This set of three pieces is inspired by the Sala Mexica at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, one of my favorite museums in the world, and probably the one I have visited the most times in my life. I lived in Mexico City for two years in the early 80s and have returned many times since. While I lived there I went often to Anthropology Museum, and have visited it numerous times since during my return trips to Mexico. Many of my compositions are connected in some way with the six years I lived in Latin America.
The Sala Mexica contains the best-known of the museum’s many splendid collections, that of Aztec art. It is the home of the well-known Aztec Calendar Stone, of course, but has many other magnificent articles on display, including the three that form the specific inspiration for these pieces.
I have used some typical Mexican percussion instruments, and employed a few rhythmic devices common in Latin American music, but otherwise I have not tried to make these pieces sound Mexican or Latin. Rather I have tried simply to capture the feelings and emotions I experience when looking at these great, and very diverse, works of art.
El penacho de Moctezuma is the feathered headdress which the Aztec king, Moctezuma II, supposedly wore to meet Hernán Cortés and his men for the first time (there is some dispute about whether it ever actually belonged to him or not). It contains many hundreds of feathers, including quetzal feathers, which would have been brought from a thousand or so miles away in Guatemala. The original is in the Vienna Museum of Ethnography; the one on display in Mexico is a copy dating to the 1940s. (This is a source of some controversy, as Mexico has been seeking its repatriation for a long time now.) Whatever its provenance, it is an absolutely magnificent piece of art and artisanship. I have attempted to capture a little of both the mystery and the majesty that it has always possessed for me.
The Mono de obsidiana is a small vase in the shape of a monkey, made of highly polished obsidian. As a point of interest, it was one of about 125 pieces, possibly the best-known, stolen in a famous robbery on Christmas day in 1985. Almost all of the pieces were eventually found and returned, and there is a 2018 movie (called simply Museo) about the incident. I have framed this movement as a scherzo, imagining a small monkey and its antics in the jungle.
The Cuauhxicalli de Texcatlipoca is also known as the Stone of Tizoc (an Aztec emperor who is represented in the carvings on the stone). The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice on a large scale and this is thought to be one of the many altars on which their victims were killed, their hearts ripped out and placed in the central hole on top of the stone. The surface is carved with many of the traditional Aztec symbols of war, conquest, military might, and human sacrifice. The music is accordingly fierce and aggressive, with only a few moments of relative repose.