Born on the last day of 1899, in Santiago Papasquiaro, Durango, a small town in the north of Mexico, as a child, Silvestre Revueltas showed great interest in music, his early artistic bent apparent by 1906. When his family moved to Mexico City, he studied at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City and, with his notable aptitude for composition and conducting, completed his musical education with the greatest distinction at the Chicago College of Music. He studied the violin with Jose Rocabruna and composition with Rafael J. Tello.
In 1917 he moved to the United States to study at St Edward College in San Antonio, Texas, and later in Chicago, remaining there until 1924. With Carlos Chavez he organized the first concerts of contemporary music in Mexico in 1924 and 1925, events that had a great impact with music then completely unknown to audiences in the capital. After a rather long concert tour in Mexico and in the United States, he returned to his home country, where he remained from 1929 onwards. In 1929 Chavez offered him the position of assistant conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico, which he held until 1936. Working together they were able to do much to promote Mexican music, offering a rich repertoire including works by the most outstanding and prominent names of the period. At the same time Revueltas began a very successful career as a prolific composer, activity which brought Cuauhnahuc (Cuernavaca) (1930), Esquinas (Corners) (1931), Ventanas (Windows) and Colorines (Coloured Beads) (1932), Janitzio (1933), Caminos (Roads) (1934), Homenaje a Federico Garcia Lorca (Hommage to Federico Garcia Lorca) (1936), Itinerarios (Routes) (1937) and Sensemay (1938). This series of works constitutes a vivid example of his extraordinary contribution to the form of the national Mexican symphonic poem, with compositions that show his originality and freshness of inspiration, together with his technical mastery.
He occupied various positions of importance in the musical life of Mexico and wrote music for films. It was the celebration of the success of La Noche de los Mayas that precipitated his final illness and death on 5 October 1940. On 15 December 1938 Revueltas himself conducted the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in a programme that included Sensemay, inspired by the poem of the same name by the famous Cuban poet Nicolas Guillon, a work dealing with the negro ritual of the death of a snake. A work of marked rhythms, it strangely brings to mind at times the music of the American composer Aaron Copland.