Mexifacts: Sobre las Olas – the mexican Waltz

The Mexican Waltz

One of the most famous waltzes of all time is Sobre las olas, which translates to “Over the Waves.” This waltz is often attributed to Johann Strauss ll, considered the “Waltz King” of Europe. The word waltz is German and an abundance of waltz composers came from German speaking countries. However, this incredibly famous waltz (check it out on YouTube and you will immediately recognize it) was not written by Strauss. In fact, it was composed by Juventino Rosas, a Mexican from Santa Cruz de Galeana, Guanajuato whose parents were indigenous Otomí. The city of Santa Cruz is named after Juventino Rosas.

Porfirio Díaz, who served as president of Mexico from February 17 1877 to December 1, 1880, is recognized with getting this piece of music exposed to Europe, just as he has been credited for influencing the roots of jazz in New Orleans by spotlighting Mexican musicians. Díaz was very intent on making Mexico more like Europe and it’s likely he had more to do with exporting talents and arts than the Hapsburgs could ever have been ascribed. Juventino Rosas’ waltz has been one of many Mexican works that have been claimed by other composers. La Adelita, a song of the Mexican Revolution was borrowed by Russia as a symbol of their revolution in 1917 but it is well known in musical circles that La Adelita was plagiarized by Isaak Osipovich Dunayevsky and originally attributed to the solderas of the Mexican Revolution.

Juventino Rosas, an obviously very talented child, was quite young when his father brought him to Mexico City to introduce him to the music scene. It wasn’t long before he was working as a musician and began to compose salon music. Waltzes were in great demand on both sides of the Atlantic; however the waves that Rosas claimed for which he wrote this waltz for were in reference to a river in Mexico City, not the ocean. Sobre las olas was an instant international hit and Rosas was able to shine in the limelight in Mexico. Unfortunately, everyone in Europe thought this amazing waltz had been written by Strauss and that hasn’t changed. It was initially recorded on a double-faced 78 rpm record, the first for Juventino Rosas.

In 1950, a movie by the same name Sobre las olas was produced in 1950, starring the actor Pedro Infante, who was also a famous musician in his own right. The movie was an award winner in Mexico at the time, supposedly depicting the life of Juventino Rosas but was in fact more a vehicle for Infante. Both Infante and Rosas suffered untimely deaths, Infante in a plane crash at 39, and Rosas from spinal Myelitis at the age of 26.

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