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Tag Archives: Dance music

Massachusetts native Frank Perkins (1908-1988) made his name as a composer while working for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles.  His works crossed genres from songs, notably “Stars Fell on Alabama”, to light classics like Fandango to a wealth of television and film music.  He was nominated for an Oscar for his work on 1962’s film version of Gypsyin which he served as conductor, arranger, and music supervisor.  He graduated in 1929 from Brown University (with an economics degree), then toured Europe as a pianist in the 1930s before returning to the US and forming his own dance band.  Subsequent work with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians led to the job at Warner Brothers in 1938, where he stayed until retirement in the late 1960s.

Floyd Werle (1929-2010) was a University of Michigan alumnus who served as the arranger for the US Air Force Band for 32 years.  He created hundreds of arrangements and was renowned for his harmonic daring and orchestrational finesse.  He arranged Perkins’s Fandango in 1954.  Here it is (with the first 8 or so bars cut off) performed by a very fine German band:

And here is Perkins’s own orchestra performing his original version:

The fandango is a song and dance form from Spain and Portugal that originated in the early 1700s.  It became popular as an instrumental form for serious treatment by composers by the end of the 18th century.  It is a 3/4 dance that is accompanied by castanets and often features a descending harmonic progression.  See one early treatment by Luigi Boccherini:

And another that focuses on the castanet-bearing dancers:

Sadly, Fandango for band is currently out of print.  Write a review of it on the JWPepper site so we can push to get it back!

Conductor Leonard Slatkin described Ron Nelson (b. 1929) thusly:  “Nelson is the quintessential American composer.  He has the ability to move between conservative and newer styles with ease.  The fact that he’s a little hard to categorize is what makes him interesting.”  This quality has helped Nelson gain wide recognition as a composer.  Nowhere are his works embraced more than in the band world, where he won the “triple crown” of composition prizes in 1993 for his Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H).  An Illinois native, Nelson received his composition training at the Eastman School of Music and went on to a distinguished career on the faculty of Brown University.

Nelson wrote Courtly Airs and Dances in 1995 on commission from the Hill Country Middle School Band in Austin, Texas, and their director Cheryl Floyd.  It is dedicated to that same group.  About the piece, Nelson writes:

Courtly Airs and Dances is a suite of Renaissance dances which were characteristic to five European countries during the 1500s. Three of the dances (Basse Dance, Pavane, and Allemande) are meant to emulate the music of Claude Gervaise by drawing on the style of his music as well as the characteristics of other compositions from that period. The festival opens with a fanfare-like Intrada followed by the Basse Danse (France), Pavane (England), Saltarello (Italy), Sarabande (Spain), and Allemande (Germany).

Ron Nelson’s website.

Ron Nelson on Wikipedia.

There are some great, free educational resources on Courtly Airs and Dances, including this article and analysis, this vocabulary sheet, and this quiz.  It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.

The San Francisco School of the Arts Wind Ensemble in a live performance:

Nelson uses a different Renaissance style for each movement.  The Intrada is entrance music, designed to begin a suite of music or serve for an entry procession.  This performance of an Intrada by German composer Christoph Demantius captures that spirit:

Nelson based his Intrada on Claude Gervaise’s Fanfare allemande (more on that later).

In general, a basse danse is in a slow and elegant 6/4 or 3/2, allowing for the use of hemiola.  Here is a reasonably authentic example of an early basse danse:

Nelson took his Basse Danse almost verbatim from Gervaise.  Here is another arrangement of it by the Belgium Brass:

The pavane is similar to a basse danse, being a slow and stately dance, but in duple meter and often faster.  Again, Nelson borrowed fairly directly from Gervaise:

The dance would have looked something like this:

The saltarello was a lively jumping dance whose specific steps have been lost.  Nelson wrote an original melody for his Saltarello, not relying on Gervaise.  Here is what a Renaissance saltarello may have sounded like:

The sarabande appears to have originated in the Spanish colonies in Central America before returning to Spain itself.  It was declared obscene and banned there in 1583.  It was in 3/4 time with the second and third beats often tied together, giving the rhythm a step-drag feel.  Nelson’s Sarabande relies on original material.  This sarabande example comes from the Baroque era, but it still demonstrates the rhythmic characteristics of the dance:

The allemande was a dance named in France for its supposed origin in Germany (the name means “German” in French).  It was a moderately fast duple meter dance that may have looked something like this:

Nelson again borrowed from Gervaise for this movement.  Here is a children’s flute choir version of Gervaise’s original:

Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was a piano prodigy turned composer who was known for his strange personal habits, his colorful prose, and his equally unusual music – his many admirers today still recognize that he possessed “the supreme virtue of never being dull.”  Born in Australia, he began studying piano at an early age.  He came to the U. S. at the outbreak of World War I and enlisted as an Army bandsman, becoming an American citizen in 1918.  He went on to explore the frontiers of music with his idiosyncratic folk song settings, his lifelong advocacy for the saxophone, and his Free Music machines which predated electronic synthesizers.  His many masterworks for winds include Lincolnshire Posy, Irish Tune from County Derry, and Molly on the Shore.

Grainger made several different settings of Shepherd’s Hey, which is based on a folk tune collected by the British folk song expert Cecil Sharp.  The first setting, for “room-music 12-some” (Grainger’s “blue-eyed English” phrase for chamber ensemble) first appeared in 1909.  The band version came in 1918.  This coincides with the end of Grainger’s stint in the US military, which appears to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in sparking his interest in band music.  The tune itself is a Morris dance, a centuries-old tradition of fluid, group dancing from England.  Still, Grainger insists on his 1913 piano solo score that “This setting is not suitable to dance Morris dances to.”  Ever the contrarian, Grainger also said that “where other composers would have been jolly setting such dance tunes I have been sad or furious. My dance settings are energetic rather than gay.”

Read more about Shepherd’s Hey at the Percy Grainger Society, the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the University of Wisconsin Music Department.  Also look at this extensive analysis of the piece at band-chat.net, and check out the solo piano score for free at Project Gutenberg.

The Cleveland Symphonic Winds play Shepherd’s Hey:

Among the many versions of this piece that exist, this pianola one is a highlight:

Here’s an actual Morris dancing troop dancing to the tune of Shepherd’s Hey.  The words: “I can whistle, I can sing, I can do most anything”:

Percygrainger.com – much general information on the composer with a focus on his wind band works.

International Percy Grainger Society – Based in White Plains, NY, they take care of the Grainger house there as well as the archives that remain there.  They also like to support concerts in our area that feature Grainger’s music.

Grainger Museum – in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, at the University there.

Grainger’s works and performances available at Naxos.com

This is one of my absolute favorite band pieces.  I’ve conducted it 3 times, including once at my wife’s request, and once again at my return to Dartmouth College with the CUWE in 2008.  In fact, hearing this piece as a freshman in the Dartmouth Wind Symphony under Max Culpepper in 1997 (along with Lincolnshire Posy and Holst’s First Suite – what a program!) probably started me down the road to becoming a band director.  So I’m in a little bit of shock that I haven’t written about it yet!  Time to fix that.

Kansas City native Robert Russell Bennett (1894-1981) was Broadway’s pre-eminent arranger and orchestrator for most of his career.  His ease with instruments enlivened the scores of George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, and many others.  He was composer in his own right, having studied with the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger.  He wrote nearly 200 original pieces for several media, including two dozen works for wind band.  The best known of these are his Suite of Old American Dances and the Symphonic Songs for Band.

Bennett was inspired to write the Suite of Old American Dances in 1948 and 1949 after hearing a very special Goldman Band concert:

When Edwin Franko Goldman arrived at his 70th birthday it was celebrated by a concert sponsored by the League of Composers.  For the concert (January 3, 1948) the engaged the Goldman Band of New York and asked Dr. Goldman to conduct his own band in honor of his own anniversary.  Louise and I went to that concert and I suddenly thought of all the beautiful sounds the American concert band could make that it hadn’t yet made.  That doesn’t mean that the unmade sounds passed in review in my mind at all, but the sounds they made were so new to me after all my years with orchestra, dance bands and tiny “combos,” that my pen was practically jumping out of my pocket begging me to give this great big instrument some more music to play.

Thanks to Edward Higgins’s excellent full score edition of the piece for that quote (and all of the other Bennett quotes to follow).

Bennett came up with a five movement suite that he titled Electric Park, after an actual place in his native Kansas City where, as a youth, he heard all of the day’s popular dances (click here for pictures).  He called the park “a place of magic to us kids.  The tricks with big electric signs, the illuminated fountains, the big band concerts, the scenic railway and the big dance hall.  One could hear in the dance hall all afternoon and evening the pieces the crowd danced to.”  His publisher, presumably with marketing in mind, retitled the piece as Suite of Old American Dances.

The Cincinnati Wind Symphony performs the whole piece, all 5 movements:

Bennett’s source material was all real, living American dance of the day.  Let’s break it down one movement at a time.

The Cakewalk originated in Southern plantations as sort of a game for African-American slaves.  Dancers would do impressive-looking struts and kicks, often while dressed mockingly in the fashion of their white masters, and sometimes while also balancing something on their heads.  Often there would be a prize of a piece of cake, hence the term cakewalk.  Here’s what it looked like:

I love the beach scene at the end there!

Here’s a very genteel version of the Schottische, which is actually a German dance related to the polka:

The “Western One Step” is actually based on a dance called the Texas Tommy, which was probably a brothel dance (“Tommies” being women of the night, if you know what I mean).  Here we can see the dance, but you’ll have to imagine the sound:

The “Wallflower Waltz” is just a 20th century take on the classic Viennese waltz, which you can see here:

In the “Rag”, Bennett pushes the limits of his chosen 2/4 time, creating wild syncopations and 2-against-3 patterns, all in the spirit of ragtime music.  Here’s a simple example of a ragtime dance:

More info:

Robert Russell Bennett on wikipedia.

Robert Russell Bennett on IMDB.

Bennett bio on Naxos.com.

Broadway.com tribute to Bennett on the eve of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Google books preview of “The Broadway Sound”, Bennett’s autobiography and selected essays, edited by George Ferencz.

Suite of Old American Dances on wikia program notes, the Concord Band, and in full, 22-page analysis by David Goza of the University of Arkansas (worth the read!).

Suite of Old American Dances was the senior choice for librarian, piccolo/flute player, and love of my life Lisa Samols ’04.  We played it again that summer in Columbia Summer Winds.  We also played it at our exchange concerts with Dartmouth College in 2008.

The thoroughly original, largely self-taught composer Warren Benson (1924-2005) began his musical life as a percussionist.  He was playing professionally by age 14, and became the timpanist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra by age 22.  With his performance career well underway, he studied music theory at the University of Michigan (BM 1949, MM 1950).  Upon graduating, he received two successive Fulbright grants (two more would come later) to teach in Salonika, Greece, where he set up a co-ed choir at Anatolia College (the first of its kind the country) and developed a bi-lingual music curriculum.  Upon his return to the US, in 1953, he accepted a post as composer-in-residence and professor of music at Ithaca College, where he stayed for 14 years.  He spent the remainder of his career (1967-1993) as a professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music, where he received numerous awards for his music and his teaching.  He had a pioneer spirit in many respects: not only did he start the first co-ed college choir in Greece, he also started the first touring percussion ensemble in the US the moment he started at Ithaca.  He later was one of the founding members of the World Association of Symphonic Band and Ensembles (WASBE), an international advocacy group for wind bands.  He is particularly remembered for his song cycles and his distinctly original contributions to the wind band literature, including The Leaves Are Falling (1964), The Solitary Dancer (1966), The Passing Bell (1974) and Symphony II-Lost Songs (1983).

The Solitary Dancer is six-and-a-half minutes of simmering energy, unlike anything else in the repertoire.  It was commissioned by the Clarence, NY Senior High School Band, directed by Norbert J. Buskey, and contains a dedication to Bill Hug.  The score, in a passage both descriptive and promotional, reads:

The Solitary Dancer deals with quiet, poised energy that one may observe in a dancer in repose, alone with her inner music.  The work is a study in the economy of resources and sensitivity for wind and percussion colors, and subtle development and recession of instrumental and musical frenzy.  It is not surprising to find another perfect jewel for wind from Warren Benson, and this short, succinct work has a quality of understatement that makes it stand apart.

It’s also worth quoting what Carl Fisher, the piece’s publisher, has to say about it (rather than sending you to their poorly-formatted website):

Rarely rising above mezzo piano, even when most of the band is playing, the music of The Solitary Dancer has a unique ability to suggest stillness within purposeful energy. The simple melodic and rhythmic motives from which Benson constructed this amazing and original piece are assembled and re-assembled in a continual tapestry of quiet magic that testifies to the composer’s instrumental mastery. The large percussion functions as a “continuo”, keeping the pace constant (“with quiet excitement throughout”) and adding wonderful touches of light and idiosyncratic color.

When asked to give advice to ambitious young composers, Benson answered:

I tell them to take a look at the repertoire and see what’s not there that is present in life. That thought is one of the reasons why I wrote The Solitary Dancer. There just wasn’t any work that was fast and exciting and quiet. Like when a group of people get together and whisper, there is a lot of intensity and excitement, but it never gets loud. It never goes anywhere in that sense. It may bubble and cook but it never really blows the lid off. There are a lot of situations in life like that—just quiet moments.

That last quote comes from the book Program Notes for Band by Norman Smith.  But I was lucky enough to find on the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra’s Blog.  You can read up further on Benson and his music at Wikipedia and his extensive, up-to-date website.

The Peabody Wind Ensemble plays:

Massachusetts native Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) taught himself to improvise on the guitar starting at age 8.  As his skills grew through his teens, he found himself drawn towards composition, which he later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music (both BM and MM degrees) in Boston.  He has subsequently received many fellowships (Yale, Tanglewood) and awards.  His music has been played by ensembles all over the US and Britain, and has been recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon and CRI labels.  He has been on the faculty of Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and the Tanglewood Music Center.  Vientos y Tangos (2002) was his first piece for wind band.  He says:

Vientos y Tangos (Winds and Tangos) was commissioned by The Frank L. Battisti 70thBirthday Commission Project and is dedicated to Frank Battisti in recognition of his immense contributions to the advancement of concert wind literature. It was Mr. Battisti’s specific request that I write a tango for wind ensemble. In preparation for this piece, I devoted several months to the study and transcription of tangos from the early style of Juan D’arienzo and the ‘Tango Nuevo’ style of Astor Piazzolla to the current trend of ‘Disco/Techno Tango,’ among others. After immersing myself in this listening experience, I simply allowed the most salient features of these various tangos to inform the direction of my work. The dynamic contour and the various instrumental combinations that I employ in the piece are all inspired by the traditional sounds of the bandoneon, violin, piano and contrabass.

I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Battisti for his inspirational leadership as director of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble for over thirty years. I first heard Mr. Battisti’s work when I was a student at the New England Conservatory in the late 1970’s. I was instantly moved by his high artistic standards, his ability to motivate young musicians, and the respect for composers, past and present, that he always eloquently expressed to his students. I would also like to thank Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. for his professionalism, collegiality and adept work in organizing the commission project.

I’ll get to those various tango styles he mentioned in a minute.  First, let’s hear the piece itself as performed by the UCLA Wind Ensemble:

Now some authentic tango, Gandolfi’s source material.  Here’s something from Juan D’Arienzo, a tango called “De Puro Curda”, recorded in Uruguay in 1964, very late in D’Arienzo’s career:

Astor Piazzolla changed everything in the tango world.  For more on him, see my blog post on the subject.  For now, listen to one of his livelier tangos, “Escualo”, which apparently is supposed to portray a shark fishing expedition.  This was recorded at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, also very late in Piazzolla’s career:

Finally, I have to admit that I’m no devotee of post-Piazzolla tango trends.  So I’ve tried to find something (anything!) that sounds more modern and that might have inspired Gandolfi.  Here’s an attempt: a song that seems to have techno beats and bandoneon.  Those must be all of the ingredients for Techno Tango, right?

Learn more about Michael Gandolfi on Wikipedia and his own website.

Read up on the tango, Argentina’s main musical export, on Wikipedia.

I first came  across Piazzolla’s music in 2001, while working for the Little Orchestra Society of New York.  The conductor, Dino Anagnost, had heard Gidon Kremer‘s version of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas) for string orchestra and violin solo, and wanted to perform it.  There was no published version of it, just the arranger’s manuscript.  So, as the “music assistant” I got to sit at the Maestro’s computer for several weeks, creating the set of parts in Sibelius.  What could have been endless tedium was instead a revelation: I got inside every note of the piece and came away with an intimate knowledge of Piazzolla’s musical language.  He was romantic.  He was lyrical.  He would hover on astonishing dissonances, preserving them like the surface of smoothly rippling water.  He had a gift for counterpoint far beyond what I was expecting of a tango master.  This initial contact led me to study up on the man and his music.  Finally, in 2005, I arranged two of his tangos, Milonga del Angel and La Muerte del Angel, into a two-movement concerto for flute and band.  It premiered in 2006, with Leonardo Hiertz as the soloist.  And now, in 2012, we get to do it again!

Some background: Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla is widely regarded as the most influential tango artist of the 20th century.  His work borrows elements from tango, jazz, and classical music to form a new genre called  nuevo tango.  He was a virtuoso performer and a respected composer whose work is widely performed around the world.  He was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina on March 11, 1921, to Italian immigrant parents.  When he was 4 years old, they moved to Greenwich Village in New York City.  He picked up the bandoneón, the accordion-like instrument that would dominate his musical career, at age 8.  He heard a wealth of different kinds of music from an early age: his father brought Argentine tango records to New York; he heard jazz on the streets of the city; and by age 12, he was learning to play Bach on his bandoneón.  He returned to Argentina at 16, and moved to Buenos Aires the following year to try his luck on the tango scene there.  He found some success, but realized that his interests leaned more towards contemporary classical composers like Bartok and Stravinsky.  To that end, he studied composition with Alberto Ginastera and nearly dropped all tango activities.  Finally, in 1954 he left for Paris to study with the legendary composition teacher Nadia Boulanger.  She encouraged him to embrace his tango heritage.  He returned to Argentina inspired to elevate the tango to an artistic level.  He wrote original compositions for traditional ensembles, as well as for his own groups which ranged in size from quintets to nonets.  He toured the world with his music, and changed the tango forever.

Regarding the tangos in the arrangement, they both originated as incidental music for a play in 1962.  They eventually became part of a five-part series of “Angel” tangos, completed in 1965.  James Reel of allmusic.com neatly describes Milonga del Angel:

For Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s 1962 stage play Tango del Angel, in which an angel heals the spirits of the residents of a shabby Buenos Aires neighborhood, Piazzolla added two new pieces to an earlier tango that gave the play its name. This music reappeared in at least two different concert forms, but one of the unifying elements is the piece Milonga del ángel. A milonga is a sort of proto-tango, lighter and gentler than the more familiar form. This milonga is openly sentimental and begins with a lounge music feel with strummed bass chords; a simple, keening violin line; and a few tinkles from the piano. The bandoneón creeps in almost unnoticed, but takes control of the piece with a sad, nostalgic melody (at this point, one could easily imagine the piece being played in a jazz club). Just as the treatment of the melody becomes more complex and emotional, a secondary section arrives to allow some air around the music. It initially seems like a transition, but opens into a highly romantic and sensual violin solo. The bandoneón reclaims its place, offering its own variation on this melody, which is actually closely tied to the main theme, and musing on it with the violin and electric bass. A more intense passage leads to the coda, which strips the music down to a series of chords, much as the piece began.

Le Muerte del Angel comes from the same play.  It is notable for its opening fugue and its brisk tempo.

Here is the master himself performing Milonga del Angel on the BBC:

He and his quintet (similar to the group above) do La Muerte del Angel.  Wind players, watch the way he breathes with the bandoneón.

Now the copious links begin.  Piazzolla remains very popular as a composer, so there is much written about him on the internet.

Piazzolla info at wikipedia, his YouTube page (HIGHLY recommended!), todotango, IMDb, NPR, and allmusic.  Sadly, his foundation’s website, piazzolla.org, is about 10 years out of date.

Find out more about Milonga del Angel at allmusic (quoted above), jazz.com, the Fugata Quintet, and Albert Combrink’s Blog.  Also, go to this blog to see a video of a sword-swallowing routine done to this piece!

See more about La Muerte del Angel at Albert Combrink’s Blog, answers.com, and Piazzolla on Video (as a tribute to Piazzolla’s longtime pianist, Pablo Ziegler).

If you do one thing while looking at this post, you MUST watch the first video posted below!  It really puts the whole piece in perspective.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was the French composer of such famous works as Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Delila, Danse Macabre, and the Organ Symphony.  He was a child prodigy who became France’s most renowned composer.  Late in life, he traveled to all corners of the world.

Bacchanale comes from his 1877 opera Samson et Delila, which is based on the Biblical story of those 2 characters.  In both the opera and the Bible, Samson is a leader of the Israelites, who are in the midst of a revolt against their malevolent rulers, the Philistines.  The Philistines want to bring him down, so they send one of their own, a woman named Delila, to seduce him and discover the source of his extreme physical strength. It turns out that secret is his long hair, which binds him in a vow to God. But Samson does not let that secret slip easily: he misleads Delila several times before finally revealing the true secret.  Yet when that is done, Delila shaves his hair while he sleeps, allowing the Philistines to capture and blind him.  After years of forced labor at their hands, Samson winds up in the temple of Dagon, one of the Philistine deities, in Gaza.  There, he prays to God to restore his strength, and he pulls down the central columns of the temple, killing himself and all of the Philistines inside.  Each version of the story has its nuances (e.g., the Bible says Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass!) so it’s worth your time to investigate both.  The Bacchanale occurs in Act III of the opera, just before Samson is led into the temple of Dagon.  It is a depraved dance performed by the priests of Dagon.  Saint-Saens loved “exotic” sounds, so he used an exceptionally exotic sounding scale for a good chunk of the piece: it contains two one-and-a-half step gaps (from the 2nd to 3rd steps and the 6th to 7th steps).  While that does heighten the exoticness of the piece, it is not authentic to any world musical tradition.

Here it is in the actual opera.  They’re almost naked!

For something a little different, Gustavo Dudamel leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Bacchanale.  He plays a little fast and loose with tempo, but it’s really a thrilling version!

Here’s the band version done by a Japanese middle school.  As I’ve come to expect from young Japanese bands, they knock it out of the park: this is the only band version on YouTube that’s any good at all, and I looked at a couple dozen!

Saint-Saens bio at the Classical Archives.

Saint-Saens on Wikipedia.

Another Saint-Saens bio on thinkquest.

Some extra program notes on Bacchanale from the Immaculata Symphony

Did you know that the Bible is fully online?  Here’s the Samson and Delilah story in full, from the Book of Judges.

Huapango is the unofficial second national anthem of Mexico.  It was written in 1941 by then 29-year-old Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), a composer and conductor from Guadalajara.  Moncayo found his source material for the piece on a folk-song collecting trip to the villages Veracruz, where he encountered a dance called huapango.  The name for this dance comes from a corruption of the Nahuatl word huapanco, which means “on top of the wooden plank”, or, more poetically, “on the dance floor”.  Folk huapangos can be played in many forms, from a small chamber group to a large mariachi band, but all of them share a rhythmic playfulness with much of Mexican folk music.  Moncayo uses this rhythmic flexibilty to great effect in his Huapango.  He probes the boundaries of 6/8 time, often reveling in the space between duple and triple meter.  His setting was based on three huapangos that he heard on his trip: “El Siquisiri”, “El Balajú” and “El Gavilancito”.  His student, José Antonio Alcaraz, provides us with a quote from Moncayo about the piece:

Blas Galindo and I went to Alvarado, one of the places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms and instrumentations during several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros (musicians) never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back to Mexico, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar; Huízar gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: “Expose the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own thought.” And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me

Huapango is Moncayo’s most lasting legacy in classical music.  He wrote several other pieces for orchestra.  He also was the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico from 1949 to 1954.  Along with other composers like Carlos Chavez and Silvester Rivueltas, Moncayo is closely associated with the Mexican Nationalism of the period.  His untimely death in 1958 is often considered the end of that era.

Huapango has been growing in popularity outside of Mexico.  Gustavo Dudamel recently took his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela to the BBC Proms in London to play it:

And here’s an American military band doing it, arranged by Leroy Osmon.  This is the version that we’ll be playing:

The folks songs that Moncayo used are on YouTube now.  Here’s “El Siquisiri”:

“El Balaju” by a mariachi band.  Watch the rhythmic interplay:

“El Gavilancito” for guitars and voices:

These are all indeed quite different from Moncayo’s realizations of them.  Like he said, he never heard them the same way twice!

Moncayo on Wikipedia, DSO Kids, peermusic, and, interestingly, on Conservapedia.

More on the huapango dance, including some nice listening examples, from Wikipedia.

More on Huapango the piece from Colorado Public Radio.

This is a senior choice for trombonist and taste-maker Raul Ruiz ’12.

Brooklyn’s Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, were among the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the 1920s and 30s, with countless popular songs and six Broadway musicals to their name.  But George (1898-1937), who wrote all of the music to Ira’s lyrics, longed for a place in the classical music pantheon.  In 1924, his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and band (later orchestra) established his credentials as a serious composer.  Its use of jazz elements within classical structures became a hallmark of Gershwin’s style.  His Piano Concerto in F and An American in Paris continued in this direction, culminating in his 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.  Despite his success in the classical arena, Gershwin’s requests for lessons with other major composers were repeatedly denied.  Arnold Schoenberg, for example, told him “I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you’re such a good Gershwin already.”

Gershwin wrote Cuban Overture in 1932 after a vacation in Havana in February of that year.  He returned from that trip with Cuban rhythms in his head and Cuban percussion instruments under his arm.  The overture was premiered on August 16, 1932 under the title Rumba.  It was retitled Cuban Overture by the time of its second performance at the Metropolitan Opera on November 1, 1932.  For that occasion, Gershwin provided his own program notes:

In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material.  The result is a symphonic overture, which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.

It has three main parts.  The first part is preceded by an introduction featuring some of the thematic material.  Then comes a three-part contrapuntal episode leading to a second theme.  The first part finishes with a recurrence of the first theme combined with fragments of the second.

A solo clarinet cadenza leads to a middle part, which is in a plaintive mood.  It is a gradual developing canon in a polytonal manner.  This part concludes witha climax based on an ostinato of the theme in the canon, after which a sudden change in tempo brings us back to the rumba dance rhythms.

The finale is a development of the preceding material in a stretto-like manner.  This leads us back once again to the main theme.

The conclusion of the work is a coda featuring the Cuban instruments of the percussion.

Cuban Overture marks a great leap forward in Gershwin’s symphonic music, both in its harmonic sophistication and its orchestration.  His program notes, with their emphasis on the form of the work, may have been an attempt to quiet his critics who faulted him with awkwardly-constructed music.  But Cuban Overture, with its roots firmly in Gershwin’s famous sound and clearly tempered by his Cuban experience, met with critical praise from its first performance.  This was among his last large-scale instrumental concert works, written when Gershwin was 33.  Had he lived beyond the age of 38, Cuban Overture might have pointed the way towards another era of sophisticated Gershwin compositions.

Further program notes and information on Cuban Overture can be found at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Redwood Symphony, and on the blog of Gershwin biographer Walter Rimler.

Before listening, I highly recommend that you watch this 1930s tourist film about Cuba.  It puts the piece wonderfully in context, and it shows what a truly different place Cuba has become now.

Here is the US Coast Guard Band playing Cuban Overture. It’s techinically all there, but a bit lacking in the groove:

Now the orchestra version, recorded with a nice professional polish, but too fast in the middle.  Also, it’s a whole step higher than the band one (although it did come first, so I guess the band version is therefore a whole step lower) so don’t let that throw your ears off:

Gershwin often wrote a short score for 2 pianists of his symphonic pieces before orchestrating them.  Cuban Overture is no exception:

Finally, a bit of a curiosity: in 1938, the year after Gershwin’s death, pianist Rose Linda got together with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra to record a jazzy version of the Overture:

About the composer:

Gershwin.com – the official Gershwin family website.

Gershwin’s death announcement and obituary from the New York Times.

George Gershwin bio at balletmet.org.

Another Gershwin bio, with portraits, at naxos.com.

The 2012 performance of this is a senior choice for CUWE treasurer and oboist Andrea Gillis.