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Enrique Ubieta photo

Revised: November 16, 2015

He has written original music for seven films; has composed more than 75 works, including chamber, vocal, and symphonic music; and has created various innovations in music.

In Cuba, he studied at the Conservatorio Municipal de la Habana (Amadeo Roldán); where he graduated as music professor, at the age of 18.

In 1951, Ubieta publishes his first musical innovation, which he calls, "Fonocromía": A system of musical notation that, using distinct colors, replaces the dynamic terms in music. For example, a note in clear blue, replaces the term pp; in sky blue, p; in purple, mf; in redish orange, f; and in china red, ff. As known, each note in the staff indicates a sound and its value. Now, if the note is colored, the color will indicate the dynamic term carried by it. In other words, in each note will then be represented the sound, its value and its dynamic term. This is, therefore, the contribution of "Fonocromía" to contemporary musicography: (1) Representation of dynamic terms on the note itself; (2) Psychological use of color, as a representative agent of the dynamic terms; and (3) Conversion of the score into a kind of colored map, whereas the graduated dynamics terms are instantaneously visible to the eye.

Ubieta also practiced musicology, in chronicles about the folkloric music of his country, which were published by the Cuban newspaper, El Mundo; just as he was the composer and director of the advertising music department of Procter & Gamble for Latin America. Thus, alternating his journalistic and advertising activities with the serious musical compositions, Ubieta also wrote numerous scores of incidental music for the Teatro de Bellas Artes, and other private halls of Havana; where he collaborated with stellar figures from theater and TV, such as Adela Escartín, Ana Lasalle, Chela Castro and Angel Toraño, among others; and well-known directors such as Carlos Piñeiro, Erick Santamaria and Manuel Bach.

At the triumph of the 1959 Revolution, Ubieta composes the music for "Himno Agrario" (Agrarian Hymn), the official hymn of INRA; with the collaboration of the national poet, Nicolás Guillén (1902-1987), who wrote the lyrics of the famous hymn. (N.B. "Himno Agrario" was originally recorded by the tenor, Rudy Fanetti, with the Banda del Estado Mayor, under the direction of Carlos Fariñas [1934-2002]. Afterwards, it was sung by the tenor, Armando Pico, under the baton of the composer, in a commercial recording). Two years later, Ubieta was officially commissioned for the composition and gramophonic production of the "Himno de los CDR", whose lyrics were written by the Cuban poet, Indio Naborí (Jesús Orta Ruiz 1922-2005).

At the beginning of 1960, Ubieta also participates as founding composer of ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry), which commissions him to compose the music for "Realengo 18" (the first feature length film of ICAIC, whose sung musical theme was versified by the Dominican national poet, Pedro Mir (1913-2000). He was also commissioned by ICAIC for creating the music for a documentary and three animated cartoons. All these films have won prizes in several of the most reckoned worldwide film festivals. In 1962, for example, "Realengo 18" was awarded in the Latin American Cinema Review at Sestri-Levante, Italy. (Note. This film is currently available in video-cassette and DVD, in USA.)

Considered today among his most notable disciples, Ubieta was invited to study with Aram I. Khachaturian, in 1960, at the Moscow Conservatory. There, he remained working some time under the supervision of the Soviet composer. (Ubieta was the first Cuban composer who, invited by the USSR, studied with maestro Khachaturian.)

Returning to Havana, Ubieta continued writing vocal and chamber music, which was premiered on national TV both by the soprano Iris Burguet, and the Chamber Orchestra of Havana. During this time, and through his work, he exposed a harmonic school of his own conception, called Bimodalism: A system based exclusively on the simultaneous use of major and minor triads of equal root: c-eb-e-g. This harmonic fusion-the begetter of a new ethos in harmony-can be used throughout a complete work; or in one of its sections; or, in a symbiotic manner, in sharing with other compatible harmonic entities, already in existence. Ubieta's treatise that appears in the internet (Bimodalism: A New Dimension and Ethos in Harmony) details, with the aid of musical examples, both the aesthetic fundaments and the theory and practice of the new System.

In 1961, the famous documentarists, Joris Ivens (1898-1989) and Chris Marker (1921-2012) used Ubieta's music in their own film productions. In the following year, Ubieta publishes another innovation in music: "Pictorial Music Scores." This is a pictographic system that replaces the name of the listed instrument on the left column of the score, by its respective images. Two advantageous visual factors support this graphical reform: (1) The image of an instrument is universal; but, its name is not; and (2) An image is caught by the eye, more quickly than a word is. (30 years after this innovation was globally exploited by Ubieta, under the Pictorial Music Score label, Sibelius 3--the music notation program--currently provides it for its users in applying it to the instrumental parts from a score.)

Ubieta's comic zarzuela, "Mefistofeles" was premiered in 1964, when he was named composer in residence of the Musical Theatre of Havana, by its then director, the Mexican film maker, Alfonso Arau.

At the end of said year, Ubieta left Cuba to reside in Paris; where, he joined SACEM (the French society of music composers), and his music is transmitted by Radiofussión Francaise; while the National Scholastic TV, as well as other advertising firms of the country assign to him as composer/director of some their audiovisual productions.

Settling in the United States, in 1967, Ubieta met the famous actor, René Muñoz (Fray Escoba); who recorded a poetic recital with background music composed, played and directed by the composer.. An album with this music entitled, "San Martín de Porres", resulted a best selling record in the U.S., Mexico and Latin America. Shortly after, in December of that year, a recital was presented in New York's Town Hall, by these two connotated artists; who were accompanied by nine instrumentalists, conducted by the composer. It was a memorable recital, with a full house, celebrated enthusiastically by New York critics.

Later, in 1968, Miguel Ponce (1931—2012) co-founder and director of Teatro de Las Américas, designates Ubieta, as the musical director of Group; premiering then in the US, his musical comedy, Mefistófeles, at the Saint Paul Church’s Theatre of New York City. Premiere that, under the institutional patronage of Joseph Papp, began a long trajectory of theatric success, by the diverse New York scenarios. From this Group, years later, surge two stellar figures of Hispanic theater and cinematography. One of such figures is the compatriot and friend, Graciela Más (1932—2012), prima ballerina of Conjunto Nacional de Danza Moderna (1959); who left her country and her initial dance profession to become a versatile actress; and the other was the renowned actor, Raimundo Hidalgo-Gato (El Súper.) Finally, the Teatro de Las Américas, premiered Mefistófeles, with the following cast (in order of appearance): Rubén Rabasa ( Fausto); Raimundo Hidalgo-Gato (Mefistófeles): Graciela Más (Margaret); and Ileana Aste (her aunt, Martha.) Other secondary scenic roles, were assumed by Iván Acosta (a bully Valentín); Orestes Matacena (Siebel); Ramón Giuntoli (a casual knife grinder); and a scenic choir that, representing the peoples of the neighborhood, interact incidentally, throughout two acts and five scenes of this theatrical piece. (N.B. Years ago, we gave our last farewell to Ramón and Mundito; now, we give it to Miguel and Graciela---the faithful friend of always---: Farewell, memorable people!

The vocal-symphonic work by Ubieta, ”The Cuban Mass”, published by Walton Music Corporation, in 1975, was premiered at the Saint John The Divine Cathedral, in 1973, by  Dr. Alec Wyton (1921-2007); former president of the American Guild of Organists and Chapel Master of the cathedral.  At that occasion, Dr. Wyton handed over the baton to the composer, who was guest conductor of his own world premiere. Three soloists presented the new Mass, not in concert, but as sung mass. These voices were: Noigma Ubieta (soprano), wife of the composer; María Rigal (contralto) and Melvin Brown (tenor). This premiere had an attendance of almost 8,000 people, who were spread out around the outside of the cathedral.  Days after the stunning success, which was covered by the national media, Dr. Wyton enthusiastically recommended this piece for publishing by a specialized publisher.  Such a publisher was Norman Luboff, (1917-1987), founder and director of Walton Music Corporation. After publishing The Cuban Mass, Mr. Luboff performed and conducted the piece with his One Hundred Voices Choir. The Cuban Mass has also been presented by Almeda and Jackson Berkey´s choir, Soli Deo Gloria Cantorum; and by many other choral groups who perform domestically and outside the U.S.

"Anatomy of a Danzón represents to me the quintessence of this Cuban dance. It seems to me almost a "tour de force" to create, not one more Danzón, but a piece that one could think of as the very genesis of this dance. I consider it a masterful example of depuration, for the elimination of all exotic and non-essential elements; as well as an unusual achievement in compactness and economy of material; especially, if one remembers that the form of this Cuban dance is one of the most orthodox and traditionally well preserved, in the rich folklore of that island. Anatomy of a Danzón is, no doubt, one masterful work of contemporary Hispano-American music."

With these words, Julián Orbón (1925-1991) concluded a conference, on <La música en Cuba>, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in 1973. Ubieta remembers, that Orbón's fascination for this one-minute work was such, that, on a morning of 1976, he phoned him, in order to introduce Carlos Chávez (1899-1978); who, being justly in Orbón's residence, had heard the recording of this piece, and wished to congratulate Ubieta for its authorship. (That's how Orbón introduced Ubieta to Chávez.) Time after, on a 7th. day of August, Ubieta dedicates the score of said work to Orbón, just in time for his birthday. (Anatomy of a Danzón is a mixed chamber quartet; integrated by 1 contrabass soloist [a pizz.], 1 flute, 1 Cuban timbal, and 1 güiro.Ubieta composed this work, in 1961; being premiered at the Radio Diffusion Française, in 1965.)

In the spring of 1974, the famous Cuban guitarist, José Rey de la Torre (1917-1994), formally commissioned Ubieta a guitar composition, which would have to be premiered by him, on January 24th. 1975, at the Alice Tully Hall of New York. Unfortunately, he canceled the long awaited concert, a little before the scheduled performance, due to a sudden affliction in his fingers which urged immediate therapy. This calamity was very lamented by his followers, the concert producer, and, in particular, by Ubieta; who had recently established an association of musical collaboration with him. (The work to be premiered was "Rhumbicus".This is a brief piece of bimodalist harmony, that Rey played, during a radio interview given by Robert Sherman for WQXR, just one week before the concert date.) However, despite the unexpected setback, Ubieta remembers with warmth and gratitude this gentlemanly Rey of the guitar; who praised Ubieta's works with encomiastic words, in letters, recordings, and good memories that are forever treasured in history.

In 1975, the first guitar work by Ubieta is premiered at Carnegie Recital Hall. It is "Bimodal" (a one movement sonata); whose language exhibits, in total splendor, the harmonic school of Bimodalism. This piece has been performed, throughout time, in various countries of the world.

The Crypt of St. George's Episcopal Church in New York presented, in 1977, the acclaimed harpsichordist, Gerald Ranck, who premiered "Sui Generis Suite" by Ubieta--a bimodalistic work. Later, Ranck performed this work at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas; as well as throughout the U.S.

In the winter of 1978, Ubieta was commissioned to compose and conduct the music of the film, "El Super" (New Yorker Films.) The film and its music superceded the most optimistic expectations, winning among many awards, the Manheim Foreign Award of 1979, the Venetian Critics Award in that same year, and the Biarritz Award in 1980.

A year after this colossal success, the original sound track of the film is recorded by Kim Records. And, in 1985, the guitar version of the theme "New York Rush", transcribed by the composer, is recorded by Carlos Barbosa Lima on the Corcord Record label. ("Impressions" CCD-42009).

In 1999, the guitarrist, Manuel Barrueco recorded said theme in his EMI Classics CD, Cuba! "New York Rush" was published in two instrumental versions by G. Schirmer, Inc. (As of then, Hal Leonard Publishing Corp. distributes this score in its world market.)

"Variations Over An Anguish" is a cello solo, written by Ubieta, which was commissioned by the eminent Danish cellist, Hans Jørgen Jensen; who premiered it at the College-Conservatory of Music University of Cincinnati, in 1984. (Professor Jensen currently teaches cello at Northwestern University and faculty member of Meadowmount School of Music.)

Ubieta's experience composing music for the documentary film genre once again proved successful when in the summer of 1980, Ubieta was commissioned by the U.S. Government to compose the music for the documentary, In Their Own Words (winner of the Gold Medal in the 23rd. International Film Festival of New York).

Ubieta returns to the concert hall when his first piano trio, "Canon over Hanon", is premiered at the Vineyard Theatre of New York. This work, aesthetically analogous to its congeners in painting, is a true musical collage, where melodic "layers" by the violin and cello are painted over the first 20 lessons of the famous piano method, Hanon. (In other words, the Hanon's Method is the real object of collage).

In 1986, The New York Council on the Arts commissions Ubieta to compose his second piano trio, "Lo Negro Y Lo Blanco" (The Black and the White). During that year, such work was premiered by Trío Música Hispana (Chorberg, Bacelar and Zinger) of New York.

Also, in 1986, Levande Ton, an excellent choral group from Sweden directed by Thore Kennestad, records the Kyrie and Aleluya from "The Cuban Mass" for the Scandinavian label, Four-Leaf Clover. (The musical accompaniment of the LP was performed by the known Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdés, with two typical percussionists.)

To commemorate the centennary of Heitor Villa-Lobos birth, in 1987, Ubieta composed, "La Cubachiana". The composer transcribed 12 instrumental versions, some which have been premiered by different performers and musical groups. For example, The Florilegium Chamber Choir premiered the choral/piano version at Merkin Hall in New York. (Both, "La Cubachiana" and "The Cuban Mass", received excellent reviews for this concert).

Ubieta's choral work, "Voces de Navidad" (Christmas Voices) with lyrics in Spanish and English, written by him, was premiered by Las Voces, a chamber choir directed by Xiomara DiMaio. (San Diego, 1991).

Among the many performances of Ubieta's music, at the America's Society of New York, it's worth noting the performance of "La Cubachiana", by the excellent Quintet of the Americas, in 1993. Allan Kozinn, music critic for The New York Times, considered this version of "La Cubachiana", a "brilliant piece of popular South American influence."

The year 1994 brought the debut of "The Cuban Mass" to Stockholm, where it was conducted by Bengt Ollen and sung by Annika Skoglund, during the annual and celebrated Skinnskatteberg Choral Festival. These two-day performances of the work were enthusiastically received by the huge crowd attending and given a standing ovation.

The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, under the direction of Dr. Brady Allred, successfully presents, "The Cuban Mass", in October of 1998, at Carlow College Community Center, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Also, during that year, the National Lutheran Choir, conducted by its founder, Larry L. Fleming (1936-2003), releases the CD recording, "Christmas Festival 1998", in which appears, Santo (Part IV from "The Cuban Mass"). Santo appears again, three years later, in a new CD of the NLC, titled, "A Holy Solemnity". Nevertheless, an inexcusable carelessness we must point-out, respectively: This new CD of 2001, having taken a pre-recorded work (Santo), from the former CD (Christmas Festival 1998), has omitted the previously published name of the composer (Enrique Ubieta); printing, in its place, the patronymic term of "Cuban"... (In other words, as if the referred Santo were an anonymous music, taken from the Cuban musical folklore.) Indeed, this is a serious infraction of the Universal Copyright Law, committed by the producers of the CD, "A Holy Solemnity" (NCLA-162).

In 1999, the Westchester Philharmonic and Chorus of the Americas (directed by Nelly Vuksic), presented three parts of "The Cuban Mass" (Kyrie, Santo and Aleluya), under the baton of Paul Lustig Dunkel, its musical director.

Later, during April of 2002, the Cleveland Duo, of James Umble and Carolyn G. Warner, successfully presents a special version with saxophone of "La Cubachiana", in Jefferson, Ohio.

In recent years, more musicians have performed works by Ubieta, in concert and recordings. Among these, worth mentioning is Chucho Valdés and his quartet; who presented and recorded, "Son XXI", in a live concert at the Village Vanguard, from April 9-10, 1999, in New York. (This CD was winner of a Grammy Award in 2001).

Another important mention is that of the piano recitalist, Nohema Fernández, Dean of Arts at the University of California (in Irving); as well as the chamber group, Acapella Choir of the University of Wisconsin-Superior, which is directed by Dr. Matthew Faerber; the Palomar Chamber Singers, conducted by Dr. David Chase; and, finally, the Tritonus Choir of Norway that, under the baton of John Høybye, performed "The Cuban Mass", in Denmark.

In May of 2008, was premiered the original version of "The Cuban Mass", at the Ukiah Symphony Theatre of Mendocino, California. This time, the vocal soloists, choir and symphony orchestra of Ukiah University, conducted by Leslie Pfutzunreuter, have credited themselves a great success in the performance of said work, during two concert days. However, given the involuntary absence of the composer in this event, let the words of the conductor, addressed to the composer, speak by themselves: "The performance (of The Cuban Mass) was very successful and was enjoyed both by audience and performers. We have a very traditional audience that is used to hearing tonal 19th. century music. It was pleasing to hear positive comments even with the mix of atonality and polytonality. It is very delightful with the orchestration! It was a joy to work on the piece. We are delighted to perform your work..."

From 2007-2009, the St. George's Episcopal Church Choir of Fredericksburg, Virginia, performed three of the parts integrating The Cuban Mass, under the baton of Dr. John H. Vreeland. These parts are, respectively: Santo, Kyrie and Agnus Dei.

In 2007, the Bethel University Choir, conducted by Dennis Port, released the 51st. Christmas Festival Bethel University CD recording, which includes the Santo from The Cuban Mass.

The Cantabile Chamber Chorus, conducted by Rebecca Scott, performed the complete score of The Cuban Mass, in Piscataway and New Brunswick, New Jersey, on April 24th. and May 1st. of 2010, respectively. Both concerts were successful, at full house.

After 12 years of absence, the great Cuban pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, has been awarded in the 27th International Jazz Plaza Festival, 2011; which is celebrated annually at Teatro Mella de La Habana, Cuba. As the composer of Son XXI, Ubieta is not only proud him because his work was played by Rubalcaba and his group, during said Festival; but also because his work is an integral part of the sophisticated CD,”XXI Century---Gonzalo Rubalcaba; released worldwide since November, 2011. (Today, Ubieta thinks to himself, respectively: “Son XXI” has been object of a magic enchantment, to be touched by two great magicians of the universal jazz---Chucho and Gonzalo!)   

In 2012, The Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the Royal Foundation of Carlos III of Spain, invited 23 contemporary, Ibero-american art masters to participate in the Bicentennial Celebration of the Spanish Consitution (1812-2012). Being invited to such celebration, representing Cuba, Ubieta creates and donates a canvas of musical allegory: "¡Viva la Pepa!" The Royal Foundation of Carlos III, in the name of the King of Spain, awards Ubieta at the Teatro Real de Madrid for his distinguished merits and international recognition. See, CosmoArte Siglo XXV press release.

This same year the Swedish choir, VARBERGS KAMMARKÖR performed The Cuban Mass at Örby-skene Församling, the Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan).

On September 30, 2014 a special homage was made to Ubieta at the 6th. Leo Brouwer Chamber Music Festival held in Havana. Musicologist Ivette Céspedes gave a conference about Ubieta, his life and work.

Sadly, Composer Ubieta passed away on July 2, 2015 from heart complications. He was 80 years old survived by his wife, Noigma, his sons John and Alexis, and grandson Max. Ubieta will be missed by many, but hopefully his legacy of constant innovation and observation will inspire new generations of talented musicians and composers.


                                                            

ATTENTION: Each year there are various presentations of Ubieta's works, as much as in the USA, as in other parts of the world. Of such events, only the most relevant are briefly mentioned in this website. References to the composer can be obtained from Who's Who in American Film Now (a book by James Monaco, published by Baseline, the 1975-86 edition.)

In addition, it is propitious to inform that, both the Lincoln Center Music Library in New York City and the Latin American Music Center, at the Indiana University School of Music, maintain in their respective archives, recordings and publications of some Ubieta's works, as reference materials available to the public. Further information about Ubieta can be found in the following sources:

Victoria Eli Rodríguez. Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana. Madrid, Sociedad General de Autores y Editores de España, 2002, t. 10.

Rine Leal. La selva oscura . De los bufos a la neocolonia (Historia del teatro cubano de 1868 a 1902). La Habana, Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1982.

Radamés Giro. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. Editorial Letras Cubanas, La Habana, 2009.

Copyright © 1998-2010 by Enrique Ubieta (SACEM/SDRM). The contents of this site are for informational purposes only; and nothing in this site may be quoted or reproduced without written permission from Enrique Ubieta. All rights reserved.