Work: El salón México
About This Work
Copland's period as a full-time populist didn't begin until 1936, when he completed El Salón México. On a trip to Mexico in 1932, Copland resolved to write a piece using popular Mexican themes, and when he finally began its slow
assembly the following year, he borrowed tunes from collections recently published by Ruben Campos and Frances Toor. The result is a gaudy souvenir, as Copland intended; he felt unqualified, as a foreigner, to write something more serious drawing from Mexico's history or its revolutionary present. He connected the piece with a dancehall he'd visited, El Salón México, a "hot spot," Copland wrote, where "one felt, in a very natural and unaffected way, a close contact with the Mexican people. It wasn't the music I heard, but the spirit that I felt there, which attracted me."
For this work, Copland favored the Mexican huapango rhythm, essentially a measure in 6/8 answered exuberantly by a measure in 3/4. The piece begins with rhythmic brass chords and a rising string figure, but almost immediately the music, having toyed with fragments of "El Palo Verde" and "La Jesusita," loses its energy and collapses with a thud. The trumpet lazily introduces the folk tune "El Mosco" over a wheezing, inebriated-sounding accompaniment. The lower winds bring on a slow, quiet, sexy, rhythmic theme of their own, which the strings take up more grandly. Next, the higher woodwinds announce a faster, jaunty tune, which is picked up in turn by other sections of the orchestra, although the strings and percussion quickly reduce it to little more than rhythm. The brass and percussion take the lead in developing this into a dynamic, strongly accented motif. This soon plays itself out, whereupon a softer, broader, dreamier section arises. This grows organically into a faster, more vigorous section whose most arresting feature is a raucous little tune for clarinet. Now Copland builds the excitement more patiently and gradually than before, layering on and then stripping away various sections of the orchestra. A tiny bit of "El Mosco" comes to dominate the proceedings, building to an exuberant finale that Copland intentionally sabotages with a percussive whack on the offbeat.
-- James Reel, All Music Guide
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