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ClassicsOnline Home » Guitar Music from Cuba
This recital gives a fascinating insight into the many influences on Cuban culture: among them 400 years of Spanish colonial rule and 60 years of exposure to North American culture prior to the 1959 revolution. The music ranges across Afro-Cuban rhythms, twentieth century harmonies, elements of jazz and impressionism, traditional European forms of composition, the country dance form known as the son montuno, and contemporary harmonization of Yoruba melodies from the Oriente region.
By Michael Cookson
By Patrick Gary
Cuban Guitar Music
Cuban culture is essentially an amalgam of three dominantfactors: 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, ending in 1901; the impact ofreligion as a result of white and African slave immigration; and the 60-yearexposure to North American culture, ended by the 1959 revolution.Latin-American flexibility facilitated the assimilation of all these elementsinto the national culture. It is easy to see how these influences have shapedCuban music, which now incorporates Afro-Cuban rhythms, twentieth century harmonies,characterized by the juxtaposition of major and minor modes, and elements ofjazz and impressionism – typically in the music of José Antonio Rojas – as wellas traditional European forms of composition – as in the melancholy Suite breveof Harold Gramatges. One of the finest solo instruments for best givingexpression to this unique aspect of Cuban musical culture is the guitar. Themusic on this recording ranges from the popular appeal of the son montuno, thecountry dance form found especially in the Oriente region, to the contemporaryharmonization of Yoruba melodies by Hector Angulo. All the pieces convey adiverse picture of Cuba in music that is nostalgic yet fresh-sounding,elaborate yet pure in its relative simplicity of expression.
José Antonio (Ñico) Rojas Beoto was born in Havana in 1921.A civil engineer, guitarist and composer, he is one of the exponents of theso-called ‘Feeling’ trend in Cuban music, which brought about a revival inCuban popular song in the 1940s. His works combine the sonority of the guitarwith the complex rhythmic and melodic elements of Cuban traditional music. Hislanguage is defined by an improvisatory influence, and this is noticeable inre-expositions of themes and in passages where the melody combines with a freerhythm.
Carlos Fariñas was born in Cienfuegos in 1934 and studiedfirst at Santa Clara. In 1948 he entered the Conservatorio Municipal de Músicain Havana, where he studied with Harald Gramatges. He joined the SociedadCultural Nuestro Tiempo in 1950, an organization for the promotion ofcontemporary Cuban music, and in 1956 studied composition at Tanglewood withAaron Copland, and conducting with Eleazar de Carvalho and Seymour Lipkin. Hecompleted his studies at the Havana Conservatorio in 1957. His earlycompositions were strongly influenced by nationalism and neo-classicism. From1961 to 1963 he studied in Moscow, and in 1969 won a prize at the Fourth ParisBiennale for his Tiento II, an example of avantgarde work of the time. He wasinvolved in the establishment of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and served asdirector of the Conservatorio Alejandro García Caturla. From 1966 to 1976 hewas director of the music section of the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, andheld the chair of composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte. In 1989 he setup the Estudio de Música Electroacústiva y por Computadora (EMEC), a reflectionof the later direction his music took. He died in 2002. The Preludio hererecorded was performed first in Cuba by Jesús Ortega for the sound-track of thefilm Soy Cuba (I am Cuba) by Mikhail Kalatozov, and is in the repertoire ofalmost every Cuban guitarist.
Aldo Rodríguez was born in 1955 and studied the guitar withIsaac Nicola and Martha Cuervo. He also attended master-classes with AlirioDíaz, María Luisa Anido and Frank Fernández. He has given master-classes inPoland, France, Colombia, Bulgaria and Chile, and teaches at the NationalSchool of Music in Havana. He has received various honours from the CubanGovernment, including the Medalla por la Cultura Nacional, and the MedallaAlejo Carpentier, awarded by the government in 2003.
One of the leading figures in Cuban musical life, HaroldGramatges was born in Santiago in 1918 and had his early studies there withZoila Figueras, followed by study with Dulce María Serret at the ConservatorioProvincial de Música de Oriente, where he completed his course in 1936. He wenton to study at the then Conservatorio Municipal de Música in Havana as a pupilof Amadeo Roldán and José Ardévol. He was associated with the Grupo deRenovación Musical from its foundation in 1942, the year in which ascholarsship took him to Tanglewood, where he worked with Aaron Copland andSergey Koussevitzky. He studied further with Copland in 1948-49 and attended seminarsby Elliott Carter. He founded and directed the Havana Chamber Orchestra anduntil 1958 taught at the Conservatorio Municipal, and for ten years, from 1951,was president of the Sociedad Cultural Nuestro Tiempo. He has held variousother positions of importance in the official cultural life of Cuba and from1960 to 1964 was Cuban ambassador to France. From its foundation in 1976 heheld the chair of composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte, and is nowProfessor Emeritus. He has been the recipient of various national andinternational prizes, with the highest Cuban honours and, among the latter, thePremio Tomás Luis de Victoria of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores deEspaña. His earlier compositions were largely neo-classical in style, developingover the years as a result of external influences.
The composer, guitarist and conductor Leo Brouwer Mezquidawas born in Havana in 1939 into a family of musicians. He had his first musiclessons from his father, Juan Brouwer, and his aunt, Caridad Mezquida, and hisfirst guitar lessons in 1953 with Isaac Nicola, who established the modernschool of Cuban guitar-playing. In 1959 he was awarded a scholarship forfurther study of the guitar in America at Hartford University and ofcomposition at the Juilliard School in New York, where his studies were withVincent Persichetti, Stefan Wolpe, Isadore Preed, J.Diemente and Joseph Iadone.In 1960 he was appointed director of the Instituto Cubano de Arte e IndustriaCinematográficos, a position that, over the years, brought the composition of alarge number of film scores both in Cuba and abroad. From this time onwards hewas associated with the Cuban musical avant-garde, serving as adviser to RadioHavana Cuba and teaching at the Conservatorio Nacional, and, as occasiondemanded, in universities abroad. He established the biennial Cuban GuitarCompetition and Festival and since 1981 has been general director of theOrquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba. Conducting engagements have taken him to anumber of countries.
The first of the three discernible periods in Brouwer’screative career started in 1954, with a series of pieces that explored theresources of the guitar in works that combined traditional classical forms withCuban inspiration. In the 1960s, after the Cuban revolution, he came to knowthe work of avant-garde composers such as Penderecki and Bussotti, when heattended the 1961 Warsaw Autumn Festival, absorbing these influences and thoseof leading contemporary composers who visited Cuba from abroad, into a verypersonal style that made use of modern techniques of various kinds, includingelements of post-serialism and the aleatoric. The late 1970s brought a thirdperiod that Brouwer himself has described as national hyper-romanticism, areturn to Afro-Cuban roots coupled with elements of traditional technique andof minimalism. Many of his guitar compositions have won an internationalreputation, with a firm place in current repertoire, played and recorded byguitarists throughout the world. He is here represented by his Berceuse(Canción de cuna), the Zapateo, one of a pair of popular Cuban airs, and Ojosbrujos (Bewitching Eyes).
Another aspect of Cuban music is heard in the Cantos Yorubade Cuba by Hector Angulo, who now enjoys a very considerable reputation.Thesearrangements of melodies of African origin are an important part of theAfro-Cuban legacy.
(Adapted from a note by Marco Tamayo)
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Guitar Music from Cuba