José Pablo Moncayo was born in Guadalajara, the second city of the Mexican Republic and state capital of Jalisco. Like all notable musicians of his generation, he went to the Mexico City Conservatory, where he studied composition with Carlos Chávez (as well as harmony with Candelario Hu’zar and piano with Hernández Moncada); much later (1942) he also took lessons with Aaron Copland. In 1931 he joined the Mexican Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist (later becoming its conductor from 1949 to 1954). Most significantly, he teamed up with Blas Galindo Dimas, Daniel Ayala Pérez and Salvador Contreras in 1934 to form the radical 'Group of Four' whose aim was to foster new Mexican music while rekindling its nationalist spirit.
Following in the footsteps of the visionary Chávez, and like his fellow members of the 'Group of Four', Moncayo began by using actual examples of traditional indigenous music in his compositions as well as popular melodies and motifs. While his irresistible Huapango, based on popular rural dances, has become his most famous work internationally, all of his small output is highly original.
Like many of his generation, tradition was something to be worked in the light of contemporary musical aesthetics and approaches. Moncayo helped define Mexican modernism in such works as Amatzinac and Bosques, which betray Impressionistic traits and modal harmonies. His opera La mulata de Cordoba, considered to be one of the finest works in all 20th-century Mexican opera, tells the story of a woman condemned to death by the Inquisition for being a witch, who disappears at the moment of her execution in a cloud of fire.
Moncayo's death in 1958 is widely seen as marking the end of the nationalist school of Mexican music.
Profile © Jan Fairley
Clips (1)Latest ClipThe Music of Mexico
Tracks (3)Last Played on BBCHuapango
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