Caturla was born in the town of Remedios, Villa Clara, Cuba. With only sixteen years old, in 1922, he won a position as part of the section of the 2nd violins of the newly formed “Orquesta Sinfónica de La Habana”, where Amadeo Roldán was the concertmaster. He started to write music since he was a teenager, while studying both music and law. He felt attracted to Afro-Cuban rhythms since he was really young, and this became a common denominator in his compositions in a time when the division between art music and popular music did not influence Cuban composers. From 1925 to 1927 he continued his musical studies in Paris as a student of Nadia Boulanger.
Together with composer Amadeo Roldán, Caturla became the leader of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend, which mixed elements of white and black culture, incorporating Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. Later on he used advanced techniques and French Impressionist styles combined with primitive tunes; as a result, some of his works show surprising juxtapositions of chords and moods. He composed Concierto de cámara, Obertura cubana, Danzas cubanas, and a suite for orchestra (1938). Many vocal works were inspired by Cuban poets such as Alejo Carpentier and Nicolás Guillén; other works include one string quartet (1927), Bembé, for fourteen instruments, and Primera suite cubana (1930) among others. He produced numerous piano works, among them Danza lucumí (1928) and Sonata (1939).
After finishing his musical studies, Caturla returned to his home town, where he continued his composition career and started practicing law to provide for his growing family. His Tres Danzas Cubanas for symphony orchestra was first performed in Spain in 1929. Bembe premiered in Havana the same year. In 1932 he founded the Caibarien Concert Society, whose orchestra he conducted on many occasions, making known the music of Falla, Ravel and Debussy. His Obertura Cubana won first prize in a national contest in 1938. García Caturla was also a multi-instrumental performer and a baritone of some quality.
García Caturla left two legacies: One as an universal musician who combined classical and folkloric themes with modern musical ideas through his compositions and knowledge of at least seven different instruments. His career paralleled with Amadeo Roldán’s, and the two men are considered pioneers of modern Cuban symphonic art. His other legacy is one of serving justice, first as an attorney and later as a judge. While presiding over a criminal case, García Caturla was murdered at thirty-four by the young gambler he was about to sentence to prison.
No quiere juego con tu marido (Danza cubana no. 1), 1924
La viciosa (Danza cubana no. 2), 1924
La número tres (Danza cubana no. 3), 1924
Cuentos musicales. Escanas infantiles, 1925
Danza del Tambor
Tres Preludios, 1925
Tres danzas cubanas, 1927
Obertura cubana, 1928
Comparsa (a Fernando Ortiz), 1930
Preludio Homenaje a Changó, 1936
Berceuse para dormir a un negrito, 1937
Berceuse Campesina, 1938
- Nicolas Slonimsky, Music of Latin America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1945): 184.
- Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture
- Carpentier, Alejo 2001 . Music in Cuba. Minneapolis MN.
- Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. Revised by Sue Steward. ISBN 0-8223-3186-1 A biographical dictionary of Cuban music, artists, composers, groups and terms. Duke University, Durham NC; Tumi, Bath. p90–91 gives more details of his career.
- On the record Sydney Morning Herald (17 October 2010).
- White, Charles W. 2003. Alejandro Garcia Caturla: a Cuban composer in the twentieth century. Scarecrow Press, Lanham MD. Accompanied by audio CD.