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Symphony Orchestra and Solo Voices

Enrico Chapela has chosen an exciting and little-known chapter of German-Mexican history for his commissioned work for Deutsche Welle, for performance at the Beethoven Fest 2016, performed by the German Youth Orchestra: Zimmergramm alludes already in the title to the “Zimmermann Telegram”, with which Germany tried to bring Mexico to its side against the then still neutral U.S.A. during the First World War.


In January 1917, Arthur Zimmermann, undersecretary of the Foreign Office, sent a coded message to the German envoy in Mexico: Heinrich von Eckardt. However, the British secret service was able to intercept and decipher Zimmermann's telegram: the highly sensitive contents led to a change in the established U.S. policy of neutrality. Already provoked by the escalation of submarine warfare in Germany, President Wilson finally declared U.S. entry into the war in April 1917. Thus, the Zimmermann telegram, conceived as a diplomatic coup d'état, ultimately had the opposite effect.


Chapela recounts the Zimmermann episode primarily from the Mexican perspective. The German movement is embedded in the complicated domestic political situation in Mexico after the outbreak of the revolution in 1910. Chapela divided his mini-opera, for which he wrote the text himself, into three acts of two movements each: a folkloric story emulating the “son huasteco” of Mexican dance and folk music (zapateado rhythms, guitar sounds, percussion instruments such as maracas and guïro and historical legends as content) and a dialogue scene in contemporary language.


The first act includes the movements “La Gran Guerra” (The Great War) and “Guerra Submarine Warfare” (Submarine Warfare): the chorus of the son initially reports on the course of the war in 1917, the German submarine war and the reaction of President Wilson, reflected in the words of the two envoys in Mexico, Eckardt (Germany) and Henry P. Fletcher (U.S.A.). In “Guerra Submarina,” Eckardt recites the key statement from Zimmermann's telegram to the abundant glissandos and staccato phrases entered by the chorus as inquisitive people look over the diplomat's shoulder. In contrast, Fletcher prepares with militant statements from its president.


The second act contains “Revolución Mexicana” as a son section and “Alianza Seductora” as a dialogue passage. The chorus speaks of the intrigues of the revolutionaries between 1910 and 1917: the fall from power of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, the assassination of the next president, Francisco Madero, of Victoriano Huerta, and the overthrow of the latter by the troops of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho. Villa - Chapela also quotes here Zapata's battle cry “Land and freedom!” The new president, Venustiano Carranza, maneuvers between recognizing the United States (supported by arms deliveries) and fighting the guerrilla army at home. Villa's attack on the U.S. border town of Columbus results in a new U.S. military invasion of Mexico. Zimmermann had wanted to take advantage of precisely this political instability and Mexico's hatred of the U.S. occupiers. Chapela illustrates this strategy in the discussion between the German diplomat Eckardt and President Carranza.


The third act has “Flamboyant Ambassador” (new ambassador) as a son and “American Bluff” (American Bluff) as a dialogue scene. Zimmermann's telegram has been deciphered in the meantime. Fletcher's mission to issue an ultimatum to Venustiano Carranza is depicted chorally. Carranza, however, is undeterred. The last scene is a confrontation between the U.S. ambassador and the Mexican president. Carranza has his true interests in mind - “Long live the revolution!” - only a few days after the Zimmermann Telegram, the Mexican constitution can be proclaimed and the country finally begins to stabilize. Sure enough, in 1920, Carranza would also be assassinated.


Zimmermann's Telegram came at a very opportune time in this phase of the Mexican Revolution, and ultimately gave Mexico the opportunity to end the fighting stage of the revolution without the northern neighbors trying to shape the outcome according to their interests.


From the Mexican point of view, the German offer was by no means as fueled as it seems today. For the Mexicans, the ongoing conflicts with the United States were far more present than the German aggressions.


"Considering the recent hostile rhetoric against Mexico, this problem seems pertinent today. When the events described here are almost 100 years old, we surely miss having a president capable of standing firm against threats. Not Eckardt, but Fletcher is the 'bad guy' in my piece,” says Enrico Chapela.

ACt 1


World Premiere. Beethovenhalle, Bonn, Germany. Landesjugendchor NRW / Bundesjugendorchester / Alondra de la Parra / Daniel Todd, tenor / Juanra Urrusti, baritone / Daniel Pannermayr, bass / Pablo Garibay, guitar.

September 15, 2016

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