The great Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona Casado is undoubtedly one of the most important musical geniuses of the Caribbean of all time. His compositions transcended the Caribbean archipelago and became obligatory knowledge for pianists and composers.
He was born on August 6 or 7, 1895, in the Guanabacoa area of Havana, Cuba. He was the youngest of 12 children, the son of Spanish writer Ernesto Lecuona Ramos, who immigrated to Matanzas, Cuba, in 1880, and Elisa Casado Bernal, a local woman. At 5 years of age, Ernesto Lecuona Casado already showed his virtuosity by playing fragments of operettas and waltzes. His sister, Ernestina Lecuona, already a famous pianist herself, noticed the child’s precocious talent and began to teach him piano lessons. The lessons he took from his sister, along with his natural talents, showed results and by the time he was 12 years old he had written his first work, a military march titled “Cuba y América.”
It is said that because of his playing ability, by 13 years of age Ernesto was working professionally in the theaters where silent films were projected and accompanied by piano music. Because the films had no audio, the player was responsible for enhancing the visuals with the piano, thus creating the mood of the film. It is likely that he took this work to help support his family, because his father had died when Ernesto was just 7 years old.
Although he worked for a while accompanying films, he never abandoned his classical training. One of his first teachers was Joaquín Nin of Cuba, but without a doubt, the most influential teacher in his life was Hubert de Blank of Holland. Hubert de Blank was a great composer and concert pianist who is credited with founding the Cuba National Conservatory. He convinced Ernesto to leave his work in the cinemas and dedicate himself to serious and disciplined study of the piano. In 1912, at just 17 years of age, he graduated from the National Conservatory, earning a Gold Medal for his performance.
After graduating, he continued to work as a composer while achieving national and international success due to his virtuoso performances. The United States, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and Peru were some of the many countries where Lecuona excelled as a pianist and composer. He also worked for movie production companies in Mexico, Spain and the United States, where he wrote soundtracks for films. Songs, operettas, ballet, cinema scores and operas are all part of the musical genres that make up his work of almost a thousand compositions.
Some of his compositions are: “El Batey” (operetta, 1929), “Maríala O” (operetta, 1930), “Under Cuban Skies” (film soundtrack, 1931), “Rosa la China” (operetta, 1932), “La Comparsa” (piano, 1933), “Malagueña” (piano, 1933), “Always in my Heart” (film soundtrack, 1942), “Rapsodia Negra” (piano and orchestra, 1943), “Carnival in Costa Rica” (film soundtrack, 1947).
The greatness of Lecuona’s work lies in the fact that his compositions reflect the history of the Caribbean and the mix of races that make up the Cuban identity. Spanish, African, Cuban and Caribbean elements are seen in his work. After a lifetime of busy creativity, this musical genius’ light expired on November 29, 1963, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, where he died from health complications.
Author: José Antonio Florán
Published: April 13, 2012.
This post is also available in: Español