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El Salón México

El Salón México is a symphonic composition in one movement by Aaron Copland, which uses Mexican folk music extensively.

Analysis and history

A 25 second sample of "El Salón México" demonstrating the refrain based on "El Palo Verde"

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The work is a musical depiction of an eponymous dance hall in Mexico City and even carries the subtitle, "A Popular Type Dance Hall in Mexico City." Copland began the work in 1932 and completed it in 1936. The Mexico Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance under the direction of Carlos Chávez (1937). The piece was premiered in the U.S. in 1938. Although Copland visited Mexico early in the 1930s, he based this tone poem not on songs he heard there, but rather on written sheet music for at least four Mexican folk songs that he had obtained: "El Palo Verde," "La Jesusita," "El Mosco," and "El Malacate." The powerful refrain that appears in the piece three times stems from "El Palo Verde." Critics have variously described the piece as containing two, three, or four parts, but many listeners find that it moves seamlessly from one theme to another with no clear internal boundaries.

At least three arrangements of the piece exist in addition to the orchestral score. Copland adapted the work for the 1947 musical film Fiesta, directed by Richard Thorpe for MGM. Leonard Bernstein created arrangements for solo piano and for two pianos, four-hands very shortly after the premiere. In addition, a piano transcription of the score was made by conductor Arturo Toscanini in 1942, when the Maestro included the music on an NBC broadcast concert.

In 2006, Paul Glickman and Tamarind King started work on an animated short film based on the Aaron Copland score. In 2007 "El Salón México" received a New Mexico New Visions $20,000 work grant. In 2009 "El Salón México" debuted at The Film Museum Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The computer-animated short was accepted into the following film festivals: Rome International Film Festival (2009 winner, Sylvia Award for Best Animation), Independent's Film Festival (2009 winner, Best Independent Animation), Santa Fe Film Festival, Kids First Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the Tiburon International Film Festival. Additionally, it was named Best of Fest as one of "the best films you've never seen" of 2010.


Leonard Bernstein (for Columbia Records and Deutsche Grammophon) and Copland (for Columbia Records) himself conducted recordings of the work. Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra performed the music in a broadcast concert on March 14, 1942, which was preserved on transcription discs; according to biographer Mortimer Frank, Copland praised the performance in a radio interview. Other conductors who made recordings of El Salon Mexico include Arthur Fiedler, Eugene Ormandy, and Eduardo Mata.[1]


  • Berger, A. (1990). Aaron Copland. New York: Da Capo Press.
  • Pollack, H. (2000). Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
  • Smith, J. (1955). Aaron Copland, his work and contribution to American music. New York: Dutton.
  • Santa Fe New Mexican, September 11–17, 2009


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