21st June 2021
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Three Mexican Composers You Need To Know

Three Mexican Composers You Need To Know
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Latin American and Mexican composers both past and present are often overlooked in the history of Classical music, yet there is a rich and interesting history filled with generations of stories and unknown beautiful music. Western Classical Music has been largely male-dominated, whitewashed and Euro-centric since the dawn of the ‘common practice period’ around 1600. Long overdue conversations are finally opening up around diversity and inclusion within the music education and performance sectors. Here’s a little look at three Mexican composers you need to know. 

Julián Carrillo Trujillo

Julián Carrillo Trujillo (1875 – 1965) was a truly fascinating Mexican composer who was ahead of his time. Misunderstood by some in his lifetime, he created a theory of microtonal music he named “The Thirteenth Sound”.

Microtonal music is still a niche area today because microtones are notes that are found ‘in between’ the usual intervals of notes; imagine sliding between ‘regular’ notes and that is where you’ll find microtones.

While Eastern music such as Indian Classical music, Gamelan, and African music have long-embraced microtonal systems, Western Classical music has been very much fixed in the traditional twelve-tone equal temperament.

The mathematics of creating music with microtones is brilliantly complex, and there is a lot of science and skill behind crafting instruments and music tuned to hit these notes. A gifted violinist, Carrillo concentrated on dividing the strings into different intervals and studying the physical and mathematical elements of music. While traditional Western music divides an octave into twelve notes, Carrillo’s new system was named Sonido 13, or Thirteenth Sound because it moved beyond the twelve note scale.

“The thirteenth sound will be the beginning of the end and the point of departure of a new musical generation which will transform everything.” – Julián Carrillo Trujillo

While many appreciated his work, both traditionalist and microtonal, he faced opposition against The Thirteenth Sound Theory from opponents that called themselves “Group 9” who publicly argued about the theory in the press, and via broadcasts and conferences.

Nowadays, microtonal music is commonplace in the West across genres, as incidental music, in soundtracks, and note modulation is a standard built-in feature of most – if not all, modern synthesisers. Revered by many, and opposed by the haters in Group 9, there’s no doubt Carrillo was an illustrious pioneer.

Preludio a Colón Prelude to Christopher Columbus – 1922

José Pablo Moncayo García

José Pablo Moncayo García (1912 – 1958) was a composer who was well known for representing Mexican nationalism in his music in the 20th Century.

His most popular piece was the 1941 Huapango, which is a type of Mexican dance inspired by the popular music of the Veracruz region, and folkloric music traditions. While Moncayo was greatly revered in Mexico, he has been largely overlooked in American history despite spending time studying and writing there. In addition to his compositions, Moncayo was also an accomplished pianist, percussionist and conductor, and held many prestigious roles in his career. His untimely death in 1958 coincided with the end of the Mexican nationalist musical movement era.

Huapango – 1941

Arturo Márquez Navarro

Arturo Márquez Navarro (born 20 December 1950) is an orchestral composer who references musical forms and styles of Mexico, incorporating them into his works. Because of this, he is regarded as a controversial composer, though his importance remains; he has been awarded several honours and prizes, and his Danzónes are often used for ballet productions throughout the world.

Márquez is an interesting composer because in his Danzónes he revived the Veracruz regional style that was favoured by Moncayo; blending Western Classical voicings with Latin American styles.

His compositions are unique, and beautifully demonstrate how a meeting of different worlds can have wonderfully satisfying results. He is acknowledged as one of the most important Mexican composers of his generation.

Danzón No. 2 – 1994

Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

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