Sunday, September 2, 2012

Father(s) of Cuban Symphonic Music

Amadeo Roldan (1900-1939), despite not being of Cuban birth, is generally regarded, along with Alejandro Garcia Caturla (1906-1940), as the “Father of Cuban Orchestral Music.” Gonzalo Roig (1890-1970) emerged as yet another pioneer of Cuban symphonic music and also as the creator of one of the most distinctive Cuban zarzuelas, “Cecilia Valdes.” There were others who were also actively creating during the first half of the 20th Century a style of Cuban music known as “musica Afrocubana,” but the trio of Roldan, Garcia Caturla, and Roig was of such influence that it would be hard to imagine Cuban classical music emerging internationally without their successes.

Stamp commemorating Amadeo Roldan
Amadeo Roldan was born in Paris, in 1900, of a Cuban mother and Spanish father. Although his early training as a musician was from his father, a pianist, and instruction at the Madrid Conservatory of Music, Roldan felt his true musical language was Cuban. Not surprisingly, when he finally arrived in Havana in 1919, as a touring violinist, he stayed, taking Cuban citizenship. Although Roldan continued to support himself largely as a performing instrumentalist (violin, viola, and piano) and as a member of the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra, he also began writing music. In 1925, he composed Obertura sobre temas cubanos, using elements of Cuban folk music. The following year, he organized a concert of new music concerts. Other compositions would follow, along with performances not only in Cuba, but around the globe. Sadly, Amadeo Roldan died at the peak of his creativity, months short of his 39th birthday.

Alejandro Garcia Caturla
Alejandro Garcia Caturla also died tragically young (he was but 34), somewhat as a consequence of his double career as a lawyer and musician. Nadia Boulanger, famous for her encouragement of young composers, was especially generous when she described Garcia Caturla. “Seldom have I had a student as gifted as him…..He is a force of nature: you’d better leave it alone so it can manifest itself.” Garcia Caturla first attracted major attention with his composition Tres danzas cubanas, first performed at the Ibero-American Symphonic Festival at the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929. A man of tremendous energy, he wrote music, played multiple instruments, was a gifted baritone singer, and played regularly with the Havana Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gonzalo Roig. All the while, Garcia Caturla practiced law, passionate for justice, and was an active participant in significant social movements. By 1940, he had been appointed a judge. On November 12, 1940, he was murdered by a prisoner who was hours away from sentencing.

Gonzalo Roig
Gonzalo Roig’s reputation as a pioneer of Cuban symphonic music is largely based on his work as the founder and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. As a composer, Roig wrote numerous songs, many of which are still essential entries in the Cuban songbook. His first musical work, written in 1907, was the song La voz del infortunio. Several years later came the criolla-bolero Quiereme mucho (You Love me a Lot, or more commonly Yours). As with Amadeo Roldan and Alejandro Garcia Caturla, Roig was drawing upon the popular trend called “musica Afrocubana”, acknowledging the multiplicity of Cuban culture. In 1930, the Pan-American Union invited Roig to conduct a series of concerts in the United States. Over the course of this successful tour, he conducted the U.S. Army Band, the U.S. Marine Band and the U.S. Navy Band. He brought with him numerous Cuban percussion instruments, many of them not previously seen or heard outside of Cuba. His introduction of the quijada, made from the jawbone of an ass, was said to have created quite a sensation. Gonzalo Roig remained active until his death in 1970, aged 79. He is best remembered today for his songs and for the zarzuela Cecilia Valdes.

The focus of this week's edition of Itinerarios (9/2/2012)  will be the musical contributions of these three essential Cuban composers of the 20th Century. Next week's program (9/9/2012) will continue the topic of Cuban music with a consideration of Leo Brouwer, Tania Leon and Aurelio de la Vega. Itinerarios is heard every Sunday evening from 7-9 o'clock on KPAC-San Antonio (FM 88.3) and KTXI-Ingram (FM 90.1). The program also streams live online. Click here to listen. Choose KPAC.
----James Baker, producer and host of Itinerarios

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