The danzon and Enrique Peña

Mar 23, 2020


The coastal city of Puerto Padre, also known as the Villa Azul, has been since its founding a true cradle and refuge of the arts in the eastern part of our country. Poetry and music go hand by hand among its avenues and portals, so it is no wonder that this city is the birthplace of great figures.

Perhaps the first of his time, not only by value but also by seniority, is the great Enrique Peña Valdes, called by many the master of danzón.

Birth, music and fighting

Enrique Peña Valdes was born at the number 16 of the Ruby street, in Puerto Padre, on July 17th, 1880. Son of Spanish father and freed slave mother, he always felt a deep love for his country. In his early years he studied clarinet with the teachers Marcos Gonzalez and Jose Santos Betancourt.

When the Independence war broke out in 1895, the young Enrique joins the Liberation Army. There, he not only reached for his courage the rank of captain, but proved his worth as a musician and composer being the cornet of Antonio Maceo the Bronze Titan. After the war, he settled in Havana as a composer and orchestral conductor.

A career full of glory

In 1902, Enrique Peña Valdes founded the typical orchestra bearing his name, which eventually was hailed by the regulars of the ballrooms and recorded by multiple labels. Only with Edison and Columbia labels, Peña recorded more than sixty pieces, almost all danzons of his own inspiration.

Enrique Peña Valdes as soloist at the cornet, but his orchestra had musicians such as Cheo Belen Puig parent or José Urfe, who later popularized the genre around the country. Urfe was the author of the famous danzón Barreto’s bowler hat, a piece that was a landmark in Cuban musical history and was first performed in typical Oquesta of Enrique Peña.

Peña and his musicians traveled often to the United States, both for concert performances and to record for their record labels. 1906, 1909, 1910, 1915, 1917 and 1920 witnessed the mastery of Enrique Peña Valdes and his orchestra in the international arena. Despite the large number of groups that did danzón on the island, his orchestra was always the favorite of the critic.

For 20 years fecund Enrique Peña Valdes and his orchestra made history in Cuban music. Peña was appointed member of the National Association of Teachers of Music, and vented his work in multiple publications in music magazines of his time.

Prolific composer, his works were performed by other artists such as Vicente Lanz, Antonio Maria Romeu, Felix Gonzalez, Pablo Valenzuela or Domingo Corbacho.

If death had not surprised scarce 42 years, this illustrious son of Puerto Padre had become, to a greater extent in the most prolific and renowned musician of his time. Enrique Peña Valdes died on April 13th, 1922, and with it his orchestra disintegrated. But the musicians who were part charted their own paths, always thanking the knowledge and honoring the memory of the master of danzón.

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