Piece of the Week: La Comparsa, by Ernesto Lecuona

La Comparsa

Ernesto Lecuona y Casado is arguably one of Cuba’s greatest composers. He was both versatile and prolific, composing over 400 songs, 170 piano pieces, 37 orchestral pieces, 11 film scores and numerous other works including zarzuelas, ballets and operas. Born in Guanabocoa, a village near Havana, Lecuona’s sister, Ernestina, introduced him to the piano at age 5. Lecuona wasted no time: he began playing piano in the capital’s first silent cinemas at age 7 and composed his first song at age 11.

Lecuona first used the melody for this piece, “La Comparsa,” in his first ballet of the same name, composed in 1912. He later reused included the melody in his suite of piano pieces entitled¬†Danzas Afro-Cubanas. “La Comparsa” is a carnival procession in the Cuban style, beginning quite softly as if the procession were approaching from a distance. The piece culminates as the procession passes directly in front of the listener and then fades as it moves on its way. Other notable compositions by Lecuona include pieces such as “Canto Siboney,” “Para Vigo Me Voy,” “Siempre en mi Corazon,” “Canto Karabali” and “Maria L O.”

Lecuona is perhaps best known to North American audiences for his “Andalucia Suite,” which includes one of the composer’s most recognizable melodies, “Malaguena.”. A great deal of Lecuona’s music was first introduced to audiences in the United States by his fellow Cuban, Desi Arnaz.

Audio Sample:

Audio provided by TRN Music Publishers.

Composer Biography:

Ernesto Lecuona was born on August 7, 1896, in Guanabacoa, Cuba and died on November 29, 1963, in Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands. This composer and performer helped to popularize Cuban musical styles in Europe and the United States. Ernesto Lecuona was born into a musical family and began to play the piano at an early age. He played his first public performance at the age of five and had his first composition published at the age of eleven. When he was fifteen, Lecuona graduated from Havana’s National Conservatory of Music. After additional study with composer Joaquin Nin, Lecuona formed his own performing group and began to tour. Lecuona’s group, originally called “Orquesta Cubana” and later renamed “Lecuona’s Cuban Boys,” was a dance band specializing in light Cuban music, including many of Lecuona’s own compositions. The group toured Europe, Latin America, and the United States, gaining a solid following. Lecuona eventually settled in New York and wrote for musicals, films and radio programs. Throughout his career, Lecuona composed over 400 works. Many of his lighter songs have become standards, including “Siboney” (1929) and “Maria La O” (1931). Some of his more ‘serious’ compositions also found an audience, including works for piano, pieces for orchestra, and songs such as “Malaguena” (1927) and “Andalucia” (1930).

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If you are an educator, musician, composer or student with a suggestion for a “piece of the week” blog post, you can email your suggestion to Griffin at gwoodworth at makemusic dot com. Please let me know the name of the piece, composer, publisher, and why this piece is special to you.

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