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Madison Symphony Orchestra Program Notes

May 3-4-5, 2024

98th Season / Subscription Program 8

J. Michael Allsen

Our final program is a celebration of music from Mexico and Spain, opening with José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango, a joyful take on a folk dance from the Mexican state of Veracruz. Making his Madison Symphony Orchestra debut at these concerts, the brilliant young Mexican pianist Rachid Bernal plays Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla. This work was inspired by Falla’s beloved Andalusia. We then perform the colorful—and sometimes savage—Night of the Mayas by Silvestre Revueltas. This work will be coordinated with projected images assembled by the MSO’s Peter Rodgers. And as the gran final of this fiesta, we welcome the famed Mariachi de los Camperos for an exuberant set of mariachi music!



This lively work, Moncayo’s most popular piece, is based upon the folk music of Veracruz.


José Pablo Moncayo

Born: June 29, 1912, Guadalajara, Mexico.

Died: June 16, 1958, Mexico City, Mexico.



     Composed: 1941.

     Premiere: August 15, 1941 in Mexico City, by the Orquestra Sinfónica de Mexico, under the direction of Carlos Chávez.

     Previous MSO Performances: This is our first performance of the work.

     Duration: 9:00.



Though he had a lamentably short career, composer José Pablo Moncayo became one of Mexico’s leading musical figures.


Moncayo trained in Mexico City, and became a protégé of the great Mexican composer Carlos Chávez, but was closely associated with the more radical Silvestre Revueltas as well. Moncayo also studied briefly with Aaron Copland in the United States. While still a student in Mexico City, he started his career as a percussionist in Orquestra Sinfónica de Mexico (Symphony Orchestra of Mexico), and he would eventually succeed Chávez as conductor, leading the orchestra from 1949-1954. In the 1930s, Moncayo was part of the “Group of Four”—an influential group of like-minded young nationalist composers who stated aim was to forward the cause of classical works based on Mexican musical material. By far his most popular work is the Huapango, composed in 1941 for a commission by Chávez. Moncayo completed the work that summer while attending the Tanglewood Festival near Boston, at the invitation of Copland and conductor Serge Koussevitsky.


What You’ll Hear

The fast-paced opening and closing sections are based upon a pair of songs from Veracruz, and the more relaxed middle section adapts a third.


The title Huapango refers to a folk dance associated with the son huasteca—the lively folk music of the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz. The huapango is traditionally danced on a low wooden platform, so that the dancers’ footwork can provide a percussive counterpoint to the son. There is a large repertoire of traditional sones, but good singers—huasteceros—will seldom sing a son huasteca the same way twice: changing melodies at will and inserting topical references and joking asides to their audience. In 1940, Moncayo and his friend Blas Galindo took a folk song collecting trip to the coastal city of Alvarado in Veracruz, and Mocayo transcribed versions of three songs that he later adapted in his Huapango. The bold opening section is based on two songs, El siquisiri an El balajú, with the lively alternation between duple and triple meters that characterizes much of Mexican folk music. A slightly slower, more stately contrasting section adapts El gavilán, but the tempo soon ratchets up for a wild reprise of the opening music.



This colorful work by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla is inspired by the music and sights of his native region, Andalusia.


Manuel de Falla

Born: November 23, 1876 Cádiz, Spain.

Died: November 14, 1946, Alta Gracia, Argentina.


Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain)

     Composed: Between 1909 and 1915.

     Premiere: April 9, 1916 in Madrid, with piano soloist José Cubiles.

     Previous MSO Performances: 1954 (Joyce Hilary) and 1987 (Grant Johannesen).

     Duration: 23:00.



Among the leading Spanish composers of his generation, Falla spent years in Paris absorbing the most progressive French styles, but his music remained firmly rooted in Spanish style and sensibility.


Born in the southern Spanish port city of Cádiz, in the heart of Andalusia, Manuel de Falla never forgot his musical roots. By 1900, he had moved to Madrid, and took part in the vigorous musical life of the capital, taking lessons at the conservatory, and forming close bonds with like-minded young composers like Isaac Albeníz, Enrique Granados, and Joaquin Turina. In 1907, he moved to Paris, then the artistic capital of Europe and a magnet for ambitious young musicians. While he eagerly absorbed the newest French styles, his music remained firmly grounded in Spain. His first great successes, the opera La vida breve (1913) and the drama (later a ballet) El amor brujo (1915) are both set in Andalusia, and both are filled with references to Andalusian and Roma/Gypsy music. When war broke out in 1914, he returned to Madrid, beginning what would the most successful period in his career, producing, among many other works, the intoxicating Nights in the Gardens of Spain.


This work was initially sketched out while was in Paris. In January 1909, Falla wrote home asking his family to send a copy of Jardins d’Espanya: a deluxe set of reproductions of landscape paintings of Spain’s most famous formal gardens, by the Catalan artist Santiago Rusiñol. With Rusiñol’s paintings as an initial inspiration, he set to work on a set of piano pieces that would become Nights in the Gardens of Spain. What began as a set of four nocturnes went through many revisions until he settled on three-movement set of “symphonic impressions” for solo piano and orchestra, completed in 1915, after he had returned to Madrid.


What You’ll Hear

The piece is three movements, with descriptive titles:

En el Generalife begins quietly and maintains a relaxed feeling throughout, with a flashy overlay from the piano.

• The brief Danza lejana is based upon a flamenco song form, with the piano imitating the strumming of a flamenco guitar. This leads directly into the finale.

En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba is forceful and passionate, ending


When the work was premiered at Madrid’s Royal Theatre in 1916 Falla wrote that: “The author of these symphonic impressions for piano and orchestra considers that, if his aims have been successful, the simple listing of their titles should be guidance enough for their listeners.” He also notes: “Bear in mind that the music of these nocturnes does not try to be descriptive, but rather simply expressive, and that something more than the echoes of fiestas and dances has inspired these musical evocations, in which pain and mystery also play a part.”


Despite Falla’s note, a little bit of explanation just might be needed for those of us not intimately familiar with Spanish dances and famous Spanish gardens. The first movement, En el Generalife (At the Generalife) refers to the astonishing 14th-century Moorish palace and gardens that are a part of the Alhambra in Granada. The music is based upon the Andalusian jaleo, a highly expressive song accompanied by clapping. The opening is hushed and atmospheric, and when the piano enters, it weaves a sinuous counterpoint around the main idea. According to Falla, a second idea heard in the piano near the middle of the movement was borrowed from a blind fiddler who played it on the streets of Madrid. There are occasional bursts of stronger rhythm in this movement, but the music always returns to the quiet, moody character of the opening. The second movement, Danza lejana (Distant Dance), is filled with whirling fragments of the malagueña, an emotional flamenco song form. Throughout the movement the piano imitates the strumming sound of the Spanish guitar. A sudden upward sweep at the end of the movement leads directly in the third moment, En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba), inspired by the gardens of the 14th-century Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of the Christian Monarchs) in Córdoba. Here, Falla paints a picture of a zambra gitana, a party where Roma musicians provide the entertainment. The movement is set as a copla, an Andalusian form where a refrain alternates with improvised verses. The forceful main idea alternates here with impressionistic contrasting material provided mostly by the piano. This eventually winds down to a quiet and reflective ending.



This work is an adaptation of a film score by Revueltas, assembled 20 years after his death.


Silvestre Revueltas

Born: December 31, 1899, Santiago Papasquiaro, Mexico.

Died: October 5, 1940, Mexico City, Mexico.


La noche de las Mayas (The Night of the Mayas), arr. José Ives Limantour

     Composed: 1939.

     Premiere: This music was originally written for a 1939 film. The suite heard here was prepared by José Ives Limantour in 1960. Limantour also directed the first performance on January 30, 1961, by the Orquestra Sinfónica de Guadalajara.

     Previous MSO Performances: This is our first performance of the work.

    Duration: 26:00.



Revueltas was a radical—musically and politically—and created a style that was influenced by both Mexican music and European modernism. This clearly heard in his score to La noche de las Mayas, which was among his final works.


Born into an artistic family in the Mexican state of Durango, Silvestre Revueltas trained as a violinist, composer, and conductor in Mexico and the United States. In the late 1920s he became a protégé of Mexico’s leading musical figure, Carlos Chávez. When Revueltas was not yet 30, Chávez invited him to become assistant conductor of Orquestra Sinfónica de Mexico. After a promising start, the end of his career was much darker. He broke with Chavez in 1936, and briefly directed a rival national orchestra. In 1937, Revueltas left for Spain to lend his support to anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. He eventually fled back to Mexico when Francisco Franco’s fascists seized total power in Spain. Though he continued to compose, his last few years were marked by increasing depression, poverty, and alcoholism. He died of pneumonia at age 40. Though relatively little known for many years after his death, Revueltas’s unique music has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few decades.


As a composer, Revueltas was much more interested in contemporary European styles than most of his Mexican contemporaries. His orchestral and chamber music was often a blend of modernist techniques with a huge array of Mexican musical influences. He brought this same approach to several film scores written between 1935 and 1939. The last of these was for the 1939 film La noche de las Mayas, directed by Chano Uruete. This was a drama centering on an isolated community of Maya Indians in Mexico’s Yucatán jungle, and the disastrous result of their encounter with modern culture, in the guise of a white explorer who finds the tribe. Revueltas’s score uses a variety of indigenous melodies, and a range of percussion instruments from the region. Revueltas died before he could create a concert version of this music. German composer Paul Hindemith created a concert suite from selections from Revueltas’s score in 1946. However, the 1960 version by conductor José Ives Limantour is how the score is usually heard today. Limantour took a very free hand in arranging over 30 of Revueltas’s brief musical cues for the film into a large four-movement suite. The suite uses a fairly standard orchestra but an enormous percussion battery in the final movement, requiring twelve players. It calls for several indigenous instruments, including caracol (conch shell), sonajas (metal rattles), teponaxtles (large hollow wooden “slit drums”), and huehuetl (a large bass drum).


What You’ll Hear

This concert suite, arranged by José Ives Limantour, is in four movements:

Noche de los Mayas begins and ends calmer episode in the middle of the movement.

Noche de los Jarana is more lighthearted, set above a dance rhythm.

Noce de Yucatán is a calm piece of “night music” with hints of darkness.

Noche de encantamiento is where Limantour unleashes the full percussion battery. Most of the movement is a series of variations on a theme heard at the opening.


The opening movement, Noche de los Mayas, begins with a threatening fanfare—1930s “movie music” of the most dramatic kind. This is followed by a more relaxed episode and quietly repetitive music from the woodwinds that evokes indigenous melodies. The movement ends with a reprise of the opening music. Noche de los Jarana is a much lighter scherzo. (Jarana is slang for a drunken party.) The frantic forward motion never stops, as music flits between various meters. The strings act as timekeepers, as brass and woodwinds interject contrasting ideas: a mournful conch-shell call from the tuba, a brief attempt to upset the strings’ rhythm, and a slightly tipsy but quick-footed dance from the brass. Noce de Yucatán begins with lyrical and sometimes tense music, evoking the surrounding jungle. This is interrupted briefly by a short interlude for solo flute and drums: an indigenous melody borrowed by Revueltas. The opening mood returns at the bend, but is shattered by a sudden percussive crack that begins the last movement, Noche de encantamiento (Night of enchantment). The oboe lays out a theme used throughout the movement, followed by an angry response from the strings and brass. The rest of the movement is a set of four increasingly ferocious variations on the opening theme, dominated entirely by the percussion. These percussion parts, meant to sound improvised, were added by Limantour, and are not part of Revueltas’s film score. The movement ends with a savage coda.


program notes ©2023 by J. Michael Allsen