Danzas de Panama
William Grant Still
About this Piece
William Grant Still’s Danzas de Panama date from 1948 and are based on a collection of Panamanian folk tunes that were collected by Elisabeth Waldo in the 1940s. Although there are putatively only four dances presented, each movement has at least two and sometimes three separate dances within it. The opening movement, Tamborito, immediately captures the listener’s attention with the players percussively striking the sides of their instruments, creating the rhythm for this highly chromatic introduction which immediately leads to a sadder and slower dance that is also quite chromatic. For the rest of the movement, Still ingeniously juxtaposes these two dances, one after the other seamlessly. When the faster dance returns, it is in two sections, the first fast and upbeat, the second more melancholy and sounding like a close relative of the tango. The movement ends surprisingly on a soft glissando. Next comes Mejorana, which sounds like a carefree Panamanian waltz. The forceful middle section is a somewhat ominous dance in two. The slowish third movement, Punto, has a gentle and very familiar Mexican sound to it. It is the kind of thing one hears in the movies when Mexican cowboys return to their hacienda at the end of a day’s work. The middle section in 6/8 is in the minor and more robust. The last movement, Cumbia y Congo, begins again with a percussive hand-pounding to a high-spirited and fast dance. At first, it sounds purely African but very quickly a heavy dose of Latin melody is added to the mix. The coda is brilliant and exciting. Any one of these movements could serve as a very effective encore. Together, they form an impressive tour de force.
— Program note courtesy of Edition Silvertrust, editionsilvertrust.com