Program 88
"René Touzet"

MUSIC: clip from René Touzet’s Cuban Dance Nostalgica performed by Maria Letona [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 11]  [under the following]  

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and for the next hour we’re going to explore the life and music of the Cuban composer, René Touzet, who lived from 1916 until 2003. I’m so happy you were able to join me for this particular musical journey. I think it will be a real compact discovery for you.

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René Touzet was born in Havana, but spent most of his younger years in the seaside city of Cojimar. He showed interest and talent for the piano at the early age of four.

Touzet received most of his piano training from a teacher named Conchita Pereira, who was affiliated with the Falcon Conservatory in Havana. Under her guidance, Touzet participated in many recitals and competitions.

But when Touzet was 16 years old, Pereira died of cancer and, on a rainy and somber afternoon, young Touzet helped carry her casket to the cemetery.

Touzet had great affection for his teacher and felt very grateful to her because, knowing of his financial situation, she never charged his parents for any of the piano lessons she gave him. Touzet’s first composition for the piano, called A Waltz for My Teacher, was dedicated to Conchita Pereira.

MUSIC: Touzet: Let Me Love You Tonight, English lyrics by Mitchell Parish, performed by Frank Sinatra [The Columbia Years 1943-1952, five discs]  [establish, then under the following] [2:44]

By 1934 Touzet’s classical training had ceased completely because of the financial hardship his family was facing. He had to accept a job as a pianist in a jazz band. He became interested in this style of music and soon became the leader of a 16-piece orchestra that played Big Band music at the Grand Casino in Havana.

By this time, Touzet had also written several songs. He married at the age of 24, and during this time he composed this song, No Te Importe Saber, known in English as Let Me Love You Tonight. It came to the attention of such artists as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, both of whom recorded it: Sinatra in English and Crosby -- believe it or not -- in Spanish.

MUSIC: above music finishes

MUSIC: Touzet: No Te Importe Saber, performed by Bing Crosby [The Chronological Bing Crosby, Jonzo Records, Vol. 31, 1941]  [2:29]

Two versions of René Touzet’s No Te Importe Saber / It’s Not Important to Know. The English version, with lyrics by Mitchell Parish, has a much more romantic title: Let Me Love You Tonight.  The English version was sung by Frank Sinatra.  The Spanish version was sung by Bing Crosby, whose pronunciation of the language is probably on a par with mine. That is to say, pretty sad. But I understand that native Spanish speakers find it very charming, if not a bit humorous, to hear Crosby sing in their language.

There is a great story regarding Touzet and Crosby. On one occasion, while  Touzet was playing live on the radio with Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra, Bing Crosby dropped in unannounced.

In those years -- the 1940s -- Crosby was very famous for singing White Christmas, but a new Christmas song was becoming popular -- Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.  Crosby announced on the radio that he was going to sing it, and Touzet said he almost died because he had no idea how the song went. Thankfully, one of the string players knew the song and whispered all the chords in Touzet’s ear. Bing Crosby didn’t notice a thing!

MUSIC: Touzet: Yo Vengo de Nueva York (I Come from New York), sung by Desi Arnaz  [The  Best of Desi Arnaz, the Mambo King, BMG Music] [down and way under the following after a few seconds]

Speaking of Desi Arnaz, in 1947 Touzet was living in Hollywood, California. In the hotel where Touzet was staying, there also lived a Cuban couple who were professional dancers. Touzet had met them years before when they had collaborated together in a show.

The couple asked Touzet to play for them so that they could audition for then Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz. Knowing they were short of money, Touzet agreed to accompany them for free.

When Arnaz heard Touzet play at the audition, he asked him to join his orchestra, and Touzet accepted. Touzet worked in Desi’s orchestra for six months until Desi created the I Love Lucy show. Desi Arnaz asked Touzet to come aboard and join the rest of the musicians, but Touzet declined because he was interested in having his own orchestra. He was not interested in being -- as he put it -- “somebody’s pianist.”

MUSIC: fades out

Touzet did form his own orchestra when he moved permanently to the United States in the late 1950s. Here’s a sample of how it played the theme from the movie El Cid on Crescendo Records.

MUSIC: Theme from the movie El Cid performed by René Touzet and his Orchestra on Crescendo Records] [down under the following]

Touzet led a successful life as an orchestra leader, greatly influencing Latin music through his famous mambos and cha-chas on the West Coast of the United States.

But after years of playing popular music, Touzet started to get tired of his hectic schedule that always took time away from his true passion -- playing and composing for the piano.

MUSIC: fades out

In 1992 Touzet decided to leave California and move with his family to Miami, Florida. Sadly, he realized that all the years playing popular music had taken a toll on his fingers, and he decided to dedicate his time to writing for the piano instead of playing it. Although he took some courses in theory and arranging, Touzet considered himself to be largely “self-taught” as a composer.

In most of his piano works, Touzet successfully blends Cuban folk music and jazz with art or classical music. In that sense, he follows in the tradition of composers such as George Gershwin and Aaron Copland in the United States, Alberto Ginastera in Argentina, Heitor Villa-Lobos in Brazil, and Enrique Granados and Isaac Albeniz in Spain. They all enriched art music by expanding notions of traditional musical forms and structures, and by infusing it with popular rhythms and harmonies.

Touzet wrote a series of Cuban Dances for piano between 1930 and 1989 that illustrate very well what I’ve been talking about. Let’s hear eight of them now as performed by pianist Maria Letona on a Tempo Primo recording. I’ll tell you more about the pianist later, and I’ll introduce each piece as they come along.

I’ll start with my personal favorite. It is well-named Apasionada -- Passionate. Next time Hollywood makes a romantic “Love Story”-like movie, I think they should take this gorgeous melody, orchestrate it, and use it as the main theme.

MUSIC: Touzet: Apasionada (Passionate) with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 15]  [3:07]

Apasionada (Passionate) from Eight Cuban Dances by René Touzet. Let’s continue with the other seven pieces from this set now, all performed by pianist Maria Letona. Next Tu Y Yo (You and I).

MUSIC: Touzet: Tu Y Yo [You and I] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 8]  [2:56]

Alegre (Happy).

MUSIC: Touzet: Alegre [Happy] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 9]  [2:14]

La Trece (Thirteen).

MUSIC: Touzet: La Trece [Thirteen] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 10]  [1:55]

Nostalgica (Nostalgic).

MUSIC: Touzet: Nostalgica [Nostalgic] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 11]  [2:08]

Siempre en Clave (Always in Rhythm).

MUSIC: Touzet: Siempre en Clave [Always in  Rhythm] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 12]  [2:32]

Bailarina (Ballerina).

MUSIC: Touzet: Bailarina (Ballerina) with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 13]  [2:26]

Cascabel (Carnival Bells).

MUSIC: Touzet: Cascabel (Carnival Bells) with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 14]  [2:34]

Eight Danzas Cubanas (Cuban Dances) by René Touzet performed by pianist Maria Letona. We are exploring the piano music of Touzet during this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in total timings at 33:03]

In 1973 Touzet wrote a beautiful and expressive piano piece inspired by Chopin’s nocturnes. As in most of Touzet’s compositions, this piece is very romantic in style and it contains harmonies derived from jazz.  Maria Letona’s recording of the piano music of Touzet begins with this work, which is called simply Nocturno.

MUSIC: Touzet: Nocturno [Nocturn] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 1]  [3:26]

Maria Letona played Nocturno by Cuban composer René Touzet. Before I continue with more of Letona playing Touzet, a few words about the pianist in this recording.

Maria Letona was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, in 1962 and now lives in Miami where she is a member of the music faculty at Barry University. She received her bachelor and master’s degrees with Distinction in Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and earned her Doctorate in Musical Arts at the University of Miami.

But this biographical sketch was far from inevitable. In fact, her father was so strict and demanding about her piano lessons when she was growing up that as a teenager she rebelled, ran away from home at age 17, and totally gave up practicing classical music. She joined a popular local Latin band. They asked if she could play salsa, and she answered that she could, although all she really knew was Beethoven.

Letona played with the band for two years throughout the New Orleans area, frequently as a warm-up for Latin artists such as Celia Cruz. After that she went to Boston, where her older sister lived. She took secretarial jobs until she once again began to feel the pull of her classical music training. She bought an old upright piano and practiced until she was good enough to get into the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music at age 25.  Her letters of recommendation were from her boss. They said that she was an excellent... receptionist.

After getting her degree from the Conservatory, she was undecided about what to do next until she happened to eat with friends in a Chinese restaurant. Her fortune cookie said: “You are headed to the land of palm trees and sunshine,” so she made her fortune come true. She exchanged the New England frost for a doctorate from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Let’s get back to Maria Letona’s recording of the music of René Touzet and spend the rest of the hour with this unjustly neglected repertoire. Next we’ll listen to three of the composer’s four Capriccios: numbers 1, 3 and 4. They were written in about two weeks in 1990. They contrast each other in mood and character, and the influence of jazz is apparent through Touzet’s use of altered chords.

MUSIC: Touzet: Capriccios No. 1, 3 and 4 with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, tracks 2, 3 and 4]

Three Capriccios by René Touzet played by Maria Letona.

Let’s conclude this hour devoted to the music of this Cuban composer with the same piece that concludes her album: Fantasia Española (Spanish Fantasy). This piece was inspired by a Spanish dancer who asked Touzet to play for her because her pianist was sick. Touzet was 18 at the time and he wrote around two pages. He didn’t get around to finishing the piece until many years later, in 1973.

MUSIC: Touzet: Fantasia Española with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 16]  [6:12]

Fantasia Española (Spanish Fantasy) by Cuban composer René Touzet performed by Salvadoran-born pianist Maria Letona on a Tempo Primo CD made in the U.S.A.

I hope you enjoyed the music of René Touzet as much as I did and that this CD by Maria Letona was a true compact discovery for you.

MUSIC: Touzet: theme from Apasionada [Passionate] with Maria Letona, piano [Tempo Primo TP-002, track 15]  [down and under]

Your comments on this program or the series in general are most welcome at our website: There you’ll find descriptions of the programs, complete scripts with information on all the music played, a list of radio stations carrying the program, listener comments, Compact Discoveries articles, even a page on how your company or foundation can help underwrite the costs of producing and distributing the series.

I would like to thank Maria Letona for her help in producing, researching and writing this program, as well as for playing all the piano music you heard during this past hour.

Compact Discoveries is a registered trademark and production of Compact Discoveries, Inc. This program is made possible in part by the members of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

MUSIC: up and fade out at 56:44

WFMT Announcer: This program is distributed by the WFMT Radio Network. [5 seconds]

Program Ends at 56:50

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