Program Notes: Classical III – Mozart & the Magic of Mexico


This concert opens with Mozart’s delightful Divertimento followed by his restless and famous Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Then enjoy the brilliant world of Mágico as guest photographer and multimedia artist Nicholas Bardonnay weaves stunning photographs of Mexico with the music of Revueltas and Moncayo.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(January 27, 1756-December 5, 1791)
Divertimento in D major, K.136/125a
Mozart composed a range of orchestral music, including concert genres as well as works of more flexible size and venue. While symphonies and concertos were generally designed for serious listening, works titled “serenade,” “cassation” and “divertimento” had flexible instrumentation and more frequently served as lighter background entertainment for social events.

This Divertimento was composed in Salzburg in the winter of 1772, one of three similar works produced at the time. The sixteen-year-old composer had been working extensively on operas and other heavier large-scale works, so these lighter pieces may have been a nice break. All three have a lighter feel, with pleasing melodies and simpler harmonic and formal structures, but still have musical substance that has contributed to their popularity as concert works. Maestro Golan will lead this piece from the concertmaster position, as was typical in Mozart’s day.

This piece is in three movements, fast-slow-fast in the manner of an Italian sinfonia. The opening Allegro has a charming theme that stays primarily in the violins, with appearances in both major and minor, providing expressive variety. The Andante is an elegant and lyrical contrast, with some ingenious melodic twists. A spirited Presto races off to the finish and, after a few clever twists and turns, brings the piece to an exciting and satisfying close.

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550
Mozart’s 40th symphony is the second in a set of three symphonies composed during the summer of 1788. Scholars have found no indication of a commission, so speculation is that the three were composed as a set either in hopes of selling them to a publisher, for a concert in Vienna, or even for a London concert tour. These symphonies were not published in Mozart’s lifetime, and there is no evidence that they were performed before he died.

The first movement begins mysteriously without an introduction. Eventually, the harmony moves from minor to major leading to a calmer second theme, and the exposition eventually ends triumphantly. The development focuses on the first theme, with much dramatic contrast and passing of the main musical motive around among the different sections. The recap adds a few extra twists and turns in the intervening transition and final coda. In this movement alone, one can sense Beethoven on the horizon.

The second movement is a light, lyrical contrast to the first. The strings dominate the sound, but the winds add interesting coloring and variety. By the end, the music becomes quite dramatic before it finishes gently. The third movement is labelled a Minuet but it is not the popular movement of social events—it is aggressive, almost angry, with a cross-rhythm that belies the normal three-beat dance. The Trio section, however, is surprisingly light and dance-like. The return of the Minuet sets the stage for the dramatic finale.

The fourth movement opens with a soft ascending motive in the violins that is responded to with loud chords in the full orchestra, creating a bit of unease about how this symphony might end. The contrasting theme is pleasant, almost triumphant by comparison. The development begins with a strange angular passage that uses 11 of the 12 chromatic notes, avoiding only the tonic note G. This essentially clears the ears for a development that uses all sorts of melodic, harmonic, and textural devices to explore seemingly every possible version of the opening theme. After a dramatic stop, the recap begins, revisiting both themes in minor. Unlike many symphonies in minor keys, this one does not relent and end positively—the dramatic pathos is maintained to the end.

Composers like Beethoven and Brahms knew this piece well, and history considers this symphony a masterpiece of the genre.

Silvestre Revueltas (Sánchez)
(December 31, 1899 – October 5, 1940)
Silvestre Revueltas was born in Santiago Papasquiaro in Durango, Mexico, into an artistic family. In the 1920s, he studied music at the National Conservatory in Mexico City, and then in the United States. Best known for his orchestral music, Revueltas’s most famous orchestral work is probably Sensemaya (1938), which uses indigenous musical materials in a classical orchestral setting. His musical style shows French influence, but there is considerable use of propulsive rhythms, abrupt mood swings, and melodies transcribed from the urban soundscape produced by street peddlers.
(1933, rev. 1936)
Janitzio, translated as “where it rains,” is a short work named after an island in Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán. Rather than a loving tribute, however, Revueltas said, “Lake Pátzcuaro is filthy. Romantic travelers have dressed it up with postcard-style verses and music. Not to be outdone, I added my grain of sand. Posterity will undoubtedly reward me for this contribution to our tourist industry.” Janitzio contains very active and occasionally complex rhythms, folk-sounding melodies or melodic inflections, abrupt changes in orchestration and dynamics, and extensive use of percussion and/or percussive sounds. The beginning evokes an out-of-tune local dance band, loud, raucous and sarcastic. The middle section is pleasant and calm, featuring a series of duets among various instruments. The dance band eventually returns and the ending is both chaotic and festive.
La noche de los mayas
La noche de los mayas was originally composed by Revueltas for a 1939 film. Shot on location in Yucatán jungles, the film concerns a tribe of Mayans still living in traditional ways and the romantic and cultural tragedies that result from contact with the modern world in the form of a visiting explorer. The original film score consists of 36 separate numbers to be used where needed.

In 1959, Mexican conductor José Yves Limantour took the original score and created a four-movement symphonic suite that was premiered on January 30, 1961, by the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra. He took extensive liberties with the music, including the addition of a concluding, extended “improvisation” for exotic percussion instruments. The four movements are titled “Noche de los mayas” (Night of the Mayans), “Noche de jaranas” (Night of Revelry), “Noche de Yucatán” (Night of the Yucatan), and “Noche de encantamiento” (Night of Enchantment). Tonight’s performance features only the first movement.

Night of the Mayans is very dramatic and majestic. It begins boldly with full orchestra. A calmer, plaintive section follows, emphasizing the woodwinds and strings. A simple melody gradually goes through some interesting texture changes that show some influence of Debussy, but eventually the orchestra returns to the bold opening material and the movement ends with a massive climax.

José Pablo Moncayo
(June 29, 1912-June 16, 1958)
Moncayo was a Mexican pianist, percussionist, music teacher, composer and conductor. As composer, he is considered one of the most important representatives of Mexican nationalist music in his time. Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, he studied at the National Conservatory in Mexico City, and financed his studies playing jazz piano. He had several composition teachers, including the influential leader of Mexican composition, Carlos Chávez.
Tierra de temporal (Land of Tempests)
In 1949, the Mexican Symphony Orchestra sponsored a composition contest to commemorate the centenary of the death of Chopin, and Tierra de temporal was one of three winning works. Evoking pre-Hispanic peasant culture in Mexico, the music is a mix of European and Mexican elements, with lush orchestral colors and rhythmic variety. The piece begins with a beautiful English horn solo. This gradually builds to a majestic section that peaks and subsides. Next, the oboe has a more insistent theme, leading to an upbeat section with syncopated rhythms. After this, the mood becomes considerably calmer. This is short-lived, however, as the music brightens and excitement increases. After one more slow section, the piece builds methodically to a final majestic section.
Huapango was composed at Chávez’s encouragement for a concert of music based on popular music of the southeast Mexican coast. The result was a work inspired by three popular songs of Veracruz (El Siquisiri, El Balajú, and El Gavilancito) as performed by huapangueros (musicians). Premiered on August 15, 1941, the work was immediately successful (it is considered Mexico’s second national anthem), which led to a visit to America to study with Aaron Copland. Afterwards, Moncayo returned to Mexico and had a fine, albeit short career as a composer and conductor. Huapango’s popularity has obscured his other output, but Moncayo’s influence was strong and recognized, especially within his home country.