Born 13 June 1899 in Mexico City, Carlos Chávez was a renowned composer, conductor, and educator whose distinctive, often highly percussive music synthesized elements of Mexican, Indian, and Spanish-Mexican influence. A prolific writer of music and music criticism, Chávez's oeuvre includes five ballets, seven symphonies, four concertos, a cantata and opera, and innumerable pieces for voice, piano, and chamber ensemble; he wrote two books (of which Toward A New Music: Music and Electricity became a major contribution and fundamental document of new musical thought) and more than 200 articles on music.
Chávez was trained primarily as a pianist and developed much of his compositional skills independent of instructors. Coming of age at the close of the Mexican revolution and during a time of renewed cultural nationalism, Chávez's investigation of indigenous Indian cultures, native folk elements, and dance forms brought an unprecedented vigor and visibility to 20th-century Mexican music. A master of orchestration, Chávez's use of native instruments was inimitable with polyrhythms, cross-rhythms, syncopation, and numerous irregular meters often significant elements of compositonal structure. Works such as the Sinfonía de Antígona , Sinfonia India, and a ballet for Martha Graham (La Hija de Cólquide, "The Dark Meadow") were celebrated for their remarkably distinctive and original sound.
Chávez lectured as part of his appointment in 1958 to the Charles Eliot Norton Chair of Poetics at Harvard and served as director of the National Conservatory in Mexico. He organized and served as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico and conducted nearly every major orchestra in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. He was awarded honorary memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Institute of Arts and Letters.