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A Mexican Classical Playlist

September 26, 2013

Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off on Sept. 15 and Jesse Hamlin’s article on Opera Cultura this week in SFCV got us thinking about music south of the border. There’s an important, long Mexican contribution to classical music, which was well-established by the 1600s. (See, for example, the album Mexican Baroque by the choral group Chanticleer.) Today, composers like Enrico Chapela are leading the charge in the 21st century. Here’s a playlist of some great music from Mexico.

  1. Danzón No. 2, (Arturo Marquez), Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel, cond.
    Marquez’s father was a mariachi musician, and this piece incorporates that influence. It’s now a popular concert starter, since Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra recorded it.
  2. Melate binario (Enrico Chapela), for solo guitar.
    The Melate is a popular Mexican lottery and this piece is designed like that. Audience members fill out a ticket that dictates the order in which the score’s pages will be played. Just before the performance, the guitarist picks one of the tickets at random and plays the piece that way.
  3. Sobre las olas (Juventino Rosas), Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Alondra de la Parra, cond.
    “Over the Waves” is a concert waltz, published in 1888, that has become one of the most popular pieces of Mexican classical music ever. Americans may think of circuses and acrobats when they hear it, because for years it was a selection on Wurlitzer fairground organs. Fans of old-time cartoons like Popeye will recognize it.
  4. Las Alazanas (traditional), El Mariachi de Mi Tierra.
    Mariachi orchestras are the first thing most of us think of when we think of Mexican music. Here’s one of the most famous tunes, named for one of the Jalisco region’s numerous “sounds” (or styles) that came together to make mariachi music.
  5. Janitzio (Silvestre Revueltas), Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel, cond.
    Janitzio is an island that was famous for tourism. This large symphonic poem, written in 1933, uses the idea of a tourist-trap island to explore many different facets of Mexican music, from popular styles, to more abstract, modernist ones.
  6. Sinfonia India (Symphony No. 2) (Carlos Chavez)
    Chavez was one of the most successful Mexican composers of the mid-20th Century. Like his friend, Aaron Copland, he explored folkloric influences in his most popular works. This “Indian Symphony” is based on melodies Chavez noted down during field research among Mexico’s Native Americans.
  7. “Cake-walk” (Carlos Chavez), from the album Piano Solos of Latin America, Estela Olevsky, piano.
    Here’s an extra: a ragtime-inspired piano piece by Carlos Chavez.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.