Julian Carrillo, Concierto para Violonchello en cuartas y octavas de tono Part One





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Published on Nov 14, 2009

Julian Carrillo was born on January 28, 1875 in Ahualulco, a village in the state of San Luis Potosí. He was the last of the 19 children of Nabor Carrillo and Antonia Trujillo, who were Native American peasants. Having not completed primary studies, he was ignorant of the acoustic basis of music—so he was fascinated when he heard Francisco Ortega y Fonseca, a professor of physics, acoustics, and mathematics, discuss laws governing generation of fundamental intervals in music. For example, when a violin string is depressed (stopped) at its midpoint, it produces a pitch twice the frequency of (an octave above) the open string. When a string is stopped at one-third, the remaining two-thirds vibrates a perfect fifth higher than the open string (almost exactly equivalent to 5/8ths of an octave). Carrillo explored these relationships in experiments. For a while he tried, but couldn't divide the string further than into eight equal parts.Then he left the traditional way of dividing the string into two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight equal parts, and, using a razor to stop the string, divided the fourth string of his violin between G and A into sixteen parts. He could produce sixteen clearly different sounds within a whole tone.

From then on, he immersed himself in the study of the physical and mathematical basis of music.In 1899, General Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico, heard Carrillo as a violinist. Diaz was impressed, and gave him a special scholarship to study in Europe.

When Victoriano Huerta's government was overthrown, Carrillo had to flee to the United States.In New York City, he organized and conducted the American Symphony Orchestra. He performed his First Symphony in New York. The success of this work was so great that a journalist named him "the herald of a musical Monroe Doctrine".In 1916, Carrillo composed music for D. W. Griffith's film, Intolerance. In New York, Carrillo also wrote the "Thirteenth Sound Theory" which was published later in the second volume of Musical Talks. The Thirteenth Sound Theory was not well received. Some enthusiastic people (most of them Carrillo's students) supported it, but others attacked it and its author. They said it was impossible to perceive such little intervals but, even if possible, Carrillo had stolen the idea from European musicians. The main opponent was "Group 9", consisting of seven musicians, a physician, and a lawyer. Carrillo's followers organized themselves as "Group 13".The two groups confronted each other to defend their positions through press, broadcasts and conferences.

The League of Composers commissioned a microtonal work. He wrote the Sonata casi fantasía in quarter-, eighth- and sixteenth-tones. It was performed for the first time in Town Hall on March 13, 1926. Then, Leopold Stokowski commissioned a Carrillo work, the Concertino in quarter-, eighth- and sixteenth-tones, which Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra performed in New York and Philadelphia. At that time, Carrillo wrote Leyes de Metamórfosis Musicales (Musical Metamorphosis Laws), a method to transform the tonal proportions of a work. For example, half tones become whole tones and whole tones become double tones; or half tones become quarter tones and quarters become eighths, and so on. In addition, these laws present a compositional process similar to serialism.

In 1947 Carrillo conducted experiments at New York University examining the node law that prevailed at the time and showed that it had to be modified. His reasoning followed from the fact that a node is not a mathematical point but a physical point. If a violin string is stopped below halfway, the frequency of the bowed fraction is more than twice the frequency of its base note. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics in 1950 for this work.

Carrillo wrote many microtonal works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles and orchestra (with and without soloists), as well as other works which he referred to as atonal. He is generally regarded as one of the pioneers of microtonalism.

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