Fiesta Coral Mexicana - Chicago a cappella

Fiesta Coral Mexicana

Program Notes

Program Notes

February 2020

“Over the past ten years, I have developed a deep love of Mexico’s incredible culture. Until the early 2000s, I was only aware of small pieces of the Mexican musical landscape—the wonderful “Mexican Baroque” and cathedral music and some negritos for Christmas that I had done with Anne Heider and His Majestie’s Clerkes (now Bella Voce) back in the 1980s. Mexican culture in general is a huge melting-pot of influences, indigenous and not, and it’s almost impossible to capture its breadth and depth even in a program like this. Take the time to read the texts and immerse yourself in the worldview that each one evokes. Mexico is a complex, delicious culture to be savored in so many ways. Know that to our south is a true treasure and be grateful for these cultural riches which we are honored to present to you now. Thank you so much for coming to hear us.”

—Jonathan Miller, Artistic Director

Program Song List

Xtoles (L’ay yum K’in)
arr. Jorge Cózatl
Exsultate Justi in Domino
Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla
Jucheti Consuelito
arr. Jóse Galván
Dic nobis, Maria
Francisco López Capillas
Mi ciudad
Guadalupe Trigo, arr. Jorge Córdoba
Éste ques ves, engaño colorido
Rodgrido Cadet
La Llorona
arr. Ramon Noble
De Sur A Norte
Julio Morales
Dios nunca muere
arr. Francisco Zúñiga Olmos
Tleycantimo choquiliya
Gaspar Fernandes
Y es que no sabes
Novelli Jurado
La Bikina
Ruben Fuentes, arr. Edgardo Romero Hernández
Besame Mucho
Consuelo Velázquez, arr. Jose Galvan
A la orilla de palmar
Manuel Maria Ponce, arr. Jorge Córdoba
Pasar la vida
Jorge Cózatl
Encore:  Te extraño
arr. José Galván

Notes on the Music

by Jonathan Miller


Trad., arr. Jorge Cózatl

There is a difference among musicologists about when Los Xtoles was created. Some of them say that it is the oldest Mayan song known and was chanted by warriors in praise of the Mayan Sun God, while others say that it is a piece from the late 19th century. In any case, this is a wonderful Mayan folksong based on a pentatonic melody. Since most popular songs were learned by heart, and passed from generation to generation, there are at least two versions of the same song and this arrangement integrates both melodies in two specific environments. The introduction is “the call,” an imitation of a caracol (conch shell), and the idea is to recreate and mix the pre-Hispanic instruments, including: ocarina (flute made of mud), maraca (shaker), quijada de burro (donkey jaws), tambores (drums) and the tunkul, a hollow log with two tongue-like grooves carved out and played with a stick.

Exsultate justi in Domino

Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (1595-1664)

Gutiérrez was born in Málaga, Spain, and came to Puebla Cathedral in 1620. At the time, Puebla was a more important religious center than Mexico City. He worked tirelessly, leaving more than 700 compositions. This joyous setting of Psalm 32 is a double-choir version in a bright key, reminiscent of the two-choir works of the Gabrielis in Venice.
Jucheti Consuelito

arr. José Galván

This song comes from the Purépechas, a people from the 15th/16th century who lived primarily in what are now parts of Jalisco and Michoacán. Their language is closer to Mayan than to Nahuatl. This is a love song directed to Consuelito.
Dic Nobis, Maria

Francisco López Capillas

If you close your eyes, you might wonder if you were listening to music from Seville in the 1500s or Mexico in the late 1600s. Another one of the great Mexican cathedral composers, López Capillas began his career in the Puebla cathedral, playing organ and bassoon. His talents were noticed by Mexico City’s cathedral organist Fabián Ximeno, who brought him onto his own musical staff. López Capillas became chapelmaster in Mexico City from 1654, a post he held until his death in 1674. López Capillas was the most prolific of the Baroque-era Mexican composers, writing in the Renaissance style of counterpoint that was brought from Spain over to the New World. This text comes from the liturgical sequence hymn, Victimae Paschali laudes.
Mi ciudad (My City)

Guadalupe Trigo, arr. Jorge Córdoba

A buoyant song celebrating the joys of Mexico City, Mi ciudad (“My City”) is an ode to this enormous metropolis. While this popular hit from the 1970s has been covered by countless artists, Jorge Córdoba nicely captures the flavor of Guadalupe Trigo’s original, especially the weaving 3-against-2 cross-rhythms.
Éste que ves, engaño colorido

Rodrigo Michelet Cadet Díaz

In the inaugural 2016-17 season of our ¡Cantaré! Chicago program, Rodrigo Cadet was our composer-in residence. The kids fell in love with him. In addition to his playful side, Rodrigo can be deeply serious, as in this piece that he wrote for Chicago a cappella as part of the commissioning project. This poem by the Mexican nun known as Sor Juana de la Cruz is evocative of the book of Ecclesiastes in its clear-eyed sense of the fleetingness of human life. Rodrigo Cadet’s music at times hangs in the air, creating a sense of timelessness in this remarkable piece, which runs roughly five minutes in duration.
La llorona

Trad., arr. Ramón Noble

This famous song about a weeping woman (“La llorona,” literally from the verb llorar, to weep) has been put in many different arrangements. This one is by the great Ramón Noble, folklorist and champion of Mexican culture who made many Mexican melodies accessible around the world through his choral works on traditional material.

De sur a norte

Julio Morales

When Julio Morales joined us for ¡Cantaré! in the 2018-19 season, he wrote this piece for Chicago a cappella. The text by Stephany Aguirre Moreno is both earthy and expressive. The composer wrote as follows in the score: The work written under the framework of the project “Cantaré” aims to cover a theme that achieves to create bridges between Mexican and American culture; definitely Stephany Aguirre Moreno was the best inspiration. Her poem “From South to North” describes the experiences and sensations that a person faces when traveling abroad. In the words of the writer: “It is from south to north because also from the south we move north in a peaceful, legal and human way to live and learn from experiences that the world gives us.” This work seeks to convey empathy between cultures because we all have fears and doubts. However, the passion to carry out actions for the common good invites us to know and respect those who are different.
Dios nunca muere

Trad., arr. Francisco Zúñiga Olmos

This is essentially the state song of Oaxaca, arranged for choir by Francisco Zúñiga Olmos. The composer was another of the ¡Cantaré! musicians who has worked in the Twin Cities with Vocalessence. He wrote the following note for his setting:

I composed an 8-piece a cappella arrangement for VocalEssence, from the immortal waltz, Dios nunca muere [God Never Dies], by Macedonio Alcalá, composed in the nineteenth century and which is practically the hymn of the state of Oaxaca. Its key themes are life, death and especially, God.

He compuesto para VocalEssence, me permití realizar un arreglo a 8 voces a capella del inmortal vals Dios nunca muere, de Macedonio Alcalá, compuesto en el siglo XIX y que es prácticamente el Himno del Estado de Oaxaca. Aquí los temas centrales son de nuevo la vida, la muerte y especialmente Dios.

Tleycantimo choquiliya

Gaspar Fernández

Here is a piece in Nahuatl, mixed with Spanish. Gaspar Fernández was born in the Old World—Portugal. He came first as a working musician to Guatemala in 1599 and then in 1606 to Mexico, where he worked in Puebla (east of Mexico City), one of the five most important colonial Mexican cities. Though classically trained and completely adept at writing high-quality Renaissance-style church music with Latin texts, he also wrote and collected villancicos—literally, “songs of the villages”—in vernacular styles, not only in Spanish and Portuguese but also in Amerindian and even a faux-African dialect that appears later in this program. He even wrote a piece all in Nahuatl, as well as this catchy tune, Tleycantimo Choquiliya. Despite the jaunty 6/8 meter and the F-major key, all is not sweetness and light here. The text partly expresses the tension between the belief in a single God, as dictated by the Christian conquerors, and the more pantheistic native religion, which described many aspects of divine beings.
Y es que no sabes

Novelli Jurado

Here is another work written just for Chicago a cappella. This is by Novelli Jurado, who is originally from Mexico City and now lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Michelle. The two met when the composer was in the Twin Cities for his first ¡Cantaré! residency in 2012. The composer writes:

The song was composed in a bolero style. Since 1921 this music genre has represented Mexico’s rich musical tradition very well. The lyrics of this genre speak about love and passion. The bolero gained an important place in Mexico’s culture with the golden era of Mexico’s cinematography (1936-1959) in which Agustin Lara and Pedro Infante – two of Mexico’s greatest performers – used to act and sing.

The idea with this composition is to share two different approaches to a bolero song. In the first, after an 8-bar introduction, there is the main theme with lots of chord extensions (using chord notes such as the 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th). The second has this same theme in other keys with a more realistic Mexican style, using simple harmony and having the basses sing a melodic line in a very “Latin” way. Also, a tenor and an alto will play maracas and a clave while they sing, which are two instruments very often used in bolero songs. In the middle section there is a bridge where the ensemble breaks in to SSAA to make a thinner sound and to contrast the 7 to 8 voices that both themes have. The final part of the bridge helps to do the transition and prepare the bass’s motives.

La Bikina

Rubén Fuentes arr. Luis Fdo Rodriguez Z.

La Bikina is a famous Mexican song composed by Rubén Fuentes Gasson in 1964. Sources say the song was written after a stroll along the beach where his son told him that the women wearing bikinis should be called “bikinas.” Fuentes, born in 1926, is a classical violinist and composer best known for his contributions to mariachi music. He was the music director of Mexico RCA Victor during the 1950s and 1960s after his work with the famous troupe known as Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Now 93 years young, he has seen his music played all over the world.
Bésame mucho

Consuelo Velázquez, arr. José Galván

This is probably the most beloved pop ballad ever to come out of Mexico. ““Bésame mucho”, a bolero written by the songwriter when she was only 16 years old, is the piece that gained her more fame than the rest of her artwork combined. Sweetly, the song was created before Consuelo received her first kiss of love. After the song was recorded by the Spanish-Mexican baritone Emilio Tuero, the famous American pianist and singer Nat “King” Cole made the first adaptation in English in 1944. The melody was inspired by the aria “Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruiseñor” (“Plaints, or the Maiden and the Nightingale”), from the 1916 opera Goyescas, by the Spanish composer Enrique Granados. Consuelo Velázquez served in the Mexican Congress and was a leader of performing-rights societies.
A la orilla de un palmar

Manuel Ponce, arr. Jorge Córdoba

Born in Zacatecas, Manuel Ponce is credited with being “the creator of the modern Mexican song.” He met the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos in Paris and was asked if he was doing anything to take an interest in his own country’s music, as Villa-Lobos was doing. Ponce replied that he was working in that direction. With A la Orilla de Palmar, he virtually singlehandedly invented this genre. Our a cappella version by Jorge Córdoba is sweet and full of heart.
Pasar la vida

Jorge Cózatl

This is a work of extraordinary power, exploring themes of exile, travel, and home. The composer writes:

The poem “Pasar La Vida (Hymn to Life)” was written by Jorge Mansilla, aka Coco Manto. Mansilla, originally from Bolivia, has lived in exile in Mexico for almost 30 years, and was formerly Bolivian ambassador to Mexico. Because of his long exile out of his country, the poem offers an internal and external perspective that is completely different from what we who have lived in our own country (and not in exile) have experienced.

The poem is about motion: Trashumante (Wandering Shepherd) on the move to new pastures and follows on as a Caminante (Walker), Navegante (Sailor) and Inmigrante (Immigrant). The first four stanzas develop a beautiful image of what motion means in each case, each stanza concluding with a sentence that captures this idea with a solo line.

The final stanza summarizes, in short sentences, all the moments of the poem integrating Militante de la vida (Militant of life), letting the piece conclude – after mentioning the immigrants – with an idea of being part of this world, no matter what, no matter how.

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