The Music of Hispanic Heritage Month

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month – September 15 to October 15 – with music by Spanish and Latin American composers and performers.  Learn some names and pieces you may not know – and enjoy the familiar ones you already do – with music and information on some major figures in Latin American music.

BrouwerLeo Brouwer
Born Juan Leovigildo Brouwer in Havana, Cuba on March 1, 1939, classical guitarist and composer  Leo Brouwer has become known for his enormous impact on classical and guitar music. He made his professional debut at only 17 and received his training at the Julliard School of Music. His compositions reside in a style of “national Hyper-Romanticism” in which he incorporates tonality and traditional form into his Afro-Cuban roots. Brouwer is also a conductor and has been instrumental in establishing a Cuban musical scene since the completion of his education.
Listen to Leo Brouwer – El Decameron Negro

Astor PiazzolaÁstor Pantaleón Piazzolla
Argentine composer Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla (1921-1992) is best known for his revolutionary style of tango termed nuevo tango. A native of Mar del Plata, Argentina, Piazzolla began to incorporate jazz and classical elements into his tango compositions only after his studies in Paris. Though this new style was widely acclaimed in Europe and North America, it made him a controversial figure both musically and politically in his own country. Piazzolla was a also master bandoneonist and regularly performed his own pieces.
Listen to Astor Piazzolla – Milonga del Angel

blog-chavez-150Carlos Chávez
Mexican composer Carlos Chávez was born on June 13, 1899 in Mexico City, coming to age during the period of the Mexican Revolution. This influenced his compositions, which often investigate indigenous Indian cultures, incorporating folkloric dance elements and native instruments. Trained as a pianist, Chávez composed ballets, sonatas, symphonies, and an opera. He also founded and directed the Mexican Symphonic Orchestra and published two influential books on musical thought.
Listen to Carlos Chavez – Sinfonia India

blog-lecuona-150Ernesto Lecuona
Born in Cuba in 1895, Lecuona studied piano with his sister Ernestina, a famous pianist. After going on to study at the National Conservatory in Havana, Lecuona —  nicknamed the “Cuban Gershwin” — became one of the best-known musicians in Latin America. Lecuona became a prolific composer of piano pieces, movie scores, and went on to become a founder of the Havana Symphony.
Listen to Ernesto Lecuona – “Andalucia” Suite Espagnole

blog-albeniz-150Isaac Albéniz
He began his career as a child prodigy and never slowed down. Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) was a pianist and composer who created distinctly Spanish nationalist music, with roots based in folk music idioms. Many of his piano pieces are now known their adaptations for guitar, including such seminal pieces for classical guitar such as Granada, Sevilla, Cadiz, and Tango in D.
Listen to Isaac Albeniz – Asturias


Looking for More Music? Try Concierto!
To enjoy the music beyond Hispanic Heritage Month, tune to Concierto, a bilingual program that celebrates the contribution of Spanish and Latin American composers and performers to the world of classical music. (Learn more about Concierto on NPR: “Concierto: A Latin Twist on Classical Music”).


World Cup of Classical Music: Germany vs. Argentina

Celebrate the World Cup winners – as well as the second-place team – with a little Classical 101, Germany and Argentina editions.

Classical 101: Germany

German classical music and German classical musicians have played a major role in the development of the genre, with a significant contribution to orchestral works and operas. Mozart’s Die Zauberföte, for example, remains among the most beloved operas, and Beethoven’s symphonies are considered prime examples of the Romantic era. Robert Schumann is also credited with the creation of lied, a mixture of romantic poetry and music.

In honor of yesterday’s victory, get to know the biggest composers from this World Cup-winning country:

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer who Beethoven described as “the original father of harmony.” Although he was not recognized as a great composer during his lifetime, Bach’s fame developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is famed for his more than 300 cantatas (of which close to 100 have been lost) as well as his music’s intellectual depth and beauty. An example of this can be heard in his Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous German composer of all time. Despite his hearing loss during the later stages of his life, he became a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic musical periods, and  remains one of the most influential of all composers. One of Beethoven’s most famous works in his Symphony No. 9.

Robert Schumann


Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and brought forth a new type of music called lied. After a hand injury ended his dreams of becoming Europe’s finest pianist, Schumann turned his energies to composition and is now recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Listen to his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 to hear the composer’s prowess.



Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig and is known for his operatic works. His compositions are known for their complex textures and rich harmonies. Arguably his most famous work is his Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” can be heard below:



And to honor the second-place winner in the 2014 World Cup…

Classical 101: Argentina

Argentina’s contribution to classical music does not match that of Germany’s, but this should not detract from their legacy. Argentinians have contributed widely to many forms of classical music. Opera must be considered one of the main areas of classical composition. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and represents the counties dedication to the art form. The country is less known for producing romantic and conservative compositions such as orchestral and piano works.

Alberto Williams


Alberto Williams, born in 1865 in Buenos Aires, is known as a pianist, conductor, and a pedagogue. While he was in Paris as a young man, Williams took lessons in composition from César Franck, who supposedly became fond of Williams. He is known for his orchestral works with his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor being one of the most popular.

Carlos Guastavino


Carlos Guastavino was born in 1912 in Santa Fe Province and is considered one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the twentieth century. He generated 500 compositions throughout his life and many were based on Argentine folk songs. He is sometimes referred to as the “Schubert of the Pamapas” and his songs Pueblito, mi pueblo, la rosa y el sauce (“The Rose and the Willow”) and Se eqivovó la paloma(“The Dove was Wrong”) have now become national favorites.

Alberto Ginastera


Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, Alberto Ginastera became a peer of Guastavino and established himself as another of Argentina’s great twentieth century composers. He is famously known for his composition of the opera Don Rodrigo, but is also known for his orchestral works.