Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 2
Commissioned in 1994 by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Danzón No. 2 is one of the most frequently performed pieces of Mexican contemporary classical music. Based on the Mexican partnered dance, the ‘danzon’ genre utilises syncopation, offbeats and pauses, where the dancers hold elegant positions before carrying on. This significant work is scored for full orchestra, and sees many instruments highlighted with solo lines.
Arturo Márquez was born in Sonora, Mexico in 1950. Surrounded by a musical family, Márquez studied composition with the likes of Federico Ibarra, Hector Quintanar, and Joaquín Gutierrez Heras. Márquez composed eight Danzon works in total, with the second being by far the most popular. The work is dedicated to his daughter Lily, and was premiered in March 1994 in Mexico City. The inspiration for this work and his other Danzóns comes from a visit Márquez took in 1993 with some friends. In Malinalco his friends taught Márquez about the Mexican danzón, a dance which oozes passion, elegance and sophistication. Márquez visited some dance halls in Mexico City, where he soaked in the culture of this dance, and thus paid homage to this in Danzón No. 2.
Although similar to a tango, the Mexican danzón is essentially the northern counterpart. They are similar due to the syncopated rhythms, melancholy melodies, and sultry tones. The danzón was originally from Cuba, as its roots go back to the Habenera. It was only in the 1900s that the danzón became more popular in Mexico. Danzón No. 2 has been described by the composer as representing ‘sensuality, nostalgia, and jubilant escape’.
As one of Mexico’s greatest musical treasures, Márquez was already famous in his homeland when Danzón No. 2 was premiered. However, this work gained him important international recognition. The popularity of this work was also helped by conductors Simón Bolívar and Gustavo Dudamel, who both included this work in their American and European orchestral tours. This work has been so popular that Mexico have dubbed it their ‘second national anthem’. As well as being true to the dance form, Danzón No. 2 is also an important cultural statement. This work aims to accurately represent Márquez’s country, and its multi-cultural heritage. Márquez says more in his programme notes for the work:
“The Danzón No. 2 is a tribute to the environment that nourishes the genre. It is a very personal way of paying my respects and expressing my emotions towards truly popular music.”
Beginning with a sultry clarinet, this slow introduction sets the tone for the work. Starting with a slow introduction is typical of a danzón, as the music grows into fiery passion after it builds up for a while. The sparse texture here emphasises the classic Latin rhythm played on the claves. The solo soon turns into a duet between the clarinet and oboe. The idea of these two instruments circling one another in this duet represents the two dancers on the dance floor.
The initial melodic theme is taken on by the strings, and then subsequently passed around the orchestra. There is a significant change in mood, where the orchestra become more more forceful with their bowing and accents. There is a short pause again, where the piccolo flute has a short solo, which then takes us into the lyrical section. Led by a solo violin, this sensual solo reminisces the beginning of the piece.
This lyrical section slowly draws to a close, and an even more boisterous sections begins. The percussive strings and deep brass lines sing out, and the dance becomes even more wild than before. A solo from the trumpet leads into an even more chaotic section. Each fragment of the danzón rhythms can he heard in succession, and the orchestra begin to grow in intensity. With the ensemble on the brink of pandemonium, the orchestra unite on a repeated rhythm, that is on one note. This grows from quiet to loud, which builds the intensity further, until the work rises to an exciting conclusion.
You can hear this work live in Sheffield on 9th and 22nd June by the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra. More details here.