from: ...In With The New (12/30/04)

Notes for the work, Responsorio in memoriam Rodolfo Halffter by Mario Lavista
(comments by Karen Sandene)

"He who lives is but a traveler in transit, he who dies is a man who returns to his abode."  Chinese poet Li-Po, whose words Mario Lavista dedicates the work heard this evening.

Responsorio in memoriam Rodolfo Halffter
was composed in 1988 and premiered the same year by bassoonist Wendy Holdaway in Mexico City.  This piece is a melding of three distinctly different musical voices: 1) native musical traditions of Mexico, 2) liturgical music from centuries ago, and 3) contemporary performance techniques and sonorities.  

The piece is a musical eulogy to his college composition instructor, Rodolfo Halffter, and the essence of the work is of funeral processions that Lavista observed in remote Mexican villages.  
Early in Responsorio, bass drums - serving to exemplify the funeral march - provide a halting beat to accompany the bassoon, which plays in the highest range of the instrument.  As the piece progresses and the mourners approach their destination, the percussionists introduce tubular bells, depicting church bells.  

Lavista uses several references to composer Guillaume de Machaut's fourteenth century masterpiece
Messe de Notre Dame in the percussion parts.  A repeated rhythm pattern - in musical terms, the taleae - from the Ite missa est section of the Mass is found in chimes.  If you listen carefully, the two chime parts play a great deal of the time in rhythmic canon; the pitches are a bit different, however.  The bass drums also use repeated rhythms, found in the Mass's Amen.  At one point during the piece, the bassoonist mutes the instrument by placing a cloth into the bell, and continues to play a long melody based on multiphonics.  Multiphonics have the reputation of being harsh and dissonant, but the way Lavista utilizes them reminds one of a mournful choir singing (think of the line in Jesus Christ Superstar: "So Long, Judas...")

Born in Mexico City in 1943, Lavista is one of the leading composers of Mexico.  Lavista started on the piano at age of 11, and at age 20, he gained the priviledge of studying at Carlos Chavez' acclaimed compositional school, Taller de composition.  It was during this time that Lavista was influenced by composer Rodolfo Halffter.  Later on in his '20's, Lavista studied composition in Paris and traveled to Germany to work with Karlheinz Stockhausen; he also became familiar with the works of Ligeti, Cage, Lutoslawski and Berio.  He returned to Mexico in 1970 and formed Quanta, a music improvisation group.  Currently, Lavista teaches at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, is an active composer, and edits a music journal.  He has been a Composer-In-Residence in several American Universities.