La Fiesta Mexicana
by H. Owen Reed


H. Owen Reed was born in Odessa, Missouri, on June 17, 1910. He was a pupil of both Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. He also studied with Roy Harris and Helen Gunderson. Beginning his long association with the Michigan State University in 1939, he served as professor of music and head of composition until his retirement in 1976. He is the author of several books on theory and composition. In the thirties, Reed traveled a good deal in the Americas and Europe, capturing the diversity of folk music he heard in Scandinavia, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. His La Fiesta Mexicana, a suite for full wind ensemble has been transcribed for orchestra and premiered by the Detroit Symphony. In 1975, Reed won the Neil A. Kjos Memorial Award with his unorthodox band score, For the Unfortunate. Among his other compositions are the ballet The Masque of the Red Death, the opera Peter Homan’s Dream, a symphony, concertos for violin and cello, and choral and chamber works.

Year of publication: 1954

Publisher: Mills Music

Grade: 6

Type of composition: Folk song symphony

Style: Fast, slow, fast

Programming suggestions: Subtitled A Mexican Folk Song Symphony for Concert Band, this work was written in 1949, based on experiences gained during a five-month sojourn in Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship. The authentic folk tunes Reed used can be found in Chapala, Jalisco, and Guadalajara; other themes were borrowed from Gregorian motifs and Aztec dances. The score carries this detailed description of the work by the composer:

“I. Prelude and Aztec Dance — The tumbling of the church bells at midnight officially announces the opening of the Fiesta, which has previously been unofficially announced by the setting off of fireworks, the drinking of tequila and pulque, and the migration of thousands of Mexicans and Indians to the center of activity — the high court surrounding the cathedral. After a brave effort at gaiety, the celebrators settle down to a restless night, until the early quiet of the Mexican morning is once more shattered by the church bells and fireworks. At mid-morning a band is heard in the distance. However, attention is soon focused upon the Aztec dancers, brilliantly plumed and masked, who dance in ever-increasing frenzy to a dramatic climax.”

Recording of "Mvt. I Prelude and Aztec Dance"

“II. Mass — The tolling of the bells is now a reminder that the Fiesta is, after all, a religious celebration. The rich and poor slowly gather within the great stone walls of the old cathedral [for reverent] homage to their Virgin.”

Recording of "Mvt. II Mass"

“III. Carnival — Mexico is at its best on the days of the Fiesta — days on which passion governs the love, hatred and joys of the Mestizo and the Indio. There [are] entertainment and excitement for both young and old — the itinerant circus, the market, the bullfight, the town band, and always the cantinas with the ever present band of mariachi.”

Recording of "Mvt. III Carnival"

Solo instruments: tubular bells, timpani, tom-tom, bass drum, horn, baritone, clarinet, oboe, flute, cornet

Anecdotal notes: Calls for the “sub-tone” effect. Requires for some parts to be played off-stage. Has harp, 4 temple blocks, 2 tunable tom-toms, string bass, bass saxophone, contra-bass clarinet, contra-bassoon parts. Many repeated passages many be confusing in fast sections. Latin rhythms may cause problems for young players. Requires strong players throughout each section. Large leaps in most parts. Some sections of the piece can be played independently from the movement. Long piece will require good endurance from the ensemble. Score jumps around from page to page, may cause problem for the conductor. Off-stage parts will take time to rehearse with band.

Discography: La Fiesta Mexicana. Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Fennell conductor. Mercury Records.