Composers Datebook®

Gershwin and Daugherty go Latin


In the 1950s, if you said the words “Cuban music,” perhaps Desi Arnez, a.k.a. Ricky Ricardo, singing “Babaloo” might come to mind. These days, it’s more likely the Buena Vista Social Club.

On today’s date back in 1932, George Gershwin had Cuban music on his mind when the New York Philharmonic premiered his “Cuban Overture” under its original title “Rumba.” Cuban dance music has always proved appealing to North American composers and long before Gershwin, the 19th century piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk toured Cuba and imitated some of the sounds and rhythms he heard there in his original works.

In the early 1940s, a young hay fever sufferer named Leonard Bernstein escaped the New England pollen of Tanglewood for a time in Key West. There he was inspired by the Latin dance bands he heard on radio Havana to write a jaunty, little Cuban-style dance of his own that would resurface some 15 years later as the song “America” in Bernstein’s hit musical, “West Side Story.”

And in 1990, American composer Michael Daughterty composed his orchestral conga line entitled “Desi”—a symphonic tribute to Cuban bandleader Desi Arnez, in his pop icon role of, who else, Ricky Ricardo.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) Cuban Overture New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta, cond. Teldec 46318

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) Desi! Baltimore Symphony; David Zinman, cond. Argo 444 454

On This Day


  • 1795 - German opera composer Heinrich August Marschner, in Saxony;

  • 1863 - French composer, conductor and organist Gabriel Pierné, in Metz;

  • 1929 - American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans, in Plainsfield, N.J.;


  • 1914 - Russian composer Anatol Liadov (Gregorian date: August 28);

  • 1977 - Rock superstar Elvis Presley, age 42, in Memphis, Tennessee;


  • 1876 - First complete performance of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle continues at Bayreuth with the world premiere performance of "Siegfried";

  • 1932 - Gershwin: "Cuban Overture" (under the title "Rumba"), by the New York Philharmonic at a Lewisohn Stadium concert conducted by Albert Coates;

  • 1936 - R. Strauss: "Olympic Hymn" at the opening of the Olympiad in Berlin;

  • 1944 - R. Strauss: opera "Die Liebe der Danae" (The Love of Danae), in a dress rehearsal performance in Salzburg at the Festspielhaus; The premiere was cancelled due to the closing of all German theaters and the declaration of "total war"; The belated premiere occurred on August 14, 1952, during the Salzburg Festival;

  • 1961 - Kodály: Symphony (dedicated to the memory of Arturo Toscanini), at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland;

  • 1973 - Bernstein: "Dybbuk Variations," in Auckland, New Zealand, conducted by the composer; Bernstein's ballet, "Dybbuk," choreographed by Jerome Robbins, had premiered at the New York City Ballet on May 16, 1973;

  • 1995 - Michael Torke: "July" for saxophone quartet, at Cardiff Bay by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet;

  • 2001 - Lowell Liebermann: Violin Concerto, at Saratoga Arts Center, N.Y., by soloist Chantal Juillet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit conducting;

  • 2001 - Kaija Saariaho: "Nymphea Reflection," at the Schlewswig-Holstein Festival in Germany, by Sinfonietta Cracova, Axelrod conducting;


  • 1613 - Claudio Monteverdi becomes Master of Music, Republic of Venice;

  • 1814 - Beethoven finishes composing the Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 90;

  • 1943 - La Scala Opera house in Milan, Italy, damaged by Allied bombers.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®