Cuban Overture

From Wind Repertory Project
George Gershwin

George Gershwin (arr. R Mark Rogers)

General Info

Year: 1932 / 2006
Duration: c. 10:15
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Alfred Publishing Co.
Cost: Score and Parts - $200.00   |   Score Only - $50.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II-III
Oboe I-II
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion I-II-III-IV, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Bells
  • Bongos
  • Claves
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Guiro
  • Maracas
  • Snare Drum
  • Wood Block
  • Xylophone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

In mid-1932. George Gershwin left New York with several friends to take a vacation in Havana, Cuba. He had just presented a successful show on Broadway – Of Thee I sing –- and the premiere of his Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. While there, he became fascinated with the native music of Cuba and returned to New York armed with Cuban percussion instruments and musical ideas.

These ideas culminated in a symphonic work entitled Rumba; its first performance was presented in an all-Gershwin concert in Levisohn Stadium on August 16, 1932, conducted by Albert Coates. Later, on November 1 of the same year, it was presented at the Metropolitan Opera under the title Cuban Overture. Gershwin provided these program thoughts:

In my composition I have endeavored to combine the Cuban rhythms with my own thematic material. The result is a symphonic overture, which embodies the essence of the Cuban dance.

It has three main parts. The first part, Moderator e Molto Ritmato, is preceded by a [forte] introduction featuring some of the thematic material. Then comes a three-part contrapunctual episode leading to a second theme. The first part finishes with a recurrence of the first theme combined with fragments of the second.

A solo clarinet cadenza leads to the middle part, which is in a plaintive mood. It is a gradual developing canon in a polytonal manner. This part concludes with a climax based on an ostinato of the theme in the canon, after which a sudden change in tempo brings us back to the rumba dance rhythms.

The final is a development of the preceding material in a stretto-like manner. This leads us back once again to the main theme.

The conclusion of the work is a coda featuring the Cuban instruments of the percussion.

As is the case with Second Rhapsody, Cuban Overture portrays a composer in transition –- trying out new ideas in harmony and counterpoint and streamlining his orchestration. Doubtless a major source of this change –- and historians will argue how much or how little –- was due to Gershwin's studies with Joseph Schillinger, which started in 1932.

Certainly, Gershwin's musical interests were widening at this point since his music library now included Bach's The Art of the Fugue, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and the then-avant-garde works of Berg and Schoenberg. For many years he had been an irregular student of music, and now he surprised his friends with this knowledge of the inner workings of the classics. While linear aspects of his music revealed a growing influence, Gershwin's orchestral technique was making even greater strides. It may very well be that this is the area in which Schillinger influenced Gershwin the most. Cuban Overture has the fewest examples of the excessive instrumental doublings that Gershwin overused in his orchestration of the Concerto in F, An American in Paris, and Second Rhapsody. However, Gershwin, remaining true to his own spirit, continued his orchestral palette and sound in addition to his bad habits in orchestration.

Gershwin also highlighted the formal aspects of his music since he was obviously aware that even critics praising his work were not happy with the sometimes awkward construction of some of his orchestral music. This was an aspect of his creative effort that he constantly sought to improve. This, Second Rhapsody and Cuban Overture were opportunities to experiment in form, imitative counterpoint and more effective transitions.

In Cuban Overture, Gershwin was thus able to demonstrate a great leap forward in musical maturity as well as to show how his interest in new and different musical cultures could affect his own creativity.

- Program Note by Mark Rogers

Rumba was premièred by the New York Philharmonic in the now-demolished Lewisohn Stadium on August 16, 1932, during an all-Gershwin concert of epic proportions. After the performance, an elated composer wrote: “It was, I really believe, the most exciting night I have ever had . . . 17,845 people paid to get in and just about 5,000 were at the closed gates trying to fight their way in unsuccessfully.”

Cuban Overture was Gershwin’s last effort at composing a significant concert work before his untimely death in 1937 at the age thirty-eight.

- Program Note from U.S. Marine Band concert program 24 August 2016


State Ratings

  • Maryland: VI


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Southeastern Louisiana University (Hammond) Wind Symphony (Robert Schwartz, conductor) - 28 September 2023
  • Ithaca (N.Y.) College Wind Ensemble (Daniel Cook, conductor) - 17 September 2023
  • University of Florida (Gainesville) Wind Symphony (David Waybright, conductor) - 25 April 2023
  • Florida State University (Tallahassee) Wind Ensemble (David Plack, conductor) - 8 November 2022
  • Lone Star Wind Orchestra (Dallas, Tx.) (Eugene Migliaro Corporon, conductor) - 6 November 2022
  • United States Marine Band (Washington, D.C.) (Darren Lin, conductor) - 2 June 2022
  • Las Vegas Academy (Nev.) Wind Ensemble (John Seaton, conductor) - 3 May 2022
  • West Virginia University (Morgantown) Wind Symphony (Scott C. Tobias, conductor) - 26 April 2022
  • Texas A&M University (College Station) Wind Symphony (Timothy Rhea, conductor) - 29 November 2020
  • Montclair (N.J.) State University Wind Symphony (Thomas McCauley, conductor) – 27 October 2019
  • Metropolitan Wind Symphony (Lexington, Mass.) (Richard Wyman, conductor) – 27 October 2019
  • United States Coast Guard Academy Band (New London, Conn.) (Kenneth W. Megan, conductor) – 5 May 2019
  • Michigan State University (East Lansing) Wind Symphony (Kevin Sedatole, conductor) – 25 April 2019
  • Brock University (St. Catharines, Ont.) Wind Ensemble (Zoltan Kalman, conductor)– 2 April 2019
  • Texas All-State Concert Band (Jamie Nix, conductor) - 16 February 2019 (2019 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)
  • McAllen (Tx.) Wind Ensemble (Roger Olivarez, conductor) – 13 November 2018
  • Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisc.) Wind Ensemble (Andrew Mast, conductor) – 13 October 2018
  • Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) Symphonic Winds (Dennis Llinás, conductor) – 11 October 2018
  • University of Florida (Gainesville) Wind Symphony (David Waybright, conductor) – 27 September 2018
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts (Michigan) Adult Band Camp (Thomas Riccobono, conductor) 12 August 2018
  • University of South Alabama (Mobile) Wind Ensemble (William Peterson, conductor) – 24 April 2018

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Cuban Overture. Wikipedia. Accessed 20 January 2022
  • Gershwin, G.; Rogers, M. (2001). Cuban Overture [score]. WB Music: [United States].
  • Perusal score
  • Williams, Nicholas Enrico. "Cuban Overture." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 9, edit. & comp. by Richard Miles, 674-679. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013.