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A percussionist who worked mainly as a conductor, José Moncayo wrote a couple of symphonies, an opera, and a ballet, among a relatively modest output. In 1941, Carlos Chávez asked Moncayo to write a piece based on the popular music of the Veracruz area on the Gulf of Mexico for the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico, in which Moncayo had played as a percussionist since it was founded in 1932.

“Blas Galindo [a fellow composer and colleague] and I went to Alvarado, one of the places where folkloric music is preserved in its most pure form; we were collecting melodies, rhythms, and instrumentations for several days,” Moncayo recalled for one of his students. “The transcription of it was very difficult because the huapangueros never sang the same melody twice in the same way. When I came back, I showed the collected material to Candelario Huízar, who gave me a piece of advice that I will always be grateful for: ‘Introduce the material first in the same way you heard it and develop it later according to your own ideas.’ And I did it, and the result is almost satisfactory for me.”

Moncayo incorporated three traditional Veracruz huapangos – “Siqui-Siri,” “Balajú,” and “El Gavilán” – into his orchestral masterpiece. Colorfully orchestrated with an emphasis on instruments typical of the Veracruz style (trumpet, harp, and violins) and driven by the distinctive huapango rhythm, Huapango has become an enduring classic. Chávez premiered it in August 1941 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.