Maria Matilde Alea

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The work of composer and teacher Maria Matilde Alea will no doubt be offered much needed international exposure if and when certain superpowers change their own theme song in terms of relations with the…
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The work of composer and teacher Maria Matilde Alea will no doubt be offered much needed international exposure if and when certain superpowers change their own theme song in terms of relations with the island of Cuba. Anything would suffice other than what seems to be the long-running choice, "Uptight" -- a major factor in why her musical works seem (literally) out of sight. It would be too much to expect her masterpiece of co-operation, "Cobildo" for two pianos, to be adopted as a kind of international anthem of rapprochement. It is only fair, however, that she receives more acknowledgement for her work combing musical composition with instruction.

Despite a long glossary of descriptive terms in several languages and any number of sets of "hip" sub-languages, the field of music seems at a loss in evaluating compositions which are not only useful for student instrumentalists but are written specifically to enhance musical skill. This was the forte of Alea, who began studying music with her mother Maria Teresa Fernandez, the family living in the Pinar del Rio area. By the '30s she was on a familiar track: a move to Havana, conservatory study, and then her own conservatory teaching position.

Since musicians possibly and really should be able to learn something from any piece of music, the true worth of works such as hers have been questioned, their aesthetic toast smeared with low-calorie oleo. Some "big-name" composers are allowed such compositions in their catalog, however; indeed, the instructional piano pieces of Béla Bartók and Erik Satie are cherished and no doubt influenced Alea's own set of pieces in this mode. In the mid-'70s, her "Three Preludes for Clarinet and Piano" became regarded as one of her signature works. She has also written for the piano in combination with oboe and viola, and in the early '80s wrote the suite entitled "Cuban Miniatures." In 2001 the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba presented a tribute to Alea as part of the organization's annual Festival of Contemporary Music.