Huapango is the unofficial second national anthem of Mexico. It was written in 1941 by then 29-year-old Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958), a composer and conductor from Guadalajara. Moncayo found his source material for the piece on a folk-song collecting trip to the villages Veracruz, where he encountered a dance called huapango. The name for this dance comes from a corruption of the Nahuatl word huapanco, which means “on top of the wooden plank”, or, more poetically, “on the dance floor”. Folk huapangos can be played in many forms, from a small chamber group to a large mariachi band, but all of them share a rhythmic playfulness with much of Mexican folk music. Moncayo uses this rhythmic flexibilty to great effect in his Huapango. He probes the boundaries of 6/8 time, often reveling in the space between duple and triple meter. His setting was based on three huapangos that he heard on his trip: “El Siquisiri”, “El Balajú” and “El Gavilancito”. His student, José Antonio Alcaraz, provides us with a quote from Moncayo about the piece:
Blas Galindo and I went to Alvarado, one of the places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms and instrumentations during several days. The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros (musicians) never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back to Mexico, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar; Huízar gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: “Expose the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own thought.” And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me
Huapango is Moncayo’s most lasting legacy in classical music. He wrote several other pieces for orchestra. He also was the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico from 1949 to 1954. Along with other composers like Carlos Chavez and Silvester Rivueltas, Moncayo is closely associated with the Mexican Nationalism of the period. His untimely death in 1958 is often considered the end of that era.
Huapango has been growing in popularity outside of Mexico. Gustavo Dudamel recently took his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela to the BBC Proms in London to play it:
And here’s an American military band doing it, arranged by Leroy Osmon. This is the version that we’ll be playing:
The folks songs that Moncayo used are on YouTube now. Here’s “El Siquisiri”:
“El Balaju” by a mariachi band. Watch the rhythmic interplay:
“El Gavilancito” for guitars and voices:
These are all indeed quite different from Moncayo’s realizations of them. Like he said, he never heard them the same way twice!
More on the huapango dance, including some nice listening examples, from Wikipedia.
More on Huapango the piece from Colorado Public Radio.
This is a senior choice for trombonist and taste-maker Raul Ruiz ’12.