Printer Friendly VersionSend by email

            Today, Moncayo is revered as one of the leading exponents of Mexican nationalism in musical style, important in the first half of the twentieth century.  While his name is not as familiar to US audiences as perhaps that of Carlos Chávez and Silvestre Revueltas, he played an important part in the musical life of Mexico until his premature death in 1958 at the age of 45.  In addition to his activities as a composer, he also played percussion and piano with symphony orchestras, and was a well-respected and active conductor until his death.  He entered the National Conservatory of Mexico in 1929 and received a thorough formal education in music, becoming, along with three of his compatriots, a protégé of Chávez.  Turning to musical composition early on, he premièred some of his compositions by 1931, subsequently joined several symphony orchestras, and finally took the baton as a conductor in 1936 at the age of twenty-four.  He went on to attend the prestigious Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts on scholarship in 1941.   There he met such luminaries as Aaron Copland, Serge Koussevitzky, and the young Leonard Bernstein.

            About that time his well-known and most performed composition, Huapango, received its first performance.   It is based upon popular themes from the Mexican state of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. Chávez had sent Moncayo there to collect music indigenous to the area, and the orchestra fantasy based upon some of those themes was the result.  A huapango is a Mexican folk dance and a musical style, played by a small group of instrumentalists, a violin and two different sizes of guitars.  And, of course, the varying rhythms of the traditional huapango match the complex dance steps of the dancers.

            Moncayo, like all good composers, demonstrates a formidable mastery of making much of little material.  The challenge here is especially large in pulling together a medley of pre-existing tunes, and making a coherent whole of them.  His sparkling and imaginative orchestration keeps the interest up—its light and colorful palette is strongly redolent of much French music, and why not, so much great Hispanic music was written by Frenchmen, it seems.   The lilting, galloping rhythm, with familiar Mexican syncopations, unstintingly carries us through a series of charming solos until a softer and slower middle section, initially carried by the woodwinds, provides some contrast.  After a bit, the tempo kicks up again, and an exciting, breezy drive to conclusion ensues.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2018 William E. Runyan