Amentecáytl is a Náhuatl (Aztec) word meaning feather painting. The Aztecs were masters of featherwork, creating exquisite pictures and other works of art and adornment from colored feathers which were often brought from great distances. Moctezuma's magnificent headdress, in which he went to greet Cortez for the first time, is probably the most famous example of this craft. It contains feathers from as far as a thousand miles away from the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City).
Most examples of this art, however, are not so spectacular, but instead are small and delicate, combining meticulous craftsmanship with a wonderful sense of color. There are a few pieces from Colonial times, but the art seems mostly to have died out after the Conquest. Indeed, few pieces survive at all, due the extreme fragility of the medium.
This composition is meant to reflect both the delicacy and the subtle richness of color that characterize this all but lost art. Amentecáytl was written at the request of tenor saxophonist John Moore for Trio Bel Canto, who gave its premiere. It has subsequently been performed and recorded by a number of different groups.