Rafael Adame and the First Guitar Concerto of the Twentieth Century

By Alejandro L. Madrid

Portrait of Rafael Adame

In 1945 the Russian-American musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky published his book Music of Latin America, as a result of a trip devoted to research and music compilation throughout the Americas sponsored by the American philanthropist Edwin Fleisher. The chapter on Mexican music ends with a number of biographical entries of the most important composers of the country, Slonimsky started this list of biographies with the one by Rafael G. Adame(1), enumerating his most important works.

Towards the end of our century, the name of Rafael Adame has been practically erased from the cultural memory of México and from guitar history. It was not until 1985, when Matanya Ophee published his article “The First Guitar Concerto and Other Legends” (Classical Guitar, July 1985, 19-26), that a new interest on this composer and his output arose. Prior to that publication, the name of Rafael Adame was just a brief entry in Domingo Prat’s Diccionario de guitarristas (1934), the second edition of Philip J. Bone’s The Guitar and Mandolin (1954) and the aforementioned Music of Latin America by Slonimsky. Some old guitar teachers still remembered him and his guitar concerto (Mexican cellists were looking for his Concertino for cello and orchestra), but few knew of any living relative or the location of his manuscripts (definitely due to the lack of circulation among Mexican guitarists of Slonimsky’s book, where the location of these two works is clearly stated). The hermetic personality of Adame as well as his distance from the “official” cultural circles in México might be the reason why his name and his musical activities were almost forgotten by all publications dealing with Mexican music after the second half of the century.

Who was Rafael Adame and what reason had a musicologist as sharp as Slonimsky to occupy himself with a composer whose music has been forgotten? Did Slonimsky made a mistake, while in México City, by considering Adame among the important composers of the country? Different sources from that time, late twenties and early thirties, present us with a Rafael Adame fervently involved in the musical life of México, both as a composer and as a performer, mostly concerned with the avant-garde activities of his contemporaries and the advancement of his instrument, the guitar in the musical mainstream. There is no doubt about Adame’s musical achievements by the time Slonimsky visited México, and if his music is now in oblivion, that is due to cultural politics and other reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of his musical output.

Rafael Adame, Composer, Guitarist, Cellist and Teacher.

In the second issue of 1948 of Carnet Musical (February), Dr. Jesús Romero offers one of the few articles devoted to Rafael Adame available today. There we find information that is as valuable as controvertible, but useful as a starting point to elaborate a biographical sketch of Adame, as long as the information is verified in original sources.

Rafael Adame (1906-ca.1963) was born in Autlán de la Grana, (Jalisco). In 1923 he moved to México City to enter the Conservatorio Nacional de Música. There he had the opportunity to study with some of the most important musicians of that time in México, Julián Carrillo (1875-1965), Estanislao Mejía (1882-1967), and Gustavo Campa (1863-1934), musicians who were to commit the “sin” of being an antagonic group to Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) and the representatives of post revolutionary culture in México. Adame rapidly gained the admiration and respect of his teachers and fellow students, Julián Carrillo integrated him to the first Grupo 13, which gave the first performance of music based on 16ths of tone, at the Teatro Principal in México City, on February 15, 1925. In that concert, Rafael Adame played two works for quarter-tone guitar composed by himself, a Preludio and a Capricho, and was the guitarist in one of Julián Carrillo’s most respected masterpiece, Preludio a Colón (1924), for soprano, violin, flute quarter-tone guitar, octavina (eighth-tones) and harp (sixteenth-tones), which was premiered on November 13, 1924, with Adame palying the guitar. Rafael Adame was the first composer to write music for the quarter-tone guitar (an instrument built by Baudelio García, a luthier from Guadalajara, México), the program notes for that concert inform us of his intention of writing a work for sixteenth-tone guitar, a work that could not have been written, since García did not finish the sixteenth-tone guitar on time for the concert.(2) The two works presented by Adame that evening are described in the program notes as follows:

“The Preludio by Rafael Adame, is the first work ever written for quarter-tone guitar, and Adame is the only guitarist capable of playing it. Technically, Adame’s Preludio is not inferior—although it is his first composition—to the current experiments in quarter tones conducted in Germany and the United States. Nevertheless, the Capricho, by the same composer, is far superior to the examples we know from those countries”(3)

The collaboration between Carrillo and Adame got closer with time. Although, for extra musical reasons, Adame could not fly to New York for the concerts offered in that City, as well as Baltimore and Philadelphia by the Grupo 13 in 1926 (the guitar parts were played by Genaro Nava on those occasions), he did play with the group under the direction of Leopold Stokowsky on February 1, 1931, on a benefit concert for the victims of an earthquake in Oaxaca that year. On that occasion, Adame played his own Preludio “Armónico 7” for quarter-tone guitar as well as the cello in other chamber and orchestral works by Carrillo.(4)

The relationship between Adame and Carrillo was one of mutual benefit, when the problem of notating the new intervals appeared, it was Adame who suggested a solution to avoid the problems of confusing the new intervals (depicted with numbers in Carrillo’s system) and the numbers that represented rhythmic patterns such as triplets, quintuplets, he suggested the use of Roman numerals to refer to those patterns.(5)

That first Grupo 13 was integrated by some of the most promising young musicians of the time, Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster (1896-1967), and Vicente T. Mendoza (1895-1967), who were to become two of the most important musicologists of the first half of this century in México, were among the enthusiasts of Carrillo’s theories and active members of the group.

The Sonido Trece group

This distinguished group of musicians is the one Adame belonged to and actively collaborated with during the time he was to compose his landmark works for the guitar.

On January of 1925, a few weeks before the historical concert offered by Grupo 13, Rafael Adame graduated as a guitarist from the Conservatorio Nacional de Música,(6) thus being the first guitarist to graduate from that institution, since the guitar class had being created in 1921, with Adame’s teacher, Juan Belaunzarán as head of the class. This historical fact has often been overlooked when Mexican historians give that honor to Renán Cárdenas Pinelo (1916-1967), who studied at the conservatory under Francisco Salinas (1892-1979), but did not graduate until 1939, after the schism of the conservatory in 1929, when it separated from the National University of México to stand as an independent institution under the direction of Carlos Chávez.

In 1927 Adame received the second prize in a cello competition held by the Comisión Permanente del Primer Congreso Nacional de Música, and by 1928 he had obtained both the cello and the composition degrees from the Conservatorio Nacional de Música,(7) by then, Adame was fully accepted by the musical community of the country as a musician of great talent and vision.

In July of 1930, while a member of the Cuarteto Clásico Universitario (string quartet), Rafael Adame offered two recitals at the Anfiteatro de la Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (today known as Anfiteatro Simón Bolívar), performing on the guitar, and the cello; and offering music by himself among other composers.(8) Both concerts had a specific historical importance for the guitar, in the first one, played on the 19th, Adame performed his Concierto (ca. 1930) for guitar and orchestra, with the orchestral part reduced by Adame himself to a piano score.(9) This event precedes by almost nine years the premiere of the Concerto in D by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which Andrés Segovia played for the first time in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1939.(10)

Adame’s concerto meant to translate elements of the “mestizo” Mexican traditional music into a classic form, as a statement of music nationalism, while incorporating the guitar (it is written for a seven-stringed instrument) into the orchestral repertoire and the musical mainstream. In the second recital, Adame offered the Mexican premiere of the first work written for guitar by Manuel M. Ponce, the Sonata Mexicana,(11) certainly another important event in the Mexican cultural life of the time, although not of the same magnitude as the performance of the first guitar concerto written in the twentieth century.

The first recital took place on July 19, 1930, and it opened with the performance of the Concierto, with Santos Carlos (1895-?) as a pianist on the first part, the second and third parts consisted of pieces for solo guitar, both transcriptions made by Adame of music by Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Durand, Perches and Granados, as well as original works by Tárrega and Ponce (a Serenata Mexicana, which probably was the third movement of his Sonata Mexicana, since he was going to premiere it the next day); the last part of the program featured the Cuarteto Clásico Universitario, with Adame as cellist, performing Adame’s own Cuarteto de cuerdas, another composition in which Adame incorporated elements of the Mariachi tradition. The second recital took place on July 20 and featured as its first number the Mexican premiere of the Sonata Mexicana by Manuel M. Ponce, the second and third parts were again solo guitar pieces by Sor and Zani de Ferranti and transcriptions of music by Schubert, Chopin and Lack, and the last part was Adame’s string quartet.(12)

We should notice that Adame was very careful to let his audience know about the “premiere” of Ponce’s sonata, while there were no comments regarding whether the performance of his concerto was a premiere or not, this could signify that the work was actually performed for the first time sometime earlier, although we do not have any document to confirm this hypothesis. Romero states that the guitar concerto was performed again in 1932, as part of a tour Adame played throughout the country that ended up with a concert with the Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de Veracruz in Xalapa.(13) No program has been found of that evening. Nevertheless, we are certain that the work was presented in a well publicized concert on February 5, 1933, at the Anfiteatro de la Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. On the manuscript kept by the Fleisher Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia (so far the only source of the work available), a few annotations in English can be read, specifying that the work was performed on February 5, 1933 by the Orchestral Ensemble of México with Julián Carrillo as conductor. A copy of the program can be found in the special archives of Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información de Música “Carlos Chávez” (CENIDIM) in México City. This program presents a series of annotations, presumably made by Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster, since they coincide with the review written in Excélsior by this musicologist on February 6, 1930.

The title of the February 5 concert was “Concierto nacionalista de despedida.” "Nationalist” since Adame draw elements from the mestizo Mexican tradition, mainly the mariachi, to compose both his Cuarteto No. 1 and his Concierto for guitar and orchestra, and “farewell” because Adame was about to engage on a European tour sponsored by Vicente Estrada Cajigal, Governor of Morelos state (a few miles south of México City). Once again, Rafael Adame played both the guitar and the cello in this recital, the first part included his Cuarteto No. 1 estilo “Mariache,” the second part his Concierto for guitar and orchestra, and the third part a selection of guitar solos by Dvórak, Granados, Schubert and Durand transcribed for guitar by Adame, a set of songs for soprano and piano by Adame, two Lieder by José F. Vázquez, and three pieces for quarter-tone guitar: Preludio “Transición” by Rafael Adame, Preludio “Impromptu” by Julián Carrillo, and El pensador de Rodin, by Carrillo-Adame. Preludio “Impromptu” is actually the first movement of Julián Carrillo’s Suite Impromptu (also called Sonata for quarter-tone guitar), in the earliest sketches of this work, Carrillo calls this piece Preludio Misterio. El pensador de Rodin could be the second movement of that same work by Carrillo, although in the final version it is titled Bajo las frondas de milenarios ahuehuetes en Chapultepec, when going trough the sketches we can find different names, Atardecer en Chapultepec, and in the first draft, El pensador de Rodin.(14) These facts might well answer the frequently formulated question of who did Carrillo write his quarter-tone guitar music for. It was written for Rafael Adame.

It is interesting to realize that the musicians collaborating with Adame on that occasion were among the most important soloists and composers of the time, María Bonilla (1902-1988), José Rocabruna (1879-1957), José F. Vázquez (1896-1961) and Julián Carrillo, which reminds us of the great respect towards Adame by musicians of the mainstream. Another aspect to be considered is the list of honor guests to the concert: the Minister of Economy, the Minister of Education, and two state Governors. This fact allows us to know of the social importance of the event.

On May 3, 1933, Carrillo and Adame collaborate once more on a concert at the Anfiteatro de la Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. On this occasion an even more impressive list of honor guests is headed by President Pascual Ortiz Rubio, followed by the Minister of Government, the Minister of Education, and the head of the Fine Arts Department, as well as Adame’s former teachers Estanislao Mejía, Gustavo E. Campa, and Antonio Gomezanda (1894-1961). The program included a handful of works transcribed for solo guitar, (Dvórak, Scharwenka, Schubert, Délibes), and original works by Sor and Aguado; pieces for quarter-tone guitar by Adame, Preludio “Transición” and Preludio “Armónico 7” as well as the Preludio Impromptu by Carrillo. The most important part of the program consisted of the Concertino No. 2, another work for guitar and orchestra where Adame played the solo instrument and Carrillo conducted the orchestra; this is the work Philip J. Bone refers to as the “Concertino on popular Mexican airs”(15) a second work for guitar and orchestra by Adame that also predates Castelnuovo’s Concerto in D.

In 1936 the Escuela Superior Nocturna de Música (today, INBA’s Escuela Superior de Música) was founded as an alternative to the only two music education institutions existing: the Conservatorio Nacional de Música (CNM) and the then called Facultad de Música de la UNAM, today known as Escuela Nacional de Música (ENM). To create the guitar class the services of who, undoubtedly, was the most important and active guitarist were required—Rafael Adame,(16) as well as the young Jesús Silva (1914-1996), a student of Francisco Salinas at the CNM. Adame was to be a guitar teacher at this institution until 1960, sometime before his death.

In 1939, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, of which Adame was a cellist since 1934, premiered his Concertino for cello and orchestra (1929), under the conductor Carlos Chávez, with Adame as soloist. This work was written in three movements: Maestoso, Fuga and Allegro, to be performed without a pause. In Adame’s words this works “possesses a polyphonic character throughout its development, being the first piece of its genre in the repertoire to present a fugue within it. It is conceived with a cyclic theme in Mexican psychological style (sic), without recurring to any folkloric ideas, but rather, assimilating our rhythms and melodies.”(17) The fugue, for solo cello, is included as the cadenza that divides the Maestoso from the Allegro.

After 1940, the information on Adame gets more confusing, a few newspaper notices are available, but most of it can only be known to us orally through former students and old colleagues. We are certain that on November 11, 1943, Adame offered a concert of his guitar music at the Manuel M. Ponce Hall in México City,(18) and that he was hired as a cellist by the Filarmónica de La Habana during the late forties, working under conductors such as Eric Kleiber, Eugene Ormandy and Raul Steinberg. Upon his return to México, he played another concert at the Manuel M. Ponce Hall, performing once again his concerto for guitar and orchestra, now with Higinio Ruvalcaba (1905-1976) as conductor, on November 7, 1950. It is interesting to notice that for this occasion, Adame titled his old concerto from ca. 1930, Concierto Clásico. It seems that he toyed with the idea of giving it a title, he also thought of calling it Concierto Mexicano.(19)

The last known performance of the Concierto for guitar and orchestra was offered by Abel Morales, a student of Adame at the ESM, during the late fifties, on that occasion Adame played the cello with the school orchestra.(20) Unfortunately, the archives of the ESM were damaged by a flood, with the loss of an important portion of historical documents that could shed more light on this particular event, as well as on Adame’s professional life as a teacher in this school.

Towards the end of 1959, Adame suffered a heart attack that forced him to retire from his teaching job at the ESM. Sometime after his recovery, he asked the dean of the school, Maestro Rodolfo Téllez Oropeza to be reinstated in his job, nevertheless, this was not possible, since the position was taken over by Alberto Salas in early 1960.(21) However, Adame kept his position as a cellist with the Orquesta de la Unión Filarmónica (dedicated to record music for films), until his death in 1963.

The Concierto for guitar and orchestra remained in obscurity for almost 37 years. It was during the IV International Guitar Festival Cuernavaca 1997, that guitarists and the general public had the chance of listening to this work again, when Manuel Rubio played it with the Orquesta de Cámara del Estado de Morelos under the baton of Eduardo Sánchez-Zúber, on November 15, 1997.

Aesthetic Posture in the Concierto for Guitar and Orchestra.

Rafael Adame had a personal approach to “nationalism”, quite different from the official movement that permeated Mexican musical life from the late twenties to the late thirties. He was more interested in incorporating elements of the Mexican “mestizo” tradition than in the idea of recreating an “Aztec,” or native sounding music, as the “official nationalism” preached. In this regard his idea of “nationalism” was closer to Manuel M. Ponce’s (1882-1948) than it was to Carlos Chávez’s. The program notes of the February 5, 1933 concert certify his position:

“Mexican mestizo folklore is without a doubt, rich in rhythms and melodies which define a certain character and style. I believe the work of the modern nationalist composer is to assimilate those songs and produce original works by applying higher polyphonic and symphonic techniques, while keeping and refining such a style.”(22)

On February 6, 1933, Excélsior published a review of Rafael Adame’s recital, written by Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster under the title La despedida de Rafael Adame, guitarrista, cellista y compositor. In this article, Baqueiro Foster bitterly criticizes Adame’s notion of “nationalism”, and qualifies it as “strange nationalism.” Baqueiro Foster’s argument is based on the idea that the only real national music comes from the prehispanic world.

“Is it possible to understand a process of mestizaje by ignoring the indigenous material that served as foundation to the foreign material, and that owes its mere existence to that cultural clash? If we answer positively, Adame’s nationalism is just a weak essay. With his criteria, on a different level, we would have to ignore our native cultures with all their extraordinary racial strength, to build a country after the mestizo.”(23)

With an historical perspective of more than 60 years, we can comment on the question of nationalism in México and Baqueiro’s critique on Rafael Adame. During the twenties and thirties, the nationalist movement that was to “officially” represent México, was at an early stage. An “indigenist” approach was much in vogue, headed by the strong man of government’s official culture: Carlos Chávez. They were trying to leave behind the “mestizo” nationalism with strong European influences (formally and harmonically), that characterized the works by Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948), and Candelario Huízar (1888-1971), and find a more “authentic” approach in the “indigenist” way. Politically, socially and economically, the country was living a phase of redefinition following the years of the Mexican revolution, and those years marked the necessity of redefining the country in a different way as it was defined by the government of General Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915). This motivated a break with the romantic music tradition from Europe that had been very influential on Ricardo Castro (1864-1907), Felipe Villanueva (1863-1893), Ernesto Elorduy (1853-1912), and even in the works by Julián Carrillo before his Sonido Trece.

Sixty years later, we can observe the flaws in Baqueiro Foster’s discourse on nationalism. Chávez himself recognized that the “indigenist” music of that period was a product of the composer’s imagination, since they did not have the knowledge of how Aztec or Maya music sounded like,(24) and the music played by the different native ethnic groups was strongly influenced by elements imported from Spain. We can also notice the way followed by that “official nationalism” in works such as Sones de Mariachi (1940) by Blas Galindo (1910-1993), or Huapango (1941) and Tierra de temporal (1949) by José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), although with evident “mestizo” influence the first two, and European the last one, are as Mexican as the Sinfonía India (1935), Chávez’s most successful “indigenist” experiment. Recognizing that Mexican music tradition, as Mexican culture in general, is the result of the collision of two cultures (sometimes even more), that can not cancel each other. Nor prehispanic culture, neither Spanish culture are Mexican by themselves, the concept of Mexicanity appears only as these two cultures merge.

Adame’s Concierto for guitar and orchestra refers to the same aspects Moncayo and Galindo were to recur in their aforementioned works, traditional Mexican “mestizo” music, notably in the second movement, which evokes popular romantic Mexican song in a way similar to Ponce’s second movement of his Sonata III for solo guitar. Certain colors in the orchestration of Adame’s concerto refer to the mariachi and the traditional town bands. Nevertheless, the true musical value of the work is to be found in the quality of the work itself, beyond any nationalistic reference or indulgent manifestation.

Thematically, the Concierto for guitar and orchestra is a cyclic, based on two themes, a main theme that opens the first movement and a contrasting theme that appears at the beginning of the development (it comes back with greater importance in the third movement). The main theme reappears throughout the work, as an orchestral counterpoint in the second movement and as a contrasting theme in the third movement. We may consider the first theme of the third movement as a variation of the main theme. Harmonically, the work presents a strong chromaticism in the late German tradition in some sections (an evident influence from Julián Carrillo), that reaches its climax during the cadenza of the third movement, which is constructed on the dominant, but with such a strong chromaticism, that on occasions it overshadows the tonality. Formally, the third movement seems to be the most audacious in the work, due to the fragmentary use of thematic material as a generator of themes in this rondo-sonata form.

For a long time the Concierto for guitar an orchestra by Rafael Adame, as well as his figure and importance as a guitarist was forgotten by the guitar community. Andrés Segovia’s rejection of the work of his fellow guitarist/composers; the envy of a closed and divided guitar circle in México; and Adame’s own hermetic personality were among the reasons why we haven’t heard much about the life and works of one of the most important guitarist/composers of México. An honest editorial work presents us with the rare opportunity of doing an act of “historical justice” by offering guitarists and general public with the legacy of whom Maestro Alberto Salas has called the “Great forgotten Mexican guitarist.”

Another portrait of Rafael Adame


End Notes

1. The ‘G’ stands for Gómez, his real last name, although Rafael Adame chose to be identified by his second last name.

2. “Exégesis al programa del 15 de febrero de 1925,” El sonido 13 (tomo II, no. 4), 5.

3. Ibid.

4. Julián Carrillo. Problemas de estética musical (Imprenta Universitaria: México, 1949), 24-25.

5. Elvira Larios. “La teoría del sonido 13 y la escritura musical,” El sonido 13 (vol. II, no. 2), 10.

6. El sonido 13 (vol. II, no. 2), 18.

7. Dr. Jesús Romero. “Músicos mexicanos,” Carnet musical (vol. III, no. 11), 5.

8. David Saloma. “Actividades musicales en la república,” Música (vol. I, no. 5), 43.

9. Excélsior (July 18, 1930), 7.

10. The Spanish musicologist Julio Gimeno informs me that Quintín Esquembre, another guitarist/cellist/composer from Madrid, wrote his Capricho Andaluz for two guitars and orchestra in 1938, thus, also predating Castelnuovo’s Concerto in D.

11. Excélsior, art cit.

12. Ibid.

13. Dr. Jesús Romero. “Músicos mexicanos,” Carnet Musical (vol. III, no. 11), 5.

14. I am indebted to Mrs. Carmen Carrillo de Miramontes, grandaughter of Julián Carrillo, for granting me access to these manuscripts and providing me with copies of them.

15. Philip J. Bone. The Guitar and Mandolin (Schott: London, 1954), 2.

16. Juan José Escorza. “Antescedentes, fundación e historia de la Escuela Superior de Música,” music supplement of Educación Artística (año 4, no. 15), 13.

17. Rafael Adame. Program notes for the fifth concert of the 1939 Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional season.

18. Novedades (November 10, 1943), second section, 2.

19. Edmundo Durán, former student of Rafael Adame, personal interview, September 5, 1997.

20. Maestro Alberto Salas, personal interview, October 25, 1997.

21. Ibid.

22. Rafael Adame. Program notes for the February 5, 1933, recital at Anfiteatro de la Escuela Nacional Preparatoria.

23. Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster. “La despedida de Rafael Adame, guitarrista, chelista y compositor,” Excélsior (February 6, 1933).

24. Roberto García Morillo. Carlos Chávez: vida y obra (Fondo de Cultura Económica: México, 1960), 110-111.


Copyright © 1997 by Alejandro L. Madrid. All Rights Reserved.


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