Miguel Faílde (1853-1921) composed and performed the first typical danzón, Las Alturas de Simpson, with his “Orquesta de los Hermanos Faílde” in Matanzas on January 1, 1879, from where its popularity spread to Havana and the rest of the country. Faílde also wrote three other works in the genre: El Delirio, La Ingratitud, and Las Quejas. It may be said that the danzón is to Cuban music what the tango is to Argentina: elegant, sensual, and synonymous with national identity. Musically, the danzón stands out for its alternation of the contradanza’s paseo acting as refrain, an allegretto clarinet trio, an andante violin trio, and an allegro brass trio. The piano joined wind instruments by the early 1900s, eventually playing a leading role.
The danzon was, in reality, an offspring of the danza criolla and, ultimately, the contradanza. Choreographically, the danzon retained the traditional cedazo during which the couples separate, face one another, and rest in place. By the second half of the 19th century, the contradanza evolved into the danza which, when danced by couples rather than collectively, was already known in vernacular speech as danzón. When Faílde and his wind orchestra performed the first danzón proper, however, they introduced syncopation and improvisation into the traditional form. The result was a slower-paced, cadenced music and choreography that the island’s public quickly adopted. In the 1880s and 1890s, the danzón benefited from enthusiastic support by liberal, pro-independence Cubans, a fact that contributed to its identification with republican nationhood and the genre’s subsequent ascendancy until about 1920. With the rise of the son after 1910, and its propagation thanks to radio broadcasting in the 1920s, the traditional danzón entered a period of decline. In 1910, the musician-composer Jose Urfé (1879-1957) and the “Orquesta de Enrique Peña” revitalized the danzón inserting rhythmic elements taken from the Oriente region’s typical son), with the premier of his El bombín de Barreto. Other important exponents and innovators in the history of the danzón were Raimundo Valenzuela (1848-1905), Antonio María Romeu (1876-1955), and Aniceto Díaz (1887-1964), credited with reviving the danzon with the creation of the danzonete in 1929.
The legacy of the music carried over into the 1940s and 1950s with the arrival of the cha-cha-chá, the mambo, and the ritmo nuevo, each of which inherited, interpreted, and modernized elements of the danzón for an international audience.