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Program Notes

Danzón No. 2

Arturo Márquez (b. 1950)

   Danzón No. 2 is an orchestral composition by Mexican composer, Arturo Måarquez. It is one of the most popular and frequently performed Mexican contemporary classical compositions.

   Danzón No. 2 gained great popularity worldwide when the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, under Gustavo Dudamel, included it on the program of their 2007 European and American tour.

   Written for full orchestra, the piece features solos for clarinet, oboe, piano, violin, trumpet and piccolo. The piece has also gained an important spot in the modern concert band literature.

   Danzón No. 2 was commissioned by the National Autonomous University of Mexico and was premiered in 1994 in Mexico City by the Orchestra Filarmonica de la UNAM, under the direction of Francisco Savin.

   The rhythmic interest in the piece is maintained through the use of varying accents and tempos. This staple of the contemporary Mexican music literature expresses and reflects on the dance style danzón, which has its origins in Cuba but is a very important part of the folklore of the Mexican state of Veracruz. The music was inspired by a visit to a ballroom in Veracruz.

   A short film was made in 2009 using the piece as the main narrative device, in a fantasia-like manner. It is set in Mexico City in the 1940s, the golden age of danzón, and the style is an homage to the Mexican cinema of the period. The film features Arturo Márquez in a cameo as the pianist of the dance hall. It was premiered at the 8th Morelia Film Festival as part of its official lineup.

   The piece is included in the web television series, Mozart in the Jungle (season 2, episode 6). A youth orchestra in Mexico City plays it under the direction of Rodrigo De Souza, a talented young conductor and former member of the youth orchestra.

   Márquez was born in 1950 in Álamos, Sonora, where his interest in music began. He is the first born of nine children of Arturo Márquez and Aurora Márquez Navarro. Márquez was the only one of the nine siblings who became a musician.

   Márquez’s father was a mariachi musician in Mexico and later in Los Angeles, and his paternal grandfather was a Mexican folk musician in the northern states of Sonora and Chihuahua. Because of Márquez’s father and grandfather, he was exposed to several musical styles during his childhood, particularly the Mexican “salon music” which would be the impetus for his later musical repertoire.

   He started composing at the age of 16 and then attended the National Conservatory of Music of Mexico where he studied piano and music theory from 1970–1975. Subsequently, he studied composition from 1976–1979 with Federico Ibarra, Joaquín Gutiérrez Heras and Héctor Quintanar. Subsequently, in the U.S., he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and obtained an MFA degree in composition in 1990 from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.

   Marquez lives with his family in Mexico City.

Suite Estancias

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

   Suite Estancias ( Argentine Spanish: “Ranch”), through its references to gaucho literature, rural folk dances and urban concert music, evokes images of the diverse landscape of Alberto Ginastera’s Argentinian homeland. The work premiered in 1943 in its four-movement orchestral form and in 1952 as a ballet. NPOI will be playing the orchestral suite.

   The Estancia ballet, about half an hour in length, tells the story of a city boy in love with a rancher’s daughter. At first, the love affair is one-sided, as the girl finds the boy spineless, at least in comparison with the intrepid gauchos. By the final scene, however, the hero has won the girl’s heart by out-dancing the gauchos in a traditional contest on their own terrain.

   The ballet was commissioned in 1941 by American dance impresario Lincoln Kirstein for the troupe, American Ballet Caravan, writes Betsy Schwarm for the school and library edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

   The work was to have been choreographed by George Balanchine, but the dance company disbanded in 1942 before it was able to perform the piece. Estancia did not premiere as a ballet until after World War II.

   In the interim, Ginastera extracted four dances from the score—“Los trabajadores agricolas” (“The Land Workers”), “Danza del trigo” (“Wheat Dance”), “Los peones de hacienda” (“The Cattlemen”), and “Danza final (Malambo)”—for use as a concert suite. The concluding movement, inspired by the flamboyant malambo dance of the Argentine gauchos, has become one of Ginastera’s most popular works.

   Ginastera studied at the conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938. As a young professor, he taught at the Liceo Militar General San Martín. After a visit in 1945–47 to the United States, where he studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood,  he returned to Buenos Aires and co-founded the League of Composers. He held a number of teaching posts. Among his notable students were Ástor Piazzolla (who studied with him in 1941), Alcides Lanza, Waldo de los Ríos, Jacqueline Nova and Rafael Aponte-Ledée.

   Ginastera moved back to the United States in 1968 and then in 1970 to Europe. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 67.

   Ginastera grouped his music into three periods: “Objective Nationalism” (1934–1948), “Subjective Nationalism” (1948–1958), and “Neo-Expressionism” (1958–1983). Among other distinguishing features, these periods vary in their use of traditional Argentine musical elements. His Objective Nationalistic works often integrate Argentine folk themes in a straightforward fashion, while works in the later periods incorporate traditional elements in increasingly abstracted forms.

Many of Ginastera’s works were inspired by the gauchesco tradition. This tradition holds that the gaucho, or landless native horseman of the plains, is a symbol of Argentina.

   His Cantata para América Mágica (1960), for dramatic soprano and 53 percussion instruments, was based on ancient pre-Columbian legends. Its West Coast premiere was performed by the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemble under Henri Temianka and William Kraft at UCLA in 1963.

  A portion of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 is performed in the movie, The Competition, and the piece is included in the movie soundtrack.


José Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958)

   José Pablo Moncayo completed his Sinfonietta for orchestra on July 3, 1945, and conducted the Orquesta Sinfónica de Mexico at its premiere 10 days later.

   Moncayo is best known for his orchestral fantasy Huapango (performed by NPOI in 2010). A bright, short symphonic piece based on popular music from the state of Veracruz, Huapango has achieved almost national anthem status in Mexico.

   But Moncayo’s musical production includes many other pieces of high quality, notwithstanding their lesser fame. Sinfonietta is one of those pieces.

   As do many of the compositions from this period (1930s and ’40s), Sinfonietta  includes elements of Mexican nationalism. The piece is orchestrated for large woodwind and brass sections, percussion and strings.

   It begins with an irregular meter and a highly syncopated melody in the strings. This melody alternates with trumpet solos (also characteristic of Mexican nationalism) and woodwind solos. The syncopated melodies are probably the most characteristic element, with a clear predominance by the strings. The piece is a mosaic of contrasting sections, all continuously interconnected. However, an overall A-B-A (fast-slow-fast) form can be perceived.

   Moncayo, a native of Guadalajara, was admitted as a teenager to the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City. He financed his studies by working as a jazz pianist. A percussionist, he later played in the city’s Orquesta Sinfónica de México.

   In the early 1930s, Carlos Chávez created a composition course at the National Conservatory. Along with older students, there were four students under 20 years of age: Daniel Ayala and Blas Galindo (pure-blooded Indians), Salvador Contreras and Moncayo. These four were the only ones who attended the final examination.

   During the fall of 1932, Chávez organized a festival of chamber music at the National Conservatory and invited his friend Aaron Copland to participate in it. Moncayo and Galindo, both incipient protégés of Chávez, also started a long and fruitful relationship with Copland.

   That summer, and probably thanks to the recommendations of Chávez and Copland, Moncayo and Galindo were granted scholarships from the Rockefeller Foundation to study at the Berkshire Music Institute in Massachusetts, known today as the Tanglewood Music Center. According to Dr. Jesús C. Romero, Moncayo was invited to attend there by Aaron Copland and Serge Koussevitzky.

    The two Mexicans also had the opportunity to meet Lukas Foss and the 24-year-old Leonard Bernstein, two fellow composers and conductors who attended the courses at Berkshire that summer. Galindo reports his experiences: “There I met Bernstein, who was kilometers ahead of me, Lukas Foss . . . I remember Hindemith who was very serious. I also met Latin-American composers like Ginastera.”

   Moncayo was appointed assistant conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in 1945. In 1946, Chávez, general director of Mexico’s Fine Arts Institute, appointed the 34-year-old conductor as artistic director of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, while Chávez himself remained its musical director. Later, in 1949, Chávez appointed Moncayo to both posts.

   Moncayo died in 1958 at his home in Mexico City, at age 45.

Estampas Nocturnas

Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

   Premiered in 1923, Estampas Nocturnas (nocturnal images) for string orchestra is clearly a result of composer Manuel Ponce’s first trip to Europe from 1904 to 1906. This piece presents influences from romantic impressionism as well as other more traditional influences.

   The piece is divided into four movements. The first movement, “La noche” (the night), evokes a nocturnal moment full of melancholy, but with some elements of fantasy. The second movement, “En tiempo del rey sol” (in the times of the sun king) harks back to a more traditional style.

   “Arrulladora,” the third movement, is a brief and elegant lullaby.

   “Scherzo de Puck” (Puck’s scherzo), the piece’s last movement, makes reference to Shakespeare’s playful and mischievous character, Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

   Ponce’s work as a composer, music educator and scholar of Mexican music connected the Mexico City-based concert scene with a usually forgotten tradition of popular song and Mexican folklore. Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by the harmonies and forms of traditional songs.

   Born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Ponce moved with his family to the city of Aguascalientes only a few weeks after his birth and lived there until he was 15 years old.

   He was famous for being a musical prodigy. According to his biographers, he was barely four years of age when, after having listened to the piano classes received by his sister, Josefina, he sat in front of the instrument and interpreted one of the pieces that he had heard. Immediately, his parents had him receive classes in piano and musical notation.

   In 1901, Ponce entered the National Conservatory of Music, already with a certain prestige as a pianist and composer. After some years abroad, Ponce returned to Mexico to teach piano and music history at the National Conservatory of Music from 1909–1915 and from 1917–1922.

   In 1912, Ponce presented a concert of Mexican popular music which, though it scandalized ardent defenders of European classical music, became a landmark in the history of the national song.

   With activity promoting music of the country and writing melodies like “Estrellita,” “A la orilla de un palmar,” “Alevántate,” “La Pajarera,” “Marchita el Alma” and “Una Multitud Más,” Ponce gained the honorific title, “Creator of the Modern Mexican Song.”

   In 1947, Ponce was awarded Mexico’s National Science and Arts Prize.


Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940)

   Together with Carlos Chávez, Silvestre Revueltas was one of the most influential figures in Mexican music during the 20th century.

   For many years, Revueltas was closely associated with Chávez, helping him organize the first contemporary music concert series in Mexico during 1924 and 1925. In 1929, he became Chávez’s assistant at the National Symphony Orchestra. Their common goal was that of promoting Mexican music.

   While Revueltas never quoted folk music in his compositions, it is evident that he captured the essence of Mexican music. His style is characterized by a dominant rhythmic drive, colorful orchestration, polychords and changes in meter. Some of his compositions include Cuauhnáhuac , Esquinas, Janitzio, Caminos, Homenaje a Federico Garca Lorca, La Noche de los Mayas, Redes and Sensemayá.

   Revueltas became friends with Aaron Copland in 1932 when Copland visited Mexico. Subsequently, Copland championed some of Revueltas’ music in the United States.

   Sensemayá, composed in 1937 and revised in 1938, is based on a poem by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. Revueltas captured the rhythm of the poem, which uses words from Afro-Caribbean religions such as ¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! In order to portray these words, Revueltas uses complex rhythmic devices such as irregular meters (5/8, 7/8), ostinatos and polyrhythms typical of the Afro-Caribbean musical culture. The piece also displays solos in rather unusual instruments such as the tuba.

Overture to the opera, Il Signor Bruschino

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

   Born in Pesaro, Italy, the son of a horn player and a singer, Gioachino Rossini even in childhood had experience with the theater, both as an orchestral player and as a singer. His first professional success as a composer of opera came in 1810 with La Cambiale de Matrimonio (The Marriage Contract), the first of five light-hearted works for the Teatro San Moise in Venice. Il Signor Bruschino is the last of these one-act operas, in a style prefiguring what was to come.

  Il Signor Bruschino is witty, funny, sentimental, and absurd, a wonderfully potent combination both theatrically and musically, writes James Leonard for ALLMusic. Even its overture or, as it was originally called, its sinfonia, shares these qualities.

   The slow introduction is at first sentimental but becomes absurd when, in an innovation that startled contemporary audiences, the violinists took their bows and tapped a characteristic rhythm on the metal candle holders on their music stands.

   The main body of the overture features a witty first theme for the violins interspersed with humorous dissonances in the cellos and basses, and a warm second theme for the winds also interspersed with humorous dissonances in the cellos and basses. After a typically brief development and an even briefer recapitulation, Rossini brings the overture to a close with a fast and massive final cadence, which is interrupted once more by the tapping of the violin bows.

The Overture to the opera, William Tell

Gianchino Rossini (1792-1868)

   The opera William Tell, for which Rossini wrote this famous overture, premiered in 1829 and was the last of the composer’s 39 operas, after which he went into semi-retirement although he continued to compose cantatas, sacred music and secular vocal music. The overture is in four parts, each following without pause.

   There has been repeated use (and sometimes parody) of parts of this overture in both classical music and popular media, most famously as the theme music for The Lone Ranger in radio, television and film. It was also used as the theme music for the British television series, The Adventures of William Tell.

   Franz Lizst prepared a piano transcription of the overture in 1838, which became a staple of his concert repertoire. There are also transcriptions by other composers, including versions by Louis Gottschalk for two and four pianos and a duet for piano and violin.

   The overture, which lasts for approximately 12 minutes, paints a musical picture of life in the Swiss Alps, the setting of the opera. It was described by Hector Berlioz (who usually loathed Rossini’s works) as “a symphony in four parts,” but unlike a symphony with its discrete movements, the overture’s parts move from one to the next without any break.

   The Finale, often called the “March of the Swiss Soldiers” in English, is in E major like the Prelude, but is an ultra-dynamic galop heralded by trumpets and played by the full orchestra. It alludes to the final act, which recounts the Swiss soldiers' victorious battle to liberate their homeland from Austrian repression. Although there are no horses or cavalry charges in the opera, this segment is often used in popular media to denote galloping horses, a race, or a hero riding to the rescue. Its most famous use in that respect is as the theme music for The Lone Ranger, so famous that the term "intellectual" has been defined as "a man who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger" (and anyone who does so wins a silver bullet). The Finale is also quoted by composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the first movement of his Symphony No. 15.

Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Opus 70

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

   Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Opus 70, was completed in March 1885 and first performed on April 22, 1885 at St. James’s Hall in London. It was originally published as Symphony No. 2.

   Dvořák’s work on the symphony began on December 13, 1884. Dvořák had heard and admired Brahms’ new Third Symphony, and this prompted him to think of writing a new symphony himself. So it was fortuitous that in that same year the Philharmonic Society of London invited him to write a new symphony and elected him as an honorary member.

   A month later, after one of his daily walks to the railway station in Prague, Dvořák said “the first subject of my new symphony flashed into my mind on the arrival of the festive train bringing our countrymen from Pest.” The Czechs were in fact coming to the National Theatre in Prague, where there was to be a musical evening to support the political struggles of the Czech nation. Dvořák resolved that his new symphony would reflect this struggle. In doing so, the symphony would also reveal something of his personal struggle in reconciling his simple and peaceful countryman’s feelings with his intense patriotism and his wish to see the Czech nation flourish.

  He completed a sketch of the first movement in five days, and he wrote to one of his friends: “I am now busy with this symphony for London, and wherever I go I can think of nothing else. God grant that this Czech music will move the world!”

   Ten days later he finished his sketch of the slow movement. He added a footnote, “From the sad years.” This refers to the recent death of his mother, and probably also to the previous death of his eldest child, events were especially in his mind as he composed the movement. However, there is also a broader horizon—he wrote to a friend, “What is in my mind is Love, God, and my Fatherland.”

   The slow movement starts with intense calm and peace, but also includes turmoil and unsettled weather. Dvořák told his publisher that “there is not one superfluous note.” In the next month or so he completed the sketches of the third and fourth movements. He said that the fourth movement includes a suggestion of the capacity of the Czech people to display stubborn resistance to political oppressors.

   In 1885, the symphony received its brilliantly successful first performance at St. James’s Hall in London, with the composer conducting. But all was not well for   Dvořák and his new symphony. Despite its immediate popularity, the publication of the work was a nightmare.

   The contracted German publisher, Fritz Simrock, seemed to go out of his way to created difficulties and to irritate Dvořák. First, he said he could not consider publishing the work until a piano duet arrangement was available. Simrock then flatly refused to print Dvořák’s Czech name—Antonín—on the cover. The publisher insisted that it be Anton, and that the title page be in German only. Finally, Dvořák was told that the dedication to the London Philharmonic Society would have to be omitted.

   During all of these prolonged arguments, Dvořák asked Simrock for an advance: “I have a lot of expense with my garden, and my potato crop isn’t very good,” the composer said. Eventually, Simrock offered only 3,000 marks for the symphony, which was a low value for such a major work. Dvořák replied that other publishers would readily pay twice as much. After further argument, Simrock grudgingly paid the 6,000 marks.

   After Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák was the second Czech composer to achieve worldwide recognition. Following Smetana’s nationalist example, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák’s own style has been described as “the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them.”