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José Pablo Moncayo and Huapango


José Pablo Moncayo-García (June 29, 1912 – June 16, 1958) was a Mexican pianist, percussionist, music teacher, composer and conductor, who produced some of the masterworks that best symbolize the essence of the national aspirations and contradictions of Mexico in the 20th century.  Born on June 29, 1912, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Moncayo was introduced to music by his elder brother Francisco.  Eduardo Hernández Moncada is reported as the first teacher of José in 1926, when the teenager was fourteen years old.  Hernández Moncada suggested his pupil Moncayo study at the National Conservatory.  Moncayo was admitted to the conservatory in 1929; meanwhile, in order to finance his studies, he worked as a jazz pianist.  Moncayo took composition lessons with Candelario Huízar, and it is known that he continued his piano instruction with Hernández Moncada.  It is not certain in which courses Moncayo registered at the conservatory and who his other teachers were.  It is known that Huízar taught courses such as harmony, counterpoint, and analysis (also called musical forms). Solfège or sight reading was taught by the eminent professors Vicente T. Mendoza and Gerónimo Baqueiro Foster. Music history was taught by Ernesto Enríquez. Luis Sandi was the conductor of the conservatory chorale.

Carlos Chávez created a composition course at the National Conservatory.  This new composition class was originally called Class of Musical Creation and later, Composition Workshop; Chávez had some colleagues as pupils, such as Vicente T. Mendoza, Candelario Huízar and Revueltas, and there were four students under twenty years of age: Daniel Ayala and Blas Galindo (both pure blooded Indians), Salvador Contreras and José Pablo Moncayo.   Chávez conducted a selection process among young students of the conservatory before admitting anyone and relates that Daniel Ayala was chosen thanks to his “incipient renown as composer, Salvador Contreras, for his violin skills, and José Pablo Moncayo, on account of his ability to do sight reading at the piano.”   It seems that the new composition course attracted many students, their number increasing year after year, but only four of them attended the final examination. These four diligent students were Moncayo, Contreras, Galindo, and Ayala.

At the first performance of the Renovation Musical Society (Sociedad Musical “Renovación”)on August 22, 1931, Moncayo presents a couple of his own compositions, Impressions in a Forest, and Impression, both for solo piano.  An opportunity of professional advancement for Moncayo in 1932 was his admission to the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico (OSM). The first program of the season of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico dated October 28, 1932, lists the name of José Pablo Moncayo for the first time as a member of the orchestra in the percussion section.  During the fall of 1932, Chávez organized a festival of chamber music at the National Conservatory and invited his friend Aaron Copland to participate in it.  Moncayo and Galindo, both incipient proteges of Chávez, also started a long and fruitful relationship with Copland. Next year, Moncayo gets a part-time job as music teacher in a school (May 16, 1933).

On December 1, 1934, the new president of Mexico, General Lázaro Cárdenas, took the oath of office. There was a change in executive positions in the federal government, and Ignacio García Téllez, former dean of the National University, was now appointed Secretary of Education. García Téllez appointed José Muñoz Cota as chief of the Department of Fine Arts; as a result Chávez was removed from the head of the National Conservatory and was replaced by his enemy Estanislao Mejía.  With the arrival of this new administration the composition workshop was terminated.  Consequently, the composition training of Moncayo and his young friends was interrupted. They were branded as “Chavistas” and blacklisted by the new administration of the Conservatory, to the point of setting obstacles for their registration. They decided to give a first concert with their compositions demonstrating with it the truthfulness of the class of Music Creation that had been suppressed from the study plan of the Conservatory. On November 25, 1935, the first concert of these young composers took place at the Teatro de Orientación.  Moncayo premièred his Sonatina for solo piano, performed by himself, and premiered as well Amatzinac, for flute and string quartet.

In the collection of programs of the year 1936 at library of the National Arts Center, in Mexico City, José Pablo Moncayo is listed as a member of the percussion section of the controversial National Symphony Orchestra created in 1935 at the National Conservatory by Estanislao Mejía and conducted by Silvestre Revueltas from 1936 on.  The OSM programs preserved at the Library of the National Center of the Arts have the program of September  5, 1936, where Moncayo’s La Adelita was premiered by the Orquesta Sinfónica de México, within the children’s concert series, under Carlos Chávez’s baton. One week later, on September 11, Moncayo made his debut as orchestra conductor with the OSM, at the age of 24. During the seventh program of the season, Chávez gave Moncayo the opportunity to conduct the opening work of the evening, the Prelude of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin.  The same month, in another program of the children’s concert series, the one of September 26, 1936, another arrangement by Moncayo, La Valentina, was premiered by the OSM, conducted by Carlos Chávez.  In 1941 Chávez organized a concert of Mexican music with the OSM that included some of the works presented previous year in New York and requested Moncayo and Contreras to write compositions for such program.   Moncayo prepared a new work called Huapango.

Moncayo’s Huapango was premièred on  August 15, 1941, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes by the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico under Chávez’s baton.   Programs of the 1942 season list Eduardo Hernández Moncada as assistant conductor and José Pablo Moncayo at the piano as well as in the percussion section. Moncayo began to work on an ambitious project, a symphony. That summer, Moncayo and Galindo were granted scholarships from the Rockefeller Foundation to study at the Berkshire Music Institute, known today as the Tanglewood Music Center.  Moncayo worked in Berkshire not only on his symphony but also completed another work, probably in Copland’s composition course, Llano Grande for chamber orchestra, which was premiered by the orchestra during the Berkshire Festival on August 21.   The programs of 1945 reveal that Moncayo was appointed assistant conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in that year and that his activities as conductor increased.  The year 1946, the rising conducting career of Moncayo brought him to his next position. Chávez appointed the thirty-four-year-old conductor as artistic director of the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, while Chávez remained its musical director.

However, the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico season program of 1948 no longer listed Moncayo as a member of the orchestra. In 1948 Eduardo Hernández Moncada was the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra (Mexico) (OSN)—created in 1947 under the aegis of the National Institute of Fine Arts—and within the programs Moncayo’s name appears on the list of musicians as the orchestra pianist.  Chávez, as general director of the Fine Arts Institute, appointed Moncayo as music director/conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra (Mexico) on January 1, 1949.  The last program found with Moncayo’s name as conductor of the OSN dates from Wednesday February 17, 1954.  The program included Three Pieces for Orchestra by Moncayo. This was the last time in his life Moncayo conducted the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico. His name never again appeared on a program of the OSN.  On June 16, 1958, Moncayo died in his home in Mexico City, only a few days before his forty-sixth birthday.

José Pablo Moncayo is best known as the author of Huapango, a bright, short symphonic piece that is sometimes included in concerts by American orchestras. Moncayo’s death coincided with the decline of the Nationalist movement and marked the end of the Mexican nationalist composition school.   Moncayo’s best-known work continues to be his colorful orchestral fantasy Huapango (1941), but his production also includes many other pieces of a high quality, notwithstanding their lesser fame. Among these are works like Amatzinac for flute and string quartet (1935); his Symphony (1944); Sinfonietta (1945); Homenaje a Cervantes for two oboes and string orchestra (1947); his opera La Mulata de Córdoba (1948); Tierra de Temporal (1949); Muros Verdes for piano solo (1951); Bosques (1954); and the ballet Tierra (1958).

The following work by José Pablo Moncayo is contained in my collection:

Huapango (1941).


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