José Rolón (1876–1945) Music from Mexico is too often reduced to the works that have a folkloristic character. However, if one takes a look at the history of the country's music in the 20th century, one can identify a variety of stimuli, ranging from the politically grounded ideology of Mexican national music, to the vision of
an authentic Latin American acoustic world and the influences of European musical culture. José Rolón Alcaraz, who was born on 22 July 1876 in Zapotlán in the state of Jalisco and died on 3 February 1945 in Mexico City, is a Mexican composer who has had a strong influence on his country's musical history in the 20th century. He began his studies with Francisco Godinez in Guadalajara and soon became interested in European music. From 1903 till1907, he studied the piano in Paris with the Polish pianist Moritz Moszkowski, and fugues and harmony with the important music pedagogue André Gedalge, whose pupils included such well-known composers as Ch. Koechlin, Fl. Schmitt, Ravel, Ibert, Honegger and Milhaud. It was probably during this visit to Paris that Rolón discerned the ﬁrst discrepancies between the late romantic musical tradition and the rising opposition movements of the early 20th century. Between 1907 and 1927, he lived in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, founded the municipal symphony orchestra in 1915 and, in 1916, the music academy. During this period, Rolón took every possible opportunity to perform the works of French composers, such as Darius Milhaud and Edgar Varèse, in Mexico. From 1927 till 1929, he revisited Paris, where his studies of harmony with the influential teacher Nadia Boulanger and composition with Paul Dukas led to a radical change in his musical aesthetics and a new orientation in his compositions. These now took on an increasing slant towards modern music. Back in Mexico, where he worked intensively to improve the Mexican music scene and the musical education (he taught harmony, counterpoint and composition at the 'Conservatorio Nacional de Música' in Mexico City and was appointed director in 1938), he began to integrate Mexican elements in his works, which had become dominated by his European way of thinking. His musical vision was to blend formal, harmonic and melodic elements of European music with the idioms of Mexican folklore, so as to enrich both styles. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Rolón avoided an all too trivial use of folklore, in the sense of character pieces from the Romantic era or as the facade of an ostentatious pseudo 'Mexican' style. However, this was precisely what the Mexican government approved of: after the chaos of the revolutionary years, it demanded identity-establishing works of nationalistic music, based on the cultural tradition of the indigenous people. It was thus unavoidable that Rolón's aesthetic point of view, should be in opposition to the prevailing cultural politics after 1920.