05 May 2009

Sobre las Olas (Over the Waves)

On the way from Irapuato to San Miguel de Allende and before we make the left turn toward Comonfort at Celaya, we pass by a town called Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas or just "Juventino Rosas" for short. The town didn't always go by that name. Before 1939 it used to be called Santa Cruz de Galeana and before 1912 it was called Santa Cruz de Comontuoso. The reason that it eventually became Juventiono Rosas is because on January 25th of 1868 a remarkable child was born to Paula Cadenas y Jesús Rosas and the child's full name was José Juventino Policarpo Rosas Cadenas. The father, Jesús Rosas, was a musician and had been with the Mexican troops who fought against the imperial forces of Maximilian of Hapsburg, the one time "Emperor of Mexico". After the fighting was over he and his little family ended up in the Celaya area and settled at Santa Cruz de Comontuoso because it was known at the time as a place where craftsmen were making stringed instruments. It was there that Jesús Rosa tried to eke out a living but times were tough and the family ended up moving to Mexico City in 1875. Needless to say, however, that young Juventino Rosas was exposed to music at an early age and the first to notice it was his own father who also became his music teacher and taught Juventino to play the violin. In 1878 his father formed a trio out of Juventino and his brothers Manuel and Jesús they tried to make money by playing at fiestas and events in the local area. They didn't have much success, however, and had to look for a better way to earn their daily bread.

Eventually Juventino found work with a band and later along with his father and his brother Manuel he found work in an orchestra. Juventino advanced rapidly and after hearing Juventino play, a doctor by the name of Manuel M. Espejel introduced him to Dr. Alfredo Bablot who was the director of the National Conservatory of Music. He was admitted to the conservatory where he learned how to read and write music and also some musical theory. He drank it up like a sponge and learned as much as he could even though he wasn't there for long. He had so much self confidence that he wrote a waltz named "Carmen" and gave it as a gift to Doña Carmen Romero, the wife of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz and he directed the orchestra who played the waltz for the first time at the birthday celebration of President Díaz. He wrote his most famous waltz, "Sobre las Olas" (Over the Waves) after bathing in a stream where he got the idea for the music. This piece of music is famous the world over and is still played today. It is one of the greatest waltzes ever written and on par with music written by composers like Johann Strauss, Johannes Brahms, or Piotr Illich Tchaikovsky. It was first published in 1888 when Juventino was twenty years old. He sold the rights to the song to a firm called Wagner y Levien for only forty-five dollars. I have seen several references to an original publishing date in 1884 when Juventino Rosas was in New Orleans, Louisiana with the popular Mexican band at the New Orleans Universal Cotton Exposition and World's Fair (see my post "Kiosco Morisco") but I am not sure that this is not just an apocryphal tale because he would only have been sixteen at the time and he really didn't start composing until he was about seventeen.

Juventino Rosas was the first Mexican composer whose music gained international recognition. During the six or seven years that he composed he wrote ninety-two pieces of which fifty were published. He not only had the greatest number of editions published in foreign countries, and arrangements for an incredibly wide range of instruments, but he was also the Mexican with the greatest number of sound recordings of his works until the 1950s. At the age of twenty-six he became a member of a Spanish light opera company and on a trip to Cuba he contracted spinal myelitis and was interned in a tiny rural hospital called "La Casa de Salud Nuestra Señora del Rosario" in a little community called "El Fondeadero de Batabanó" (Anchorage of Batabanó). He died on the 9th of July, 1894. He was buried in Cuba where the epitaph over his grave read "Juventino Rosas violinista Mexicano y autor del célebre vals Sobre las Olas, falleció en julio de 1894. La tierra cubana sabrá conservar su sueño" (Juventino Rosas the Mexican violinist and author of the famous waltz Sobre las Olas, died July 1894. The land of Cuba will preserve in memory his dream.) In 1909 his body was brought back to Mexico with great fanfare and he was entombed in the Civil Cemetery of Dolores in Mexico City. In December 1939 his remains were exhumed to be reburied in the same cemetery in Mexico's Circle of Illustrious Men. He was one of those shooting stars that comes along every once in awhile and who makes everyone gasp in wonder and then disappears in a flash toward the vast horizon as quickly as they came. May the Lord have mercy on his soul and may he rest in peace.

Note: There were several unofficial lyrics written in Spanish for Sobre las Olas and one written in English in 1950 by Paul Francis Webster for use in the 1951 film The Great Caruso starring Mario Lanza as Caruso. The song was called "The Loveliest Night of the Year". Most people are familiar with the music even if they don't recognize the name. Parts of it are used quite a bit as background music for things like circus trapeze acts because it is very smooth and soothing.

The introduction is a bit slow and it takes about forty seconds to get to the part that most people are familiar with. Sit back and relax and let the waves wash over you.


YayaOrchid said...

Bob, where do you find all this wonderful trivia?! I've heard this waltz many times before and had no idea its creator was a Mexican! It is beautiful isn't it? You have educated me once again and made me feel very proud of my heritage. Thank you Senor Bob!

Chrissy and Keith said...

Excellent information. Thank you Bob.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating info!

glorv1 said...

How awesome to read of this. I love that sound. Viva La Raza! Great information. Have a great weekend.

Suzanne said...

I had no idea either - what an interesting story.

Juventino Rosas is also the town where Mexican folk artists make the wonderful wooden toys that are crudely made into skeletons, ferris wheels, cars, trucks etc. There's an artist there who is in the Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art book

Bevin Chu said...

Better than the later "The Loveliest Night of the Year."


Reminds me of Joseph Lanner or Sebastian Yradier.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.