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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Ernesto!

August 6 is the birthday of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, who lived from 1895 to 1963. While some composers’ names might stir a vague recollection of some concert I attended, Lecuona brings to mind an indelible childhood memory.

It happened on a Monday afternoon when I was five or six years old. I was lying down for a nap. My mother had turned on one of those easy-listening stations, offering music as uneventful as that hot summer day, and so I rested for a while.

Then they played a song that caught my attention. The music seemed to start in one place, move up to a different area, and then drop back to where it started: up, down, up, down, over and over. I was fascinated. With no word for keys, I decided that the lower music was the kitchen; it went higher as I climbed the three steps to our living room; and it dropped down as I returned to the kitchen.

When our school band performed this piece some years later, I learned that it was, of course, Malagueña. And by then I understood that this was music full of mystery and passion, music that Lecuona never intended as a tranquilizer.

And there is much more to Lecuona than this celebrated piece. After winning a gold medal for piano performance at the National Conservatory in Havana, he spent many years as a pianist and band leader in the U.S. His songs include: The Breeze and I, an adaptation of his Andalucía; Two Hearts that Pass in the Night, a hit for Guy Lombardo; and Always in My Heart, nominated for an Academy Award. His film scores include Under Cuban Skies and Carnival in Costa Rica.

Below are some pieces by Lecuona that you may wish to borrow from the NLS Music Section; they are for piano in bar-over-bar format unless otherwise noted:

Malagueña, from the Andalucía Suite:

  • Simplified guitar arrangement by Sophocles Papas: BRM36340
  • For piano: BRM36041 or BRM03358 (section-by-section)
  • For accordion: BRM22417

Ahi Vieni el Chino (Here Comes the Chinaman), from Danzas Cubanos: BRM22609
Alhambra, from Andalucía, Suite Espagnole: BRM22673
Andalucía, from Andalucía Suite arranged for accordion by Charles Magnante: BRM22675
Andalucía: BRM22674
La Comparsa, (Carnival Procession) from Danzas Afro-Cubanas

  • For accordion: BRM22419
  • For piano: BRM08201 and BRM00293

Córdoba, from Andalucía: BRM22418
Danza de los Ñañigos, from Afro-Cuban Dances: BRM08236
Danza Negra, from Afro-Cuban Suite: BRM08232
In Tres por Cuatro (In 3/4 Time): BRM10153
Gitanerías: BRM10152
Guadalquivir: BRM10151
Lola esta de Fiesta (Lola is Celebrating): BRM10150
No Hables Mas (Speak No More): BRM10096
No Puedo Contigo (I Can Not Make You Understand): BRM10097
Porqué te vas? (Why Are You Going?): BRM10098
Siboney

  • For B-flat Clarinet and Piano, arranged by Dolly Morse: BRM33755
  • For piano: BRM10095

Y la Negra Bailaba, Danza Afro-Cubana: BRM08234

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