Mexican composer, conductor, teacher, journalist, and the founder and director of the Mexican Symphonic Orchestra. He was born in Popotla, near Mexico City. He was influenced by native Mexican cultures. Of his six Symphonies, his Symphony No. 2, which uses native Yaqui percussion instruments, is probably the most popular.
His paternal grandfather José Maria Chavez, governor of the state of Aguascalientes, was ordered executed by Emperor Maximilian in 1864. His father, Augustin Chavez, invented a plough that was produced and used in the United States. He died when Carlos was barely three years old. Carlos had his first piano lessons from his brother Manuel, and later on he was taught by Asuncion Parra, Manuel Ponce and Pedro Luis Ozagon, for piano, and later Juan Fuentes for harmony. His family often went on vacations to Tlaxcala, Michoacon, Guanajuato, Oaxaca and other places where the cultural influence of the Aztec and other indigenous peoples was still very strong.
In 1916, Chavez and friends started a cultural journal, Gladios, and this led to Chavez joining the staff of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal in 1924.
After the Mexican Revolution and the installation of a democratically elected president, Alvaro Obregon, Chavez became one of the first exponents of Mexican nationalist music with ballets on Aztec themes.
In 1922, Chavez married Otilia Ortiz and they went on honeymoon to Europe, where he met Paul Dukas. After Europe, the couple vacationed in the United States, to which Chavez returned in 1926 and stayed in New York until 1928. Upon his return to Mexico, Chavez became director of the Orquesta Sinfonica Mexicana (later renamed Orquesta Chavez de Mexico), Mexico's first permanent orchestra, started by a musicians' labor union. Chavez was instrumental in taking the orchestra on tour through Mexico's rural areas.
In 1928, Chavez was appointed director of the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica - a position he held for six years. In that capacity, Chavez spearheaded projects to collect aboriginal folk music.
For part of the time that Arturo Toscanini was not conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938, Chavez conducted a series of concerts with that orchestra. In 1940 he produced concerts at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
From 1947 to 1952, Chavez was director general of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. In 1947, he formed the Orquesta Chavez Nacional, which supplanted the older OSM as Mexico's premier orchestra and led to the disbanding of the older ensemble. Throughout all this time, Chavez maintained a busy international touring schedule. He died quietly while visiting his daughter outside of Mexico City.