El Degüello / El Dagüello

What music should be associated with the Alamo? There are at least two pieces that are known as El Degüello (alternatively spelled El Dagüello or simply the “Americanized” Deguello). The first is a bugle call traditionally thought to have been played by the Mexican Army and the second is a hauntingly beautiful melody that appears in films such as “Rio Bravo” and “The Alamo.” The latter melody, though a lovely one, is not associated with the actual historical event.

The bugle call is thought to have been one of several dozen commonly used by the Mexican Army led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna on March 6, 1836. The term El Degüello is believed to have been derived from Spanish bugle calls signalling “attack/beheading/throat cutting/no quarter” or “death without mercy.”

There were no eye witness accounts that survived to verify the melody, but Amelia Williams wrote an article called “A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo” for the Southwestern Historical Quarterly issue of Jan., 1934, published by the Texas State Historical Association. In it Ms. Williams writes of the playing of “the dreadful deguello” and stated that the music had many variants. In her footnotes, she gives credit to Professor Samuel E. Asbury of Texas A&M University for initiating her research on the bugle call and also credits Mr. Luis Chavez Orosco of Mexico City for locating it. Mr. Orosco had been hired by the Mexican government to help document the history of the Texas Revolution. Mr. Orosco’s research led him to the archives of the Mexican Army and to identify the melodies which were most likely used back then for bugle calls. Near the end of her article, she included a page that presented four movements of the bugle call melody, one of which is labeled Vivo. It is this movement that is often heard and associated with the Alamo. The entire page may be viewed here.

We will close with the embedded video clips below that pertain to the two melodies. The first is from “The 13 Days of the Alamo.” The bugle call begins about 57 seconds into the video below and is mostly well under the narration.

The bugle call begins about 10 seconds into the video below. The playback stops when the dialogue begins. This particular clip features audio in Spanish, but it is not difficult to follow. It is from the 2004 film “The Alamo” directed by John Lee Hancock.

Most likely it was some variation of the bugle call that was played at the Alamo in 1836. The three Youtube links and clips below incorporate the beautiful melody that was originally composed by Dmitri Tiomkin. It is also called The Deguello. It appears to have first been used by Tiomkin in the sound track of the movie “Rio Bravo” and later in “The Alamo” both starring John Wayne and others.

Howard Hawks directed “Rio Bravo,” released in 1959.

John Wayne directed “The Alamo,” released in 1960.

Two popular adaptations of the Tiomkin melody.

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