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He obtained his master in piano with a gold medal at the National Conservatory when he was barely 17 years old. When his father died, young Lecuona was forced to work playing piano in silent-movie bistros in order to help the family finances.
As he became known as a concert pianist he also started composing. In spite of being a classical pianist, early on Lecuona showed interest in popular music and composed "La Comparsita" and other dance pieces which defined Cuban music by uniting the Spanish-European musical tradition with African rhythms. In he made his first recordings in New York, where he settled for a while, but in he was back in Cuba to found the Instituto Musical de La Habana. He composed his first operetta in and became wildly successful in this genre, turning out more than 50 staged musicals.
During a tour of Spain, the composer had to leave the orchestra for health reasons and went back to Cuba for a needed rest. The group, now under the direction of Armando Orechife, change its name to "Lecuona Cuban Boys" and continued touring the world for many years, even appearing in films.
The love theme for Always in My Heart became a huge hit, with more than 1, versions recorded by vocalists and orchestras. By the end of World War II Lecuona had built an impressive catalog of music, which included songs, pieces for piano, 52 operettas, zarzuelas and musical revues, 31 orchestral works, 11 soundtracks for the cinema, 5 ballets, one trio and an opera.
It was obviously time to relax and enjoy the fruit of his labors, so he spaced out his musical commitments and dedicated himself to gardening and the breeding of tropical birds. Although quite wealthy, Lecuona preferred a simple lifestyle and was very proud of his roses and fruit trees.
In he traveled to the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain to attend a tribute being held in his honor and died there on November 23rd. His body was claimed by the government of Malaga, Spain, which wanted to bury the immortal composer of "Malaguena" in their land; it was also claimed by the Cuban government, which hoped to cover up the fact that its most prestigious artist was in exile.
Malagueña, by Ernesto Lecuona
Andalucía (Lecuona, Ernesto)