René Touzet, the second of three children, was born in Havana, Cuba, on September 8, 1916. His father, who had a deep appreciation for classical music, exposed young Touzet to the art by regularly playing recordings on the phonograph. In 1920, Touzet suffered an accident that injured his right leg, and the family's doctor recommended that they move near the beach so that he could take long walks in the sand as a form of therapy. The family moved to the seaside city of Cojimar where, at the age of four, he was given a toy piano and developed an immediate interest in music. Soon, Touzet was able to pick out melodies and play them by ear: "My two main occupations in Cojimar were swimming and playing the piano."

In 1925, Touzet began formal piano studies with José Echániz, a well-known teacher and the father of José " Pepe" Echániz, one of the first Cuban concert pianists. Unfortunately, Mr. Echániz died four months later, leaving Touzet without a teacher. Touzet's family could not afford to send him to another city to study. Describing what occurred months later, Mr. Touzet commented: Something extraordinary happened! There was a knock at our door, and when my mother opened it, there stood a messenger with a note from a Miss Conchita Pereira (a former pupil of Echániz, and affiliated with the Falcón Conservatory in Havana) saying that she had heard of me and my situation and was offering to give me piano lessons for free. Touzet immediately accepted the generous offer and began weekly studies with Miss Pereira who lived a half-hour bus ride away in the city of Guanabacoa: "I owe everything to her. I would have been nothing without her."

When Touzet was fourteen years old Miss Pereira sent him to the Falcón Conservatory to take a series of piano and theory exams. Touzet recalled that it went well and remembers playing the piano sonata by Grieg and a Polonaise by Liszt. Although Miss Pereira helped Touzet greatly with her kindness and generosity, Touzet admitted he did not learn as much as he should have from her. For example, Miss Pereira never assigned him any compositions from Mozart and Beethoven, and did not stress the importance of technical exercises.

Touzet continued his studies with Miss Pereira and because of her affiliation with the conservatory, he was able to take yearly music examinations at the institution. He also participated in many recitals and won several first-place honors in piano competitions. Even though he had no background in composition, he wrote his first piano piece when he was fifteen years old. He entitled it Un Valse para mi Maestra ("A Waltz for my Teacher") and dedicated it to Miss Pereira. At sixteen, he was chosen as the best student to represent his class in the final recital and performed Chopin's Fantasie in f minor. Tragically, when Touzet was seventeen, Miss Pereira passed away: She was a saint, however, like so many good people, she died of a horrible cancer. She was buried on a stormy day and I helped carry her casket through the streets of Guanabacoa to the cemetery.

Back at home, the family's financial situation was deteriorating because Touzet's father had lost his job. One morning Touzet received a message from the Dominican musician and bandleader Luis Rivera, asking if Touzet would be interested in playing in his band. Touzet had no idea how Rivera knew of him, but he immediately accepted the offer, and, for a peso a night (the equivalent of one dollar), began playing in the band. Touzet discovered that he had a knack for popular music and also became interested in jazz. Around this time he wrote his first "Danza Cubana" entitled Siempre en Clave ("Always in Rhythm").

Maestro Rivera, who had a professional relationship with the famous Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona, brought Touzet to Lecuona's home: We got to his house and I wasn't nervous at all. I played the danza and when I finished, Lecuona told me to play it again. Then, I got nervous because I was sure he had not liked it or not liked my playing. So, I played it again. Lecuona closed the music, gave it back to me, and said: 'Mr. Touzet, keep on working, keep composing'- -which I have been doing to this day.

At this point Touzet had not written any songs yet. However, he became interested when his friend Roberto De la Morena asked Touzet to notate a song he had written for his girlfriend. Mr. Touzet remembers thinking: "If Roberto, who's not a musician, can come up with a song, then so can I." He wrote his first song Tu Besar ("Your Kissing") in 1933. Soon after, he began composing numerous songs: "Some days I would write three songs in a day."

Touzet's career as a popular pianist inspired him to form his own band. He led a 16-piece orchestra at Havana's Grand Casino Nacional. When Touzet turned 20, his father encouraged him to enter business school and major in accounting, but Touzet convinced him that he wanted to dedicate himself only to music: Even though I did well on the exams, accounting did not agree well with me, so I told my Dad: 'Listen Dad, if I keep studying accounting, I will become just a regular accountant, but with music, I can do something important.'

Touzet's orchestra gained much fame from playing Big Band music using charts brought from the United States, and at 24 years old, he was making enough money to marry and start a family. It was during these years that Touzet wrote one of his most famous songs: No Te Importe Saber, also known as, Let Me Love You Tonight. Written for his wife, Isabel, Touzet remembers coming up with the idea for the song during a bus ride across Havana, while he was on his way to collect a payment check from a party he had played in. This song became very famous and nearly every singer in Cuba wanted to sing it. One notable recording was by MiguelitoValdéz under the RCA label. The famous Mexican singer, Jorge Negrete, performed this song at a concert in the National Theater in Havana and an American talent scout who attended the concert liked it and offered Touzet $1,000 for the song so that he could introduce it in the United States. The song was brought to the attention of artists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra both of whom later recorded it. In addition to No Te Importe Saber, Touzet had also written around 100 songs. While he enjoyed his busy career as a bandleader, pianist, arranger and songwriter, Touzet missed playing and writing classical music.

His musical career in Cuba was ended abruptly by a devastating hurricane that hit the island in 1944. The club where Touzet's band played was completely destroyed and he found himself without a job. He decided to try his luck in the United States and in 1945 headed to New York City. His reputation as a songwriter helped him land a job in a band led by Spaniard Enrique Madriguera. Madriguera took the band to Hollywood, California where its musicians participated in several recordings and films.

In 1947, in the hotel where Touzet was staying, there also lived a Cuban couple that danced professionally. Touzet had met them years before when they had collaborated together in a show. The couple asked Touzet to play for them so that they could audition for Cuban bandleader, Desi Arnaz. Knowing they were short of money, he agreed to accompany them for free. When Arnaz heard Touzet play at the audition, he asked him to join his orchestra, and Touzet accepted. On one occasion, around the Christmas season, Arnaz' orchestra was performing live on the radio when singer Bing Crosby showed up at the station unannounced. Crosby sang some Christmas tunes, accompanied by Touzet on the piano, including the well-known song, White Christmas. Touzet remembered: In those years, [1940's] Crosby was very famous for singing White Christmas, but a new Christmas song was becoming popular [Touzet starts humming the song Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire]. Crosby announced on the radio that he was going to sing it and I almost died because I had no idea how this new song went! Thankfully, one of the orchestra's violinists--a very good musician indeed--knew the song and quietly told me to play it in A flat. The violinist then proceeded to whisper all the chords in my ear. [Touzet laughs] Bing Crosby didn't notice a thing.

Touzet worked in Desi's orchestra for six months until Desi created the I Love Lucy Show. Desi Arnaz asked Touzet to come aboard and join the rest of the musicians in the show, but Touzet declined because he was interested in having his own orchestra. He was not interested in just being "somebody's pianist."

Touzet soon realized his ambition of forming his own orchestra --an orchestra that became well known on the West Coast. Between the years 1959-1972, they recorded 13 LP's. Even though by this time Touzet had written over one hundred songs, his busy schedule had only allowed him enough time to compose five more Danzas Cubanas for piano.

After years of playing, René Touzet started getting tired of his hectic schedule that still prohibited him the time to write serious piano music. In 1972, he decided to leave Hollywood and the orchestra, and moved with his wife to Miami, Florida: "The reason I chose the city of Miami was because I wanted to be closer to Cuba." Touzet immediately began composing for the piano and wrote around 100 more compositions. As he puts it: "I was writing so fast! It was like I was catching up to all those years when I couldn't. Sometimes I would write five Danzas in a single day." Although he took some courses in theory and arranging, Mr. Touzet considered himself "self-taught" as a composer.

His published compositions for piano include among others: Cuarenta Danzas, Cuatro Capricios, Ginasteriana, Fantasía Española, Cinco Danzas Exóticas, Vals Arabesco, Tres Miniaturas, and the Sonata Romántica. His collection of Cuarenta Danzas is published by "Ediciones Universal" in Miami, and the rest of the compositions are published by "Ediciones Alegre", also in Miami.

Throughout René Touzet's full and successful life, he has left no doubt as to his ability as a composer for the piano. His extensive list of high quality piano works offers the interested pianist a fresh and original addition to his/her repertoire. Touzet was given several honors and awards for his musical contributions, and in 2001, the mayor of Miami, Alex Penelas, declared September the ninth as "René Touzet Day."

The composer died of heart complications on June 15, 2003. He was eighty-six years old. He is survived by his second wife, Mercy (his first wife, Isabel, died in 1991) his daughters Olivia and Nilda, plus several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At our final interview, Touzet had this to say: Most successful classical composers have had the opportunity to study harmony and composition from an early age. Not me... I completely separated myself from classical music to attend to important things like bringing the 'daily bread' to my family. I achieved this through my orchestra. I do not think that all those years playing popular music to make a living were a waste though. I did like doing it, and I was good at it. The orchestra experience - along with my early training in classical piano - helped me achieve a distinct style in my compositions. It is important for me to say that I was basically self-taught as a composer. It is my big hope that somehow my piano music will be known and played by pianists throughout the world. I have always had a tremendous love for the piano, and a deep need to create or compose. When I sit at the piano and start writing music, that, Maria, comes from God. That is my belief.

- © Maria Letona, 2003 -
Maria Letona's complete doctoral essay: A SURVEY OF RENE TOUZET'S PIANO COMPOSITIONS is available from UMI ProQuest Digital Dissertations.