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.
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
Ástor 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
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
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
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”).