Year: 1938 / 1980
Duration: c. 6:20
Difficulty: VI (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Voice and Orchestra
Publisher: G. Schirmer
Cost: Score and Parts – Out of print.
C Piccolo I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Percussion (7 players), including:
- Bass Drum
- Crash Cymbals
- Indian Drum (small)
- Orchestra Bells
- Suspended Cymbal
- Tom-toms (2)
None discovered thus far.
From a poem by the Afro-Cuban revolutionary Nicolás Guillén, Sensemayá (1938) evokes ancient Mayan civilization and the ritualistic sacrifice of a snake. Its foreboding recapitulation transmits the incessant underlying rhythm where both main themes are overlapped in a chaotic frenzy, ending conclusively with the inevitable death blow.
- Program Note from publisher
Sensemayá was originally written for voice and small orchestra in 1937. Recorded for large orchestra without voice, it was premiered by the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, conducted by the composer, at the Teatro de Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, on December 15, 1938. It remains his most recorded and performed score. The transcription by Frank Bencriscutto was premiered by the University of Minnesota Band, conducted by Bencriscutto, at the CBDNA conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on February 8, 1967.
This powerful composition is an extremely complex and primitive-sounding work. The challenging rhythms include much use of 7/8, 5/8, 9/8, 5/16 and 7/16 meters. Sensemayá, like many of the composer's other works, contains compact melodic ideas which are woven into a vibrant texture of dissonant counterpoint and free polyrhythms. Leonard Bernstein called it "the work of a sophisticated composer with a very advanced technique handling an idea of savage primitiveness." According to the sister of Revueltas, the piece was inspired by a poem about "killing a deadly snake with glossy eyes" by the Cuban poet Nicholas Guillén. The title Sensemayá has no interpretation and no sense. The poet used it solely as an idiomatic rhythm in his poem."
- Program Note from Program Notes for Band
Revueltas wrote little explanation about his composition Sensemayá, and the meaning/relationship of the music to the poem has been the basis for much scholarly debate for the past eighty years. Revueltas heard Afro-Cuban poet Nicholas Guillén recite his poem Sensemayá in 1937 and was taken by the text and rhythm of the poem. The word sensemayá is a combination of sensa (Providence) and Yemaya (Afro-Cuban Goddess of the Seas and Mother of Earth), one of the goddesses of the Palo Monte Mayombe religion.The poem recites the story of the sacrifice of the snake, a sacred entity, symbolizing renewal, fertility and wisdom. Programmatic in nature, scholarly discussion centers on the idea if Revueltas musically depicted a literal translation through his music, or if it was a general blue-print for the composition. Regardless, Sensemayá is arguably one of the most significant compositions by a composer from Central or South America. Each rhythmic pattern is layered upon the previous, culminating in six patterns all operating simultaneously. One can hear the plunge of the knife in the final musical statement.
- Program Note from The Woodlands Concert Band concert program, 20 December 2018
(Needed - please join the WRP if you can help.)
- Florida: VI
- Louisiana: V
- Michigan: Senior High AA
- Oklahoma: V-A
- Texas: V. Complete
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- University of Oregon (Eugene) Wind Ensemble (Dennis Llanás, conductor) - 5 March 2022
- University of Delaware (Newark) Wind Ensemble (William L. Lake, Jr., conductor) - 7 December 2021
- Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro) Wind Ensemble (Reed Thomas, conductor) - 18 November 2021
- James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.) Wind Symphony (Stephen Bolstad, conductor) - 4 November 2021
- Texas State University (San Marcos) Wind Symphony (Caroline Beatty, conductor) – 4 October 2019
- Western Illinois University (Macomb) Wind Ensemble (Mike Fansler, conductor) – 28 September 2019
- Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisc.) Symphonic Band (Matthew Arau, conductor) – 25 May 2019
- University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) Wind Ensemble (Cassandra Bechard, conductor) – 26 April 2019
- Clovis (Calif.) North Educational Center Wind Ensemble (David Lesser, conductor) – 12 April 2019 (2019 San Joaquin Valley (Calif.) Concert Band Invitational)
- Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) Symphonic Band (Shawn Vondran, conductor) – 15 March 2019
- University of Wisconsin-Parkside Wind Ensemble (Laura Rexroth, conductor) – 14 March 2019
- Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Ensemble (Mark Scatterday, conductor) – 18 February 2019
- University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Mack Wood, conductor) – 2 February 2019
- The Woodlands (Tex.) Concert Band (Paul J. Worosello, conductor) - 20 December 2018 (2018 Midwest Clinic)
- Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.) Wind Symphony I (Curran Prendergast, conductor) – 30 September 2018
- University of Central Arkansas (Conway) Wind Ensemble (Ricky Brooks, conductor) – 7 February 2018
- University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Elliot Tackitt, conductor) – 2 February 2018
- Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) Wind Ensemble (Cliff Croomes, conductor) – 29 November 2017
- University of Missouri, Kansas City, Wind Symphony (Steven D. Davis, conductor) – 16 November 2017
- Brooklyn (N.Y.) Wind Symphony (Jeff Ball, conductor) – 29 October 2016
Works for Winds by This Composer
- Caminos (tr. Nefs) (1934/2018)
- Falla J. Pau
- Homenaje a Federico García Lorca (1936/1958)
- Homenaje a Federico García Lorca (arr. Toussaint) (1936/)
- La Noche des Mayas
- Mexican Dance (arr. Kleiber/trans. Serebrier) (1935/1946/2003)
- Redes (arr. Osmon)
- Second Little Serious Piece
- Sensemayá (tr. Bencriscutto) (1938/1980)
- Tres Sonetos (1938/1974)
- Girsberger, Russ. Percussion Assignments for Band & Wind Ensemble: Volume 2 L-Z. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications, 2004, 248. Print.
- Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music. "Silvestre Revueltas." Accessed 22 October 2016
- The Horizon Leans Forward…, compiled and edited by Erik Kar Jun Leung, GIA Publications, 2021, p. 451.
- Revueltas, S.; Bencriscutto, F. (1980). Sensemayá [score]. G. Schirmer: New York.
- Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications, pp. 498.