José Raúl Bernardo

Cuban Baroque Suite (with piano or harpsichord and percussion) (1998)

I: Overture

III. Habanera

II. Fanfare

IV. Danzon

V. Aria 

VI. Beguine

VII. Zapateo

VIII. Minueto

IX. Rumba finale             

Notes courtesy J. Bernardo:

The music of José Raúl Bernardo has often been characterized as “deceptively simple.”

This deceptive simplicity is nowhere more evident than in the CUBAN BATOQUE SUITE, for this work is simultaneously serial and tonal! Using the Baroque circle of fifths as his twelve- tone series, Bernardo has created an apparently easy and effortless suite of dances which belies the intricate complexity of its carefully built underlying structure.

The genesis of this work is an opera buffa by Bernardo entitled The Unavoidable Consequences of Getting Caught in a Farce, first presented in 1981 for Joe Papp at the New York Public Theatre. The opera, which takes place on a tropical island, engages the audience by using as story tellers two mischievous cupids, Sacred and Profane, who, as one may expect, are constantly bickering. To characterize them, Bernardo uses two highly contrasting musical languages: Sacred sings prudish, churchlike music using centuries old baroque musical conventions, while Profane delights in vulgar and sensual Cuban dance rhythms. The vibrant juxtaposition of these extreme opposites provides the score-originally orchestrated for woodwind quintet, percussion and harpsichord – with a spicy life of its very own. After the premiere, Bernardo organized several of the dances using the format of a typical Baroque suite. In this suite, the dances appear to have been written by a Baroque composer who had the incredible good luck of being born on a tropical island!

On September 15, 1998, a full orchestral version of this work was premiered by the Utica Symphony Orchestra, who commissioned the orchestral version. The work was enthusiastically received by the audience as well as by the critics, one of whom, referred to it as “a sometimes tongue-in-cheek work which sparks the listener’s imagination with its vivid imagery,” while another called it, “Charming. Utterly charming!”

Echoes From a Distant Land (1983)

I: Very Free

II: Fast and Playful, Full of Life

III: Softly, Hesitantly

Dedicated to Matt Sullivan and the Quintet of the Americas, New York, Oct. 1983

Quintet oboist Matt Sullivan met José Bernardo in a chance meeting and brought the composer to our attention. In Matt’s words:” I met composer, architect and pianist José Raúl Bernardo, at a popular diner on Broadway at 102nd Street in about 1980.   When I moved from San Francisco to NYC, I was advised by musician friends to find an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since this was a music professions neighborhood. There had been a fire on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s, so the area was being renovated, including a building on 102nd Street, just east of Broadway. While out in that neighborhood looking for a place to live, I found an apartment being renovated.  A few days later I moved in. The busy diner on Broadway was right around the corner. I went there often. One morning, while sitting at a booth having breakfast, I overheard a conversation between two lively gentlemen – I heard them mention music and introduced myself. José Bernardo and his life partner, Bob Joyner, were friendly and welcoming – becoming lifelong friends of mine.   They seemed very pleased to meet me, too.    I visited them often since they lived on West End Avenue at 99th street – just 3 blocks from me. José told me that in addition to being an architect, he was a composer from Cuba and was excited play his music for me.   Since I had just joined Quintet of the Americas, a group dedicated to the music of the Americas, I was excited about the possibilities José’s passionate music – was beautiful, skillful and very danceable.  Jose wrote a few wonderful pieces for us which we featured on our US/Worldwide concert tours and our series at the Americas Society in NYC. José passed in 2008. His wonderful music lives on.”  

José Raúl Bernardo, (1928-2008), a Treu “Renaissance man,” was born in La Habana, Cuba. He studied at the Havana Conservatory, Cuba, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1958. He attended the University of Miami in Florida where he received a Masters in Music in 1969. He received his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1972. José was a renaissance man – an architect, playwright, composer, and writer. Among his musical compositions are concertos for piano, violin, viola and harpsichord; a symphony; miscellaneous chamber and solo works; two operas and several film scores. A great friend of the Quintet, he wrote several pieces for the ensemble including Echoes from a Distant Land and Cuban Baroque Suite as well as arrangements of Cuban masters such as Samuell and Lecuona. His novels include Silent WingSecret of the Bulls and Wise Women of Havana. He died after a long illness on February 4, 2008. He is survived by his husband Robert Leslie Joyner.