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Gabriela Lena Frank

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Requiem for a Magical America: El Día de los Muertos (2006)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for Band/Wind/Brass Ensemble
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Programme Note
Gabriela Lena Frank Requiem for a Magical America: El Día de los Muertos (2006)
Related Works
Requiem for a Magical America (for orchestra)

As one of the most important holidays in Latin America, El Día de los Muertos is a yearly celebration of the dead beginning during the last days of October and continuing into the beginning of November. Coinciding with All Souls’ Day, this festival is an example of “folk Catholicism”, a blending of post-Conquest and pre-Conquest religious beliefs. As a folk requiem, this work in ten movements for large wind ensemble and dancers traces one village’s celebration of their own deceased. The scenes are:

I. Preludio: Canto Religioso (Prelude: Religious Song): Church bells and organ music quietly set the opening scene, testifying to the village’s Catholic faith.

II. Sacando a los Espíritus Malos (Driving Away the Evil Spirits): The somber worship music from the first movement quickly shifts, however, to the first of many native customs associated with El Dia de los Muertos. Initially approaching from a distance and sweeping through the village, young men run around banging pots and pans in order to drive away bad spirits. At times, the primal pulse of an underground heartbeat can be heard.

III. Danza del Pueblo (Village Dance): In this folkloric dance, we are introduced to the spirit and culture of the village as they prepare for the arrival of the dead – Cooking favorite dishes, preparing altars with marigolds and candy, and hosting lively dance and music performances.

IV. Calaveras (Skeletons/Satiric Verses): One of the hallmarks of El Día de Los Muertos is the comical depiction of skeletal figures everywhere participating in the same activities that they did when alive – Skeletal policemen police the streets, skeletal bakers bake bread, and skeletal stylists dress hair. “Calaveras” also refers to satiric verses that the living make up, mocking their deceased. In this way, mischief and humor is injected into an otherwise serious holiday.

V. La Santísima Muerte (Madame Saint Death): Viewed as a sort of anti-Virgin Mary, La Santísima Muerte is often depicted as a skeletal woman in a religious shawl. In this scene, mourning widows dance in homage to the saint and the memory of the deceased.

VI. El Cementerio (The Cemetary): At night, the villagers proceed to the town cemetary to set up their nocturnal vigil, awaiting the arrival of the spirits of the deceased. Bats from the underworld can be heard escaping as the spirits begin to stir.

VII. La Llegada de los Muertos (The Arrival of the Dead): In trance-like music, the spirits arrive as thunder rumbles in the distance. They are greeted by the living.

VIII. Almas Perdidas (Lost Souls): The unbaptised spirits and those that died from violent deaths arrive. They are decidedly disturbed spirits who are unable to find peace in the afterlife.

IX. Danza del Guerrero Precolombino (Dance of the Pre-Colombian Warrior): Out of the unrest of the previous movement emerges the defiant spirit of a warrior from pre-Colombian times. An important part of many El Día de los Muertos festivals, the depiction of the warrior is perhaps the strongest evidence of enduring beliefs from pre-Catholic Latin America. The heart beat hinted at in the second movement returns here, and is the sound of the warrior’s own beating heart. An angry spirit who still rages against his defeat at the hands of the conquering Spanish, he is finally driven away by the clangor of the pots and pans beaten at the hands of the villagers as the sun dawns.

X. Epílogo: Canto Religioso: As the last of the spirits retreat, the villagers return to church to sing a final prayer.

– Gabriela Lena Frank

Reviews was off to a foreign land for El Día de los Muertos, an expansive piece choreographed by Kansas University faculty members Muriel Cohan and Patrick Suzeau in honor of the annual commemoration of the dead in Latin-American communities. The prodigious work — set to an original score by frequent KU collaborator Gabriela Lena Frank and performed live by the KU Wind Ensemble — re-enacted the holiday's time-honored components...

Suzeau and 21 student dancers chased away evil spirits with frenetic movements backed by startling percussion, mourned lost loved ones, paid homage to village folk dances and invoked the humor often present amid the somberness of Day of the Dead observances...and the Wind Ensemble, especially its percussion section, exhibited impressive endurance and skill throughout Frank's difficult composition.

Mindie Paget, Lawrence Journal-World (Kansas),01/01/0001
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