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¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

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Sí!, Today is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday and I am taking this opportunity to explain why it is NOT Mexican Independence Day.  That date is September 16th, and perhaps that will be a future blog post. But, this holiday celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the town of Puebla.  Mexico has a long history of occupations by European countries as they fought for the rich spoils of this beautiful country. And curiously, this battle’s outcome had an impact on the American Civil War. After the French army landed and captured Veracruz, a major port on the Pacific coast, they attempted to push inland and take Mexico City. Napoleon’s army encountered a smaller and poorly armed Mexican army in Puebla on May 5, 1862 and were defeated soundly. This victory boosted the pride of the Mexican people and united them in their cause for independence. Had the French won, it’s likely they would have supported the Southern Confederacy by freeing up the Union imposed blockade on southern ports. (Then Rhett Butler would not have had an opportunity as a daring blockade runner to bring Scarlett those darling bonnets from Paris, but I digress.)

Because our neighbor to the south has so many different regional traditions, it will be difficult to bring attention to every aspect of their music. But if I can’t write in depth about an area, I can reference a site or event that will provide more information like this podcast from December 2013.

Copland and Chavez
Photo of Carlos Chavez at the piano as Aaron Copland, standing, looks on.

For our musical purposes, let’s divide it into two sections; popular and classical. But in Mexico, even these overlap with the most wonderful results. In the twentieth century, two names were mentioned in the U.S. and Europe as representative of new classical music from Mexico; Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas. Chávez traveled abroad to Europe and lived many years in New York City, counting Aaron Copland as one of his friends.

He returned to Mexico and founded the National Symphony, was Director of the National Conservatory and Director of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. A wonderful interview with him is available on the Internet Archive and I loved hearing his voice and commentary after playing his music for many years. Silvestre Revueltas was a violinist composer, and promoter of Mexican music.

Black and white photo of Silvestre Revueltas.

He has many film scores to his credit such as Redes, and one work Sensemaya,  is a favorite of audiences everywhere.  It contains rich orchestration, restless driving rhythms, and a cool tuba solo in the opening.

The Library of Congress, along with the Music, Hispanic and Rare Book and Special Collection divisions and other organizations, sponsored The Two Faces of Mexican Music  featuring the music and contributions of these composers. Other Mexican composers are Manuel Ponce, of which we have some guitar works in our collection at BRM 35157 and Agustin Lara, who wrote Granada, BRM 33753, and available on BARD at BRM 35221. Late twentieth-century composers include Mario Lavista, the late Eugenio Toussaint providing a jazz influence in his work, and the late Daniel Catán, who achieved success with the premiere of his opera Il Postino shortly before his untimely death in 2011.

In the popular venue, each region has developed its own style, depending on its traditions and influences. In Veracruz, a maritime port, harps and songs like La Bamba are heard. The word mariachi is based upon the French word for marriage; mariage, and all brides needed some romantic music for their wedding, right? So Los Mariachis, strolling musicians singing and serenading songs of love and courtship have their origins in Guadalajara. I am happy to report that this type of music is now becoming part of the curriculum in junior high and high schools here in the U.S., mainly in the Southwest. It’s a wonderful way to preserve beautiful music, teaching the young people. We have Mariachi Music on DBM 01072 discussing and playing music of Mexican Americans. For a different locale, listen to Songs of the Mexican Border at DBM 00049 talking about influences from Mexico and the U.S. Corridos are ballads dwelling on social issues of the time. Corridos: Contemporary Chicano music is on BARD and available at DBM 01023. Even drug lords are memorialized in narco-corridos. Norteño music is presented in DBM 01024, Narcisco Martines: Lydia Mendoza. Juanita Gonzales interviews Santiago and Flaco Jimenez at DBM 01025. One final offering is Los Trios: the Romance of the Modern Troubadours at DBM 01027, with a live performance of each member as they speak of their musical background and vocal techniques.

I hope this has helped some of you understand a small part of this colorful and interesting country. Here is a brindis (toast) to all of you on this Cinco de Mayo!


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