Marquez – Danzón No. 2
by Max Derrickson
Arturo Marquez (b Álamos, Sonoma, Mexico, 1950 – )
Danzón No. 2
Above the quiet accompaniment of lazy piano chords and a slow and steady basic Latin rhythm from the claves, a solo clarinet sings. It’s a nostalgic song, a bit lonesome, and utterly beguiling. This opening to Marquez’s Danzón No. 2 perfectly creates the smoky atmosphere of a dance hall in Veracruz, Mexico, on the Gulf Coast, where older couples still gather to dance, just as their parents and grandparents did, the danzón. In certain portions of Mexico, the danzón is as important to the social fabric as the tango is in Argentina.
It was in Veracruz where Marquez first became aware of the danzón’s charms while on a trip with two artist friends in 1993. Both friends were experts in the idiom and were delighted to share the danzón’s history. The dance has its origins in the European contradance, a sequence dance (like a square dance for groups in alternating pairs) that was wildly popular in Mozart’s day. It was brought westward with colonists to Cubain the 1850’s and steadily gained its own personality and sequences, then gradually becoming a dance for couples only. The genre was still popular in Cubain the 1930’s when Aaron Copland wrote his famous Danzon Cubano. But before the 20th Century, the Cuban danzón migrated to Mexico, especially to the coast in the State of Veracruz, and acquired its Mexican flavors that so enticed Marquez. [. . .]
The Danzón’s popularity is well deserved. It captures a range of extremely infectious moods in its short duration, from its early lonesome nostalgia, through sultry sensuousness, through some sections of almost pure rhythm, and onto its exhilarating ending. After the clarinet sings the main melody of the work, [. . .]