeared in nearly every major paper published in Philadelphia and New York. Stokowski, already admired among the U.S. musical elite, lent his support to Sonido 13 through an informational leaflet distributed at every performance. After explaining the microtone’s natural placement in the evolution of music history, Stokowski turned to the Carrillo work:
I have studied this music with Mr. Carrillo and find that its inner construction is true to itself. . . . beneath an apparent complexity lies simplicity and a fabric of well-balanced tone-relation. Personally I must make a great effort of mental and oral concentration in listening to it, or I overlook much of its subtlety of tone combination. Mr. Carrillo claims no more for it than that it is an experiment and an attempt at a new departure and it is in that sense that we present it to the public. It is a voyage to an unknown land of infinitely rich new possibilities, which so far have been very little developed . . . a land which asks the friendly interest of the Old World of music because it has sprung from it, just as the culture of our New World has sprung from that of the Old.(54)
The information in the leaflet was supplemented by a demonstration of the microtonal scales and the instruments performing them, which preceded the performance of Concertino. Both the leaflet and the demonstration were frequently alluded to in reviews of the concert. Although New York critics often mentioned their familiarity with the theory through the League concert, it appears that Stokowski’s implicit endorsement of Sonido 13spurred many critics, otherwise disinclined to value the work, to listen to and write about the Concertino.
Perhaps as a consequence of Stokowski’s endorsement, reviews of the Philadelphia Orchestra performances were numerous and lengthy. Carrillo and his music were the primary focus of the reviews; most gave extensive explanations of the compositional methods and instruments employed. Although fewer critics disputed the value of Carrillo’s experimental approach in Concertino, the evaluation of his music remained similar to that rendered after the League performance: it did not live up to expectations.
Leonard Liebling wrote for the majority when hestated, “The present reviewer also concentrated manfully, and almost until it hurt, but truth compels the admission that he failed to discern a great deal of value or beauty, either in the sound or meaning of the music.”(55) Although Liebling’s review was extensive, like other critics he spent very little time evaluating the work. “The composition itself,” he went on to write, “lean in content, being experimental, need not engage criticism.”(56) Instead, most reviewers concentrated on the innovations found in the work, only writing one or two sentences about the quality of the composition.
The Philadelphia Orchestra concert in Carnegie Hall prompted the first (and only) major article about Carrillo and his music in La Prensa, the principal Spanish-language paper of New York. The author described the long and loud applause accorded Concertino and the lines of well-wishers greeting the composer during intermission. Missing from the throng, according to the author, were the Mexican supporters commonly observed by reporters for the paper at concerts featuring Mexican performers. “We don’t remember seeing one Mexican,” the reviewer recalled: “The commentaries from the short reception [at intermission] and from the critics in the press the next day, deserve to be heard by those jealous individuals who undervalue (or scorn) Carrillo in his native country.”(57)
Only one of the examined reviews noted the thematic similarities between Sonata Casi Fantasía and Concertino.(58) Even New York critics, who frequently compared the two performances, did not describe the Concertino as an arrangement of the Sonata. While Carrillo openly admitted the relationship between the pieces in his Sonido 13 magazine and subsequent writings, Stokowski did not draw attention to the relationship between the two works in his program notes. As the performances were a year apart, it is unlikely critics would have remembered the themes sufficiently to describe the similarities and differences of their treatment in the works. Yet the absence of this sort of analysis, common in reviews of Stokowski’s arrangements for orchestra, underlines the superior importance the avant-garde aspects of Carrillo’s work held for critics and audiences. Rather than offering formal and technical analyses, articles about Carrillo’s music concentrated on the unfamiliar: strange-looking and sounding instruments, the invented notation, and, of course, the microtonal filigree.
Carrillo and New York after Concertino
The burst of attention around Stokowski’s performances did not last, and Carrillo returned to Mexico City, where he continued to promote Sonido 13, often travelling to do so.(59)
News of his activities sometimes percolated into the U.S. press, particularly after the recording of Preludio a Colón by a Havana “Grupo 13,”(60) and, to a lesser extent, following Stokowski’s performance of Carrillo’s group in Mexico City.(61) Aside from these few exceptions, Sonido 13 disappeared from public discourse in the U.S. until 1952, when Stokowski led performances of Horizontes in several U.S. cities. Carrillo never achieved the sort of approbation he had hoped for from the U.S. public.
Why did New York modernists turn away from Carrillo’s Sonido 13, and on to other techniques and methods? At least part of the trouble began with the Mexico City reception he hoped to escape. Other Mexicans in New York enjoyed support and patronage from the expatriate community there, but it appears Carrillo did not access that network. Additionally, although Carrillo drew interest because of his works’ modernist microtonality, he did not fit comfortably into that New York artist community. An overview of the concert programs from the League of Composers reveals many repeated names and sub-genres.(62) Carrillo appears once. Most likely, his troubles stemmed from the particular culture of 1920s New York modernism; that is, those welcoming his ideas about microtonality were most likely to be more invested in the avant-garde than to any one approach. When a newer and more applicable technique is presented, such an audience is likely to stray, particularly when there are few personal ties to the community. In this way, Carrillo’s relatively advanced age (at least a decade older than many of his colleagues), and foreignness were also burdens.
Perhaps most the most significant barriers were implicit in the very approach itself—the difficulties the composer encountered composing microtonal music, finding instruments and instrumentalists for performance, and training others, nearly prohibited frequent performances and made the composition of Sonido 13 music a formidable challenge. More damaging, though, was the quality of the work Carrillo was actually able to present. The two pieces performed in New York do not exhibit the sort of musicality found in Preludio or some of the later work. While Carrillo and Stokowski were honest about the experimental tack taken in Sonata and Concertino, the performances placed critics in the awkward position of evaluating something both foreign and unperfected. It would be difficult for any composer to launch a U.S. career from such a start.
Though hardly a success story, at least in the U.S., Carrillo and his music deserve a more significant place in the history of New York’s modernist culture. Whatever his flaws in promoting and presenting Sonido 13 and his microtonal music, Carrillo and the early fascination with his work represent the optimism, adventurousness, and chauvinism of 1920s New York modernism. Furthermore, his difficulties illustrate some of the pitfalls for all composers of new music wishing to navigate the growing avant-garde scene in the city. To paraphrase the Carrillo, Sonido 13 may not have offered what “composers were looking for” but it did, in its own way, usher a “new epoch of music.”(63)
2. See “The Sounds of the Nation, Modernity, and Tradition: The First National Congress of Music as Synecdoche of Discourses,” Sounds of the Modern Nation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008) 111-137.
3. Delgadillo, “Notas de Arte Musical: Crítica Sobre el Sonido 13, del Maestro Carrillo,” El Demócrata (Mexico City), 24 May 1924, sec. 1, p. 3; Carrillo, “El Sonido 13,” El Demócrata (Mexico City),29 May 1924, sec. 1, p. 3; Chávez, “El Cruti Hindú y el Cuarto de Tono Europeo [part 1],” El Universal (Mexico City), 24 Aug. 1924, sec. 3, p. 11; Chávez, “El Cruti Hindú y el Cuarto de Tono Europeo [part 2],” El Universal (Mexico City), 31 Aug. 1924, sec. 3, p. 11; Chávez, “La Importación en México,” La Antorcha (Mexico City), 11 Sept. 1924, reprinted in Chávez, Obras I: Escritos Periodísticos (1916–1939), ed. Gloria Carmona (México : El Colegio Nacional, 1997), 51–61. A list of some of the most significant articles published in El Universal can be found in: Ernesto Solís Winkler, “La revolución del sonido 13: Un ensayo de explicación social” (Master of History Thesis, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, 1996), 371–372. Another account can be found in Madrid, Sounds of the Modern Nation, 18-48.
4. The most frequently cited overview of the Vogue is Helen Delpar, The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between the United States and Mexico, 1920–1935 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992). Art historians have shown a great deal of interest in the subject. Sources include John A. Britton, Revolution and Ideology: Images of the Mexican Revolution in the United States (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1995); Deborah Cullen, ed., Nexus New York: Latin American Artists in the Modern Metropolis (New York: El Museo del Barrio, 2009); James Oles, “For Business or Pleasure: Exhibiting Mexican Folk Art, 1820–1920,” in Casa Mañana: The Morrow Collection of Popular Arts, ed. Susan Danly (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002); Jesús Velasco, “Reading Mexico, Understanding the United States: American Transnational Intellectuals in the 1920s and 1990s,” The Journal of American History 86, no. 2 (Sept. 1999): 641–667. For a particularly interesting examination of the cosmopolitan exchange between Mexico City and New York, Rick A. López, Crafting Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). For an excellent summary of the literature from the 1990s, see Mauricio Tenorio Trillo, “The Cosmopolitan Mexican Summer, 1920–1949,” Latin American Research Review 32, no. 3 (1997): 224–242.
6. Program: Rafael Adame, Guitar Prelude in Quarter Tones; Elvira Larios, Melody for Female Voices; Adame, Capricho for Guitar in Quarter Tones; Soledad Padilla, “¡Oh Salutarios Hostia!” for voices and instruments; Larios, Melody for solo instruments in 16th tones; Carrillo, Preludio a Colón for soprano in quarter tone and instruments in 16th tones; Carrillo, “Ave Maria” in eighth and sixteenth tones; Carrillo, Prelude for Obbligato Cello in quarter tones; Carrillo, “Tepepan” for voices and harp in quarter tones; Carrillo, “Hoja de Album” for instruments in quarter, eighth, and sixteenth tones. Carrillo, Testimonio de una vida (San Luís Potosí: Comité Organizador, 1994), 224.
7. For more information about this performance see Luca Conti, “Preludio a Colón, Tepepan, Horizontes: proceso compositivo y estrategias formales en dos diversas fases del Sonido 13 de Julián Carrillo,” Heterofonía 128 (January–June 2003): 9–32.
9. “El Sonido Trece en Linares,” 26 July 1925; “Julián Carrillo sale en Jira Artistica,” La Prensa, San Antonio, TX, 1925; “La Conferencia Sobre el Sonido 13, Oída en Jalapa,” El Universal, 21 Nov. 1925; “Producer of 13th Sound Will Give Concert Here,” Tampico Tribune, 15 July 1925, in Scrapbooks, Carrillo Archive, Mexico City.
11. For a more detailed analysis of Preludio see Madrid, Sounds of the Modern Nation, 26-35; there is also a brief discussion in Richard Taruskin, Music in the Early Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2005): 292-295.
14. William Spier, “Advanced Musicians in Mexico Use Quarter-Tones and New Notation,” Musical America, 4 April 1925, 9; Carrillo, “Music Without Tones and Semitones,” The Musical Advance, June 1925, 1; William Spier, “Mexican Composer Proposes New Quarter-Tone Notation,” Musical America, 15 August 1925, 18; “Sixteenth Tones Radiate from Whole Tones Through the Prism of Carrillo,” Musical America, 6 February 1926, 43; Carrillo, “History and Mystery of 13th Sound,” Musical Advance, May 1926, 3; Carrillo, “Is the Epoch of the New World in Sight?” Musical Advance, November 1926, 4.
16. Richard Taruskin discusses the philosophical differences inherent in Charles Ives’s approach toward microtones, which “were not composed in anything like the avant-garde spirit.” Nonetheless, the reception of Ives and Carrillo is tied together through links to ultra-modernism. Music in the Early Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2005), 285–256.
34. Carrillo admired and idolized Beethoven, promoting Beethoven’s works in Mexico throughout his career as a conductor. However, although the title Sonata Casi Fantasía recalls the two piano sonatas by Beethoven labeled “quasi una fantasia,” (Op. 27, no. 1 and 2), the Beethoven works do not appear to have served as models for the Sonata Casi Fantasía.
45. E.C. Grassi, “Reconstruire,” Le Ménestrel, 22 Jan. 1926, 34; E.C. Grassi, “Reconstruire,” Le Ménestrel, 29 Jan. 1926, 45. Although the editors of Le Ménestrel never printed Carrillo’s letters, they did include a short notice about the League of Composers’ concert [see Maurice Léna, “États-Unis,” Le Ménestrel 26 March 1926, 152].
46. Copies of the Sonido 13 magazine can be found in the Carrillo Archive and the Biblioteca of CENIDIM. Carrillo’s followers published additional magazines under similar titles, but these seem to be the last magazine publications by the composer under this title.
47. María Cristina Mena, “Julián Carrillo: The Herald of a Musical Monroe Doctrine,” The Century Magazine, March 1915, 753. For more information about this article and its significance, see Chapter 1 in Christina Taylor Gibson, “The Music of Manuel M. Ponce, Julián Carrillo, and Carlos Chávez in New York, 1925–1932” (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 2008).
48. “El Sonido Num. 13 – Algunos Antecedentes,” Pláticas Musicales (México: Julián Carrillo, 1923), 225-274; “The Thirteenth Sound,” Musical Advance, May 1923, 1; “Teoría del Sonido 13,” El Universal, 17 Sept. 1924, sec. 1, p. 4.
53. The notation in the earliest extant manuscript in the Carrillo archives is the new, numeric notation; there is some indication that the score used in performance was in altered traditional notation.
59. The public most receptive to his ideas were Parisians, who were exposed to Sonido 13 in the 1950s through the performances and promotion undertaken by Jean-Etienne Marie, a French composer of microtonal music; he made several recordings of Carrillo’s music with the Concerts Lamoreaux during the 1960s.
60. Reviews of concerts in Havana: Marion and Flora Bauer, “Music in New York,” Musical Leader, 13 February 1930, 8; “Thirteen Sound Shown,” Musical America, 10 February 1930, 40; “Artists Everywhere,” Musical Courier, 22 February 1930, 40. Reviews of recording: “Music of the Future,” Disques 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 105; “Record Notes and Reviews,” The American Music Lover 5, no. 7 (Nov. 1939): 254–264.
61. U.S. press related to Stokowski’s performance of Carrillo’s Fantasía Sonido 13: Marian Tyler, “Native Mexican Art,” NYT, 1 February 1931, 8; “Friends of Music Decade,” NYT, 5 April 1931, 110; “Medal for Stokowski,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 Feb. 1931, sec. B, p. 18. For more detail on Stokowski’s trip, see Taylor Gibson, 121–126.
Appendix: Select Articles about Julián Carrillo and Sonido 13 Published in New York, 1925–1932
General Articles about Sonido 13:
Carrillo, Julián. “The Thirteenth Sound.” The Musical Advance, May 1923, 1.
_____. “Music Without Tones and Semitones.” The Musical Advance, June 1925, 1.
_____. “History and Mystery of 13th Sound,” Musical Advance, May 1926, 3.
_____. “Is the Epoch of the New World in Sight?” Musical Advance, November 1926, 4.
“Sixteenth Tones Radiate from Whole Tones Through the Prism of Carrillo.” Musical America, 6 February 1926, 43.
Spier, William. “Mexican Composer Proposes New Quarter-Tone Notation.” Musical America, 15 August 1925, 18.
_____. “Advanced Musicians in Mexico Use Quarter-Tones and New Notation.” Musical America, 4 April 1925, 9.
Articles Previewing League Performance:
“Eighth-Tone Sonata and New Whithorne Cycle to be Given in League of Composers’ Concert.” Musical America, 6 March 1926, 40.
“Fractional Tone Music, An Experiment at the League of Composers’ Concert.” Musical Courier, 4 March 1926, 25.
“New Native and European Compositions to Be Heard.” New York Times, 7 March 1926, sec. X, p. 6.
Articles Reviewing League Performance:
“Composers’ League Demonstrates New Conception in Music.” New York Herald Tribune, 14 March 1926, 22.
Chotzinoff, Samuel. “Music.” New York World.*
Downes, Olin. “Music.” New York Times, 14 March 1926, 29.
Henderson, W.J. “Demonstrate New Musical Scale.” New York Sun, 15 March 1926, 19.
Samaroff, Olga. “Music.” New York Evening Post, 15 March 1926, 13.
Sanborn, Pitts. “The ‘New’ in Music.” New York Telegram.*
Thompson, Oscar. “Quarter, Eighth and Sixteenth Tones Heard at Concert of Modern Music.” Musical America, 20 March 1926, 4.
Articles Published Between Performances:
“Sixteenth Tones in the ‘Music of the Future.’” The Literary Digest, 27 November 1926.
Fitch, Geraldine. “No Sharps! No Flats! No Notes at All!” New York American, 7 Feb. 1927.
“Orchestral Plans of Current Week.” New York Herald Tribune, 6 March 1927, sec. vi, p. 12.
“With the Orchestras.” New York Times, 6 March 1927, sec. X, p. 12.
Reviews of Philadelphia Orchestra Performances:
Bejarano, José Miguel. “De Musica: Nueva York escucha el ‘Sonido Trece.’” La Prensa [n.d.].*
Bauer, Marion and Flora. “Music in New York.” Musical Leader, 17 March 1927, 6.
“Carrillo Splits Musical Tones into Sixteenths.” New York Review, 26 March 1927.
Craven, H.T. “Stokowski Presents ‘Thirteenth Sound.’” Musical America, 12 March 1927, 23.
Downes, Olin. “Music.” New York Times, 9 March 1927, 28.
Gilman, Lawrence. “Music.” New York Herald Tribune, 9 March 1927, 17.
Henderson, W.J. “Carrillo’s Concertino Presented.” New York Sun, 9 March 1927, 17.
Henderson, W.J. “Music and Musicians.” March 1927.*
Hogan, Agnes Gordon. “Worthwhile Music Talk.” The Philadelphia Record, 9 March 1927, 7.
Liebling, Leonard. “New Style Music by Mexican Tone.” New York American, 9 March 1927, 19.
Martin, Linton. “Stokowski Shows Brand New Tones.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 March 1927, 7.
“Philadelphia Symphony.” Musical Courier, 17 March 1927, 12.
Samaroff, Olga. “Music.” New York Evening Post, 9 March 1927, 6.
“Success of Carrillo’s Works Here Stirs Mexican Pride.” New York Herald Tribune, [10 March 1927?]*
“Artists Everywhere.” Musical Courier, 22 February 1930, 40.
Bauer, Marion and Flora. “Music in New York.” Musical Leader, 13 February 1930, 8.
Benitz, Nena. “Havana Hears ‘13th Sound.’” Musical America, 20 October 1928, 13.
Dalton, Sydney. Review of Six Preludes for Piano by Julian Carrillo. 24 March 1928, 29.
“Friends of Music Decade.” New York Times, 5 April 1931, 110.
“Medal for Stokowski.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 February 1931, sec. b, p. 18. [Photograph]
“Music of the Future.” Disques 1, no. 3 (May 1930): 105.
“Quarter Tones.” Musical Courier, 24 August 1929, 24.
“Thirteen Sound Shown.” Musical America, 10 February 1930, 40.