Ricardo Castro and Romantic Mexican Piano Music
We often discuss the invaluable legacy left by our favorite Romantic composers such as Chopin and Liszt. We talk not only about their works but also their pedagogical lineage and how these lines continued throughout the late-nineteenth century until our present day. What we do not mention enough is that these composers and their students not only influenced and expanded the compositional and pedagogical trends of Western music, but also had an important role in the development of Latin-American classical music. The colonization of the American continent brought much of the European influence to Latin- American countries. In Mexico, this influence was perpetuated in the arts during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century by the Mexican president Porfirio Díaz.
The firm establishment of Romantic music along with the ideals of Mexican artists and musicians to search, find, and create an identity during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, seemed to have worked as a catalyst for the Romantic and Indigenous Nationalist movements in music to appear, both of which gave an individual and independent musical voice to Mexico in the twentieth century. But how did Romantic music flourish in Mexico in the first place?
Ricardo Rafael de la Santísima Trinidad Castro Herrera, most commonly known as Ricardo Castro (1864–1907), was the most prominent Mexican composer and pianist during the nineteenth century. He was born in Durango, México, and later moved to Mexico City to study piano under Juan Salvatierra and Julio Ituarte, and composition with Melesio Morales at the National Conservatory of Music.1
Castro was the first Latin-American composer to write a symphony (Sinfonía en Do menor, Op. 33), a symphonic poem (Oithona, Op. 55), a piano concerto (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22), and a cello concerto (Concerto for Cello and Orchestra), respectively.2
Castro also had the opportunity to tour throughout Mexico, the United States, and Europe. While in Europe he was able to study piano with Eugen d'Albert,3 who was a pupil of Franz Liszt. He is mostly known for his technically and musically idiomatic piano works, as this medium was constantly developed and flourished due to his constant tours.4 The majority of his choice of genres for his compositions (waltzes, mazurkas, polonaises, nocturnes, impromptus, barcarolles, and berceuses) could suggest a strong influence from Chopin, and the many rapid and virtuosic passages appear to be in a style similar to passages of Liszt. His compositional style reflects elegant improvisation, spontaneous charm, sensitive and intimate melodies, and grand moments of virtuosity. He occasionally included Mexican folk themes in his compositions.
Among his best-known piano pieces are Valse-Caprice, Op. 1 for piano solo and for piano and orchestra, Aires Mexicanos, Op. 10, Valse Impromptu, Op. 17, Valse Revêuse, Op. 19, and Valse melancólico, Op. 36, No. 2. These pieces would be refreshing additions to either your own or your student's recital/competition programs, and are available for free download at imslp.org or for purchase at pianorarescores.com.
1 Graciela Cruz Hernández, "Ricardo Castro Herrera," May 9, 2018, institutohistorico.org/ricardo-castro-herrera.
2 Rob Barnett, "Music Web International," musicweb-international.com/class-rev/2016/Aug/Castro_concertos_CDS11062.htm.
3 Gerald R. Benjamin, "Castro Herrera, Ricardo," Grove Music Online 2001, accessed June 27 2020, oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/ gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000005151.
4 Rogelio Álvarez Meneses, "La obra de cámara de Ricardo Castro Herrera (1864-1907): Contextualización y estudio analítico," Revista de Musicología, 42, no. 1 (Enero-Junio 2019): 104.