Cuban Music in the Method

Pequeño Danzón by Martín Pedreira is included in the last unit of the fourth and final book (eighth semester). Like the rest of the pieces in this fourth book, it is much longer and more advanced. Although some of these pieces work on specific technical aspects, they have a bigger purpose. They are meant to fill the gap in the repertoire and contribute to the overall musicianship of the student. It is expected by this point that the students already have an array of technical tools and dominate all kinds of musical aspects to read and interpret the music appropriately. 

Martín Pedreira (b. 1952) is a guitarist, professor, composer. With a long career as a professor, he also has published books like Ergonomía de la Guitarra: su técnica desde la perspectiva corporal and Historia de la Guitarra. Selección de lecturas. He has also done significant work transcribing and revising the guitar works written by self-taught guitar players like José Antonio (Ñico) Rojas (1927-2008) and Roberto (Guyún) González-Rubiera (1908-1987). 

In the method there are added many of Martín Pedreira’s compositions with a didactic approach. The pieces support the specific technical aspects depending on the student’s stage. His series of ten pieces, Música para David and Diez Estudios y Preludios Breves, were distributed throughout the different books.

Pequeño Danzón is inspired by the Cuban danzón: a formal ballroom couple dance derived from the contredanse and the habanera genres of the 19th century. It has a 2/4 meter and uses the cinquillo and tresillo patterns extensively to create complex instrumental cross-rhythms while flute or clarinet, violin, or brass, developed virtuoso passagesIn the 20th-century, danzón interacted with other Cuban genres, helping to create genres like son, mambo, and cha cha cha.[1]

According to Emilio Grenet, another prestigious Cuban musicologist, danzón has classical features like the alternation between contrasting fast and slower sections. It usually starts with an introduction that repeats before leading the way to the clarinet part. The first part is usually more moved than the second, where the clarinet and sometimes the flute features written passages with fast figurations (32nd and 48th notes). Then, it returns to the introductory section. This alternation can go for several sections in a rondo form.[2]

Pedreira’s Pequeño danzón starts with a four-measure-long introduction featuring harmonics. This short introduction will come back at the end with slight variations. Although it is not an A section thematically or harmonically, it does add with its return the ritornello characteristic, common in the rondo form. It functions like an introduction in the home key G major to set up the tempo, tonality, and mood and, afterward, like an echo or reminiscence of the past. (See Example 1)

Example 1 Martín Pedreira, Pequeño Danzón, mm. 1-4. Introduction.

Strings typically play in the traditional setting adding all types of flavored ornaments to their parts. Pedreira’s first section starts with a glissando and presents more during the eight measures, which can be interpreted as an imitation of the violins. The habanera rhythm is featured in the top melodic line, filled with various rhythmic figurations in the middle and bass lines. An alternative music option is indicated, suggesting triplets, a widespread pattern in this type of music. (See Example 2)

Example 2 Martín Pedreira, Pequeño Danzón, mm. 5-12. 

The second section would correspond to the flute/clarinet improvisatorial part. Pedreira incorporates ascendent arpeggiated passages with a less rhythmically “strict” accompaniment. The melody flows freely on the top while the “other instruments” support the improvisatorial-like passages. There is indicated percussive effects in the guitar imitating the percussion instruments of the traditional orchestra, and even the harmonics have a percussive role in this case. (See Example 3)

Example 3 Martín Pedreira, Pequeño Danzón, mm. 26-30. 

The second section returns to the first section in m. 5 and repeats the first and second parts but jumps to a different ending. The second section and the end have 16th-note triplets and sextuplets with ascendent and descendent passages like a cascade of notes imitating the wind wood instruments. It also includes the pizzicato effect in the accompaniment bass line, adding more texture and color to the music. 

Behind this solo guitar work is a sonority of bigger formats like the traditional Cuban orchestras. The percussive effects are essential, marking the Cuban flavor and rhythmic essence. The numerous effects deployed enlarge the guitar technique, like glissando, percussive effects, and pizzicato. This burst of rhythms, sounds, and flavors reflects popular Cuban music and evokes the crowded, picturesque life of Cubans day by day. 

Students in this piece can practice all these effects. But also, the relationship between the different lines. They can discover more contemporary sonorities while keeping the sense of pulse among all the mixed bag of rhythmic figurations. The challenges are not easy, but the flavorful and rich music makes it worth it.

[1] William Gradante and Jan Fairley, “Danzón.” Grove Music Online, 2021; Accessed March 11, 2023.

[2] Radamés Giró, Panorama de La Música Popular Cubana, 1st ed. (Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1998), 77.