Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, August 27

Copland does Mexico (and Mexico does Copland)

Synopsis

On today's date in 1937, in Mexico City, the Mexican composer and conductor Carlos Chavez conducted the first performance of this music by Aaron Copland.

The music owes its existence to Copland's friendship with Chavez, which led to Copland visiting Mexico in 1932. Copland and Chavez paid a visit to a wild Mexico City Dance Hall called "El Salon Mexico." Quoting a guide-book description of the place in his memoirs, Copland noted its "Three halls: one for people dressed up, one for people dressed in overalls but shod, and one for the barefoot." A sign on a wall over the dance floor read: "Please don't throw lighted cigarette butts on the floor so the ladies don't burn their feet!"

"In some inexplicable way," Copland recalled, "while milling about in those crowded halls, I felt a live contact with the Mexican people — their humanity, their shyness, their dignity and unique charm. I remember quite well that it was at such a moment I conceived the idea of composing a piece about Mexico and naming it 'El Salon Mexico.'"

Five years later Chavez conducted Copland's music in Mexico City. Copland admits he was nervous about how Mexican audiences would react. He had little to fear — Chavez and the musicians loved it, and so did the local critics, who called it "as Mexican as the music of Revueltas," which at the time, says Copland, was like saying, "as American as the music of Gershwin."

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) El Salòn Mexico New Philharmonia; Aaron Copland, cond. CBS/Sony 46559

Additional Information

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