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Composed: 1954

Length: c. 16 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (timpani, snare, tambourine, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone), harp, piano, celesta, and strings

About this Piece

Venezuelan composer, keyboardist, and educator Evencio Castellanos Yumar (1915–1984) is widely regarded as one of his country’s leading musicians of the 20th century. Born in Cúa just outside of Caracas, Castellanos was first taught to play organ and harmonium by his father, a local church organist. He furthered his education in the capital where he studied piano at the Superior School of Music in Caracas and composition with Vicente Emilio Sojo, a towering figure in Venezuelan music who is considered a founder of the modern Venezuelan nationalistic style. That style sought to blend popular dance music traced to the country’s colonial roots with the indigenous and African musical influences and folklore. As Venezuelan conductor Jan Wagner describes, “European musical forms such as the mazurka, the waltz, the minuet, and the polka were embraced by Venezuelan culture, absorbing them and, thus, producing its own distinct expressive voice.”

Castellanos took to this nationalistic style while also focusing much of his work on sacred music, perhaps owing to his early years in the church. Castellanos left a lasting influence on a generation of musicians that would follow him as the director of the Superior School of Music from 1965 to 1973 and as the founder and director of the Collegium Musicum of Caracas and the orchestra of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. Among his notable students was José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, whom he taught organ and harpsichord.

Santa Cruz de Pacairigua, which earned the composer the National Prize in Music, was written in 1954 to honor the construction of a small church near Caracas. Castellanos structured the work as a symphonic suite in three parts without interruption. Characteristic of the composer’s musical influences, the piece makes musical allusion to folk melodies, popular dance rhythms, and even medieval carol. The celebratory tone is immediately set by the solo trumpet line that opens the work, which is soon joined by a churning ostinato in the strings and percussion. The lyrical middle section offers moments of religious solemnity and reflection—though dance motifs ebb and flow throughout—before the celebratory themes and sounds return for a climactic finale.