In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Classical Music in Cuba

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Monographs
  • Catalogues
  • Collections of Essays
  • Archives

Music Classical Music in Cuba
Marysol Quevedo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0165


This article focuses on the “classical” music tradition of Cuba. One could argue for other terms, such as art, concert, or elite, but interviews and conversations with Cuban composers and musicologists show that this is the most commonly used term by Cubans working within classical music circles. Most of the scholarship on Cuban music has centered on popular and traditional genres and musicians, largely ignoring the classical music tradition. One exception has been the scholarly interest in Afrocubanismo, an artistic movement during the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated Afro-Cuban aspects of Cuban culture. However, research and publication in other areas and time periods have lagged further behind. Cuban scholars have chronicled the lives and work of the most prominent contemporary composers, such as Leo Brouwer, Harold Gramatges, and Argeliers León. The discipline of musicology did not flourish in Cuba until after the 1959 revolution, when Argeliers León, acting as director of the music section at Casa de las Américas, began conducting research and training other scholars in the methodology of ethnomusicology and musicology. Since then, Cuban scholars have conducted musicological research, much of which has been ethnographic, dealing with traditional and popular musics. But there has always been a concern with contemporary music, particularly in biographical essays and monographs. Since the 1990s a younger generation of Cuban scholars have been preoccupied with colonial music, conducting research at the Santiago Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Francis in Havana, and other major religious institutions, discovering forgotten or ignored composers from the colonial period and many of their works, and editing them for modern editions, recordings, and performances. One final consideration in this article is the definition of “classical” music and what genres and composers are left out of this category. The boundaries in Cuban music, and in most Latin American music, between classical and popular are often blurred. For the purpose of this article we will consider some “light,” classical entertainment as part of the classical tradition, since the individuals involved in this realm of music making were mostly classically trained musicians.

General Overviews

General overviews of Cuban cultural history deal with music as a marginal topic, in spite of music’s prominent place in Cuban society. Some of these broader texts, however, help situate music within its social and political context. Pérez 2011 and Pérez 1999, for instance, offer a complex and nuanced account of Cuban cultural and social changes since the early to mid-19th century. Because of the close ties between classical music developments and politico-historical events in Cuba, readers should familiarize themselves with the existing literature on Cuban history before delving into Cuban music history. Suchlicki 2002 provides a balanced chronological account of Cuban history, onto which musical developments, as presented in other sources discussed in this article, can be mapped.

  • Carbonell, José Manuel. Evolución de la cultura cubana (1608–1927). Vol. 18, Las bellas artes en Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Imprenta El Siglo XX, 1928.

    Collection of essays on various topics on Cuban arts, including literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and modern caricature. The section on music includes four essays: “Las artes en Santiago de Cuba” by Laureano Fuentes Matons, “La Habana en otros tiempos” by Serafín Ramírez, “Consideraciones sobre la música popular cubana” by Gaspar Agüero y Barreras, and “Influencia de los ritmos africanos en nuestro cancionero” by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes.

  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture. H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

    The book focuses on how political and economic circumstances affected Cubans’ identity as a nation, with particular focus on the interactions between Cuba and the United States, and how these interactions affect Cubans’ sense of modernity and nationhood. Focuses on the time period between 1850 and 1959.

  • Pérez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. 4th ed. Latin American Histories. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Pérez offers a chronolgical overview of Cuban history, covering some of the pre-Columbian Amerindian period, up to the 1980s. He includes a guide to the literature on Cuban history and delves deeply into the period between 1868 and 1940. It is a solid introduction to Cuban history for undergraduate and graduate students who are first becoming acquainted with the topic.

  • Suchlicki, Jaime. Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond. 5th ed. Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2002.

    Chronological account of Cuban history, providing readers with a concise and general history of the major events and trends in the country’s development. Could be used as an introductory text in an undergraduate survey of Cuban music history if students are not yet familiar with the island’s history.

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