La Fiesta Mexicana is a Mexican folk song symphony composed by H. Owen Reed. He has often been asked how he happened to write this popular American classic with its lively Mexican orchestration. The following is taken from Reed's lecture notes.
In 1948 I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to compose in Mexico. One of my projects was to write a symphony for concert band, primarily for Col. William F. Santelman and the U. S. Marine Band. It was while living in Cuernavaca that I happened upon a book called, MEXICO by Stuart Chase. [ED: Mexico; a study of two Americas]
(MacMillan Co., 1946).
"I knew immediately that I had found the framework for a three-movement symphony. There only remained the job of collecting some folk songs which I felt must be a small part of such a work as this. Also, I recognized that this kind of a program would lend itself well to choreography... and, incidentally, La Fiesta Mexicana has since been performed with dancers, costumes and staging.
The Mexican march EL Toro, I heard and transcribed at the Plaza del Toros in Cuernavaca.
The Aztec Dance I purchased from Senor Aceves, an ethnomusicologist who had collected Aztec folk music in the mountains of Mexico. (These two melodies are found in the first movement).
In a small choir loft in Chapala, I heard the chant from the Liber Usualis which I used in the second movement.
The two-against-three rhythm of the two bells used throughout La Fiesta Mexicana was a standard cliche of the young musicians who seemed to have little respect for my early morning sleep. Again this was in Chapala.
The middle section of the third movement makes use of El Son de la Negra a tune often played by the mariachis. My effort in transcribing this number, with its extremely intricate polyrhythms and its live performance by the mariachis [ED: or town band], is a story too tedious for this account!"
H. Owen Reed
Michigan State University