This week we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a show called Mole Poblano, that fruity, peppery nutty sauce that's traditionally eaten in Mexico on the holiday. Mexico and classical music have a rich history that extends back to the Baroque era. Crack open a bottle of Tequila and enjoy this celebratory playlist!
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) New Mexico March Like Saint Patrick’s Day to the Irish, Cinco De Mayo has a much bigger presence in the United States than it does in the country of its origins. The holiday celebrates the 1862 victory of the Mexican Army against the French at the Battle of Puebla, but a much more important holiday to the Mexican people is Mexican Independence Day, which is in September, and marks Mexico’s freedom from Spain. In border states like New Mexico, Mexican-Americans mostly use the holiday as an opportunity to party and drink tequila. The University of New Mexico, for which this Sousa March was written is known for its elaborate Cinco de Mayo parties, but Sousa and the University's president J. F. Zimmerman wanted the march to celebrate the entire state. For that reason, you can hear a wide variety of influences in this march, not only Mexican folk songs and mariachi licks, but native american dance and Spanish melodies.
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA [BARBER OF SEVILLE]: Introduction and Scene 1 In the opening scene of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, the plan is for Count Almaviva (with the help of several musicians) to serenade Rosina on her balcony, without drawing the attention of Rosina’s guardian Bartolo. You see, both Almaviva and Bartolo want to marry Rosina, but Almaviva’s intentions are true, whereas Bartolo is driven partially by greed. Rosina has substantial dowry, which Bartolo is hoping to get his hands on. Almaviva already has some money, and he only wants to marry Rosina for love. However, he does not want Rosina to fall in love with him because of his money, so in this scene, he has disguised himself as the poor student Lindoro. As with most operas, hijinks ensue, identities are mistaken, and [spoiler alert] in the end, Count Almaviva gets the girl, but graciously gives the dowry to Bartolo. In this recording, Count is performed by Ramon Vargas, nicknamed the Pavorotti of Mexico, and one of the most acclaimed tenors of the 21st century.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) El Salón México Copland’s style is not often described as traditional in the European classical music sense, but his Salon Mexico follows a tradition used by many of those composers, of writing musical memories of places they’ve visited. In the 1930s Copland toured Mexico City, and while there he visited a dance hall called El Salon Mexico that played music from all over the various regions of Mexico. Mexico City was the dance capital, and Copland likely saw some of the best dance bands the country had to offer. Copland sought to recreate the complexity of the experience in the one movement tone poem we just listened to, but he later wrote that he never felt that he was able to express more than a tourist’s version of the music of Mexico. A respectable statement coming from a composer whose music has been described by many as evocative of the American spirit in its purest form.
José Palbo Moncayo (1912-1958) Huapango The word “huapango” comes to us from Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Aztecs which also gave us “avocado” “chocolate” “tomato” “coyote” and “chipotle.” Huapango describes a style of folk music where dancers tap out rhythms and stamp their heels on wooden platforms, hence the literal meaning of huapango is” on top of the wood.” While Moncayo has reinterpreted this music for symphonic orchestra, you would normally hear the huapango played on a trio of instruments typical to the Huasteca region of Mexico, such as the violin, a huapangera and a jarana (both guitar-like instruments) This music often also features humourous lyrics sung in a falsetto voice. Moncayo’s arrangement works in other musical styles as well, in particular the popular music from Veracruz.
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) The Magnificent Seven Main Themes We just heard the iconic theme to the American Western film “The Magnificent Seven” which was adapted from Akira Kurasawa’s earlier film Seven Samurai. This version tells the tale of seven strongmen who band together to protect a Mexican village. Elmer Bernstein’s (burn-steen) score bursts with energy—you can just imagine the horses galloping and the cowboys with their lightning-fast guns. Although in the film, the action moves… kind of slowly. John Sturges, the director, filmed the movie as a slow burn with steady, wide-angle shots and not a lot of movement. It was Bernstein’s score that provided most of the fast-paced excitement. The storyline of Magnificent Seven has continued to be repurposed in Hollywood, a remake of The Magnificent Seven with Chris Pratt was released in 2016, and Disney produced an homage to the story in a recent episode of their Star Wars TV show: The Mandalorian.
Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) Ciacona in e, BuxWV 160 Arr. Carlos Cháv Despite his relatively humble career, Dietrich Buxtehude was a sort of trendsetter. His position as organist in the thriving city of Lübeck gave him a steady income, considerable latitude to compose, and both sacred and secular venues for his music. He was heavily influential on Handel, Telemann and J.S Bach. Buxtehude also left his mark on composers of the far future. This version of his Chaconne was arranged by one of the most prominent twentieth-century Mexican composers, Carlos Chavez. Chávez served as the conductor of Mexico’s first symphony orchestra, was director of the National Conservatory, and spearheaded many publication efforts in the country.
Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) Sensemayá Silvestre Revueltas came from a famously artistic family of painters, dancers and writers. Beginning violin at age eight and entering the Juarez Institute by age twelve, he would have a prolific performance and teaching career in Mexico, Spain, and the US and was appointed by Chavez to be assistant conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. As a composer he wrote orchestral music, ballets, and film scores, most notably La Noche de los Mayas in 1939. This tone poem Sensemaya was inspired by a work of the same name by Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen which describes the ritual killing of a snake. That is easy to imagine in this music with its winding melodies and complex rhythms. The sometimes dissonant harmonies evoke an impending doom and the ending falls like the stroke of a knife.
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c. 1590–1664) MISSA EGO FLOS CAMPI: Gloria Spanish conquistadors first encountered the wonders of the New World during their conquest of Central America in the 16th century. As imports such as chocolate, sugar, tobacco and potatoes boosted the Spanish economy, more colonists embarked for Mexico, especially in the form of Jesuit missionaries. Among them was Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, a Spanish composer who wrote over 700 sacred songs, motets and masses. Perhaps the most important composer of the New World, by 1628 Padilla was music director at the Mexican cathedral of Puebla de Los Ángeles. Almost all evidence of Renaissance and Baroque music from the New World comes from manuscripts found in the cathedral at Puebla, many of which bear Padilla’s name.
Tito Puente (1962) Oye Como Va The Latin american jazz musician Tito Puente recorded Oye Como Va in 1962, where as a bandleader he popularized Cuban dance rhythms such as the “cha-cha” and “mambo” through a series of recordings and collaborations. “Oye Como Va'' loosely translates to “Hey how’s it going?” in Spanish, and while the song was popular upon release it would not become a standard until Mexican-American rock guitarist Carlos Santana released an uptempoed version as a single in 1971, replacing Puente’s brass and flute with electric organ and electric guitar. Santana’s link to Mexican music is through his father, who was a mariachi musician from Jalisco and taught Carlos both guitar and violin. Santana has cited Tito Puente as an early influence along with Ritchie Valens, who brought latin music to the forefront of pop with his rock arrangement of the Mexican folksong La Bamba in 1958.