Fiesta!

Conga de fuego

by Arturo Marquez

Layout of the orchestra:

Image source: Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra

Things To Consider:

If you liked the Conga del Fuego, why not listen to Marquez’ Danzon no.2 for more toe-tapping fiery rhythms!

Can you use the rhythmic ideas found in this piece to create your own exciting fiesta composition?

Context:

Arturo Marquez was born in 1950 in Sonora, Mexico, and began composing at the age of 16.  He is one of the country’s best known contemporary composers.  Marquez’ father was a mariachi musician and his grandfather a Mexican folk musician, and so he grew up listening to different styles of music which he would later incorporate into his compositions.

Starter task:

What adjectives come to mind when you start listening to this piece?  Make a list of 5 words to describe the mood of this music.

When you’ve made your list, click on the box below to see if there’s any you missed:

Possible adjectives (click me!)

You might have come up with words like:

Energetic, exuberant, frantic, tense, joyful, animated, vigorous, excited, euphoric, sparkling.

I’m sure you can think of some more too!

Listen For:

Now as you listen, think about how the composer has created this mood through his music.

Try jotting down the headings below and writing a couple of bullet points under each one.  When you’ve finished listening or if you get stuck you can click on the purple box below to find some suggested answers.

Instruments

To the left is a picture of how an orchestra is laid out.  It might help jog your memory when you’re thinking about the instruments.

Can you identify the different families of orchestral instruments?

Are there any solo instruments you can spot?

Rhythm

Can you remember any key words which could help you describe the rhythm?

How does the composer maintain the relentless rhythmic drive?

Texture

How does the composer vary the texture?

Are there any moments where the orchestral texture thins out?

Dynamics

When discussing dynamics (volume) it’s a good idea to focus on 3 main points in the music:

  1. Start
  2. Middle
  3. End

Once you’ve done this, then focus on other more subtle dynamic points, for example, if there are sudden changes or more gradual dynamic changes.

Melody

Is it easy to pick out the melody?

Is it stepwise or does it contain big leaps?

Is there any repetition?

Any other features

Here you can write down anything else that comes to mind whilst you’re listening.

Musical features (suggested answers)

This is not an exhaustive list, but will give you some suggestions of features to listen out for.

Instruments

This has been composed for full orchestra and there’s no doubt that the percussion section are kept busy throughout!  Listen for the tubular bells at the start and congas, tambourine, guiro, snare drum, timpani, triangle, cymbals.  In other sections, there’s a large brass section with several trumpets, French horns, trombones, bass trombone and a full compliment of woodwind and strings.

Rhythm

Surely rhythm is THE most exciting thing in this piece, giving the music its constant drive (until about 3 minutes when there is a calmer moment)

Cross rhythms add tension to the music (this is where there are triplet rhythms set against duplet rhythms, e.g pairs of quavers)

Syncopation is a huge feature of this music from the outset.  (This is where the music is off-beat and the accents appear in unexpected places)

Ostinato – you might be able to hear some repeated rhythmic patterns which underpin the melodic excitement.

Texture

The composer really uses this huge orchestra to his advantage and can achieve a rich, full orchestral texture.  There’s also some moments of contrast for example at 03:00, a muted trumpet takes centre stage once the commotion has died down and the tempo slowed down.

Dynamics

Starts forte and crescendos to fortissimo.  The dynamic level is governed by the orchestral texture – at 00:40 the dynamic level drops as a trumpet solo comes through, this is followed by alternating woodwind and trumpet passages.  As the strings start to get more heated the dynamic level rises again until at 01:55 a climactic point is reached.  The music continues in this way, gaining momentum, with prominent percussion punctuating ends of phrases until another climax is reached at 02:35.  Everything dies down, including the tempo, until 03:25 when the exciting opening music returns.  At 04:25 the music is suddenly piano, preparing for a big crescendo and fortissimo finish.

 

Melody

After the opening 10 seconds of syncopated bass line, tubular bells and scurrying strings, we hear the main melody.  The repetition and syncopation makes it memorable, whilst the movement from one orchestral section to another maintains the momentum that characterises this piece.

At 00:41 the trumpet solo enters, contrasting with the previous melodic material through being more lyrical and using longer notes.

At about 00:56 the woodwind section takes over this melody, with trumpet coming back in at 01:08 with an increasing percussion presence.

This alternating between sections continues until 01:33 when the woodwind play a descending melodic sequence followed by strings playing an ascending sequence, which trumpet and woodwind join as the excitement builds.

At 02:39 we hear the trumpet melody again, though this time at a slower tempo and with a lazier feel.  Strings rather than woodwind take over the melody at about 03:00, and at 03:24 the very opening returns and we’re treated to the energetic strings and percussion.

Can you identify any instrumental changes the second time we hear this section of the music?