Who was Alberto Ginastera? A Guide to the Argentinian Composer

An Argentinian Stravinsky or Bartók? Argentinian Falla, Debussy or Villa-Lobos? Alberto Ginastera has been called all this and more, in an attempt – born out of an unwitting Eurocentrism, perhaps – to classify his music and make it understandable to audiences raised on old-world classical masterpieces. .

When and where was Was Alberto Ginastera born?

But Buenos Aires, where Ginastera was born in April 1916 for a Catalan father and an Italian mother, was anything but a musical backwater. There was, among other things, a distinguished music school, the Williams Conservatory, where the young Ginastera entered for his basic training at the age of 12.

Barely two years later, he heard Stravinskyit is The Rite of Spring for the first time, and it hit him like a thunderbolt. ‘the Rite was like a shock – something new and unexpected,” he later wrote. ‘The primitivism of the music, its dynamic impulse and the novelty of its language struck me as the work of a genius.’

What was his first major composition?

Stravinsky’s powerful influence found its way into the ballet score Panambi, which Ginastera began writing while still at the Conservatory. While movements such as the resoundingly brutal ‘Danza de los guerreros’ and ‘Inquietud del tribu’ are shamelessly born from The ritual, Panambi as a whole is an assured and powerful debut, full of distinctive touches. His choice of subject – a legend of the Argentine Guaraní Indians – also signals the preoccupation with native traditions that runs through much of Ginastera’s later music.

This did not happen by chance: Ginastera heard a performance of bartokit is allegro barbarian in Buenos Aires by the pianist Arthur Rubinstein and he brought to light his hitherto vague notions of how Argentine identity might be expressed in the classical tradition. The Bartók’s Magyar folk inflections struck him, he says, with “the bewilderment of a revelation” and “filled in all the gaps I felt in my conception of forging a national music”.

estancia (“Ranch”), a ballet set in the vast grassy plains of central Argentina, was the final consequence. It was commissioned by the impresario Lincoln Kirstein who, on tour with his American Ballet Caravan, had been alerted to the prodigious talent of the young Ginastera by the late premiere in Buenos Aires of Panambi in 1940. Ginastera’s choice of a pampas setting, and his emphasis on the harsh, nomadic life of cattle-herding gauchos, was the result of his direct experience of this harsh but beautiful environment.

“Each time I crossed the pampas or lived there for some time,” he wrote, “my mind felt flooded with changing impressions, sometimes joyful, sometimes melancholy, some full of euphoria and some others full of deep tranquility, produced by its unlimited immensity and by the transformation that the landscape undergoes in the course of a day.

Ginastère’s ballet estancia

This grounding of estanciathe action of in the soil of the native country of Ginastera has been reinforced by the inclusion of extracts of Martin Fierro, an epic poem by José Hernández embodying the turbulent 19th-century gaucho lifestyle and rooting it deeply as an image of heroic individualism and machismo in the Argentine psyche. The baritone solos to verses by Hernández are among the most evocative moments in the ballet, which is Ginastera’s first masterpiece. In one fell swoop, he established a striking model for the development of a distinctive national music in Argentina, and was a remarkable achievement for a composer in his twenties.

The period of estancia was important for another reason: while writing it, Ginastera had his momentous first encounter with the American composer Aaron Copland. Copland came to Buenos Aires in 1941 as the cultural envoy of the Committee for Inter-American Artistic and Intellectual Relations. Its mission was to identify new talent – people who could benefit from training opportunities in the United States. Ginastera seemed to him to be the ideal candidate.

“He is looked upon with favor by all the bands here, is presentable, modest almost to a shy degree, and will undoubtedly one day be a prominent figure in Argentine music,” Copland said in his diary. Although Copland Billy the kid had undoubtedly influenced estancia, the relationship was by no means a one-way street. Just a year after returning to America, Copland’s new ballet Rodeo created to great acclaim, its cowboy theme, folksy orchestrations, and ‘Hoe-Down’ finale suggest obvious areas of cross-pollination with Ginastera’s gaucho story.

When Ginastera went to the United States and how did the country influence him?

Invited by Copland, Ginastera applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in the United States, which was granted. By now, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had dragged the United States into World War II, postponing Ginastera’s visit. He was also becoming embroiled in the turbulent politics of his own country: in 1945 he lost a teaching post for protesting against the dismissal by Argentina’s new military regime of academics who criticized its scorched-earth political tactics.

When, later that year, the way was finally cleared to travel to the United States, Ginastera took it with enthusiasm. His 15-month stay there was a pivotal time – he took Copland’s composition lessons at Tanglewood, had many of his works premiered, and absorbed the music of progressive composers such as Schoenberg, Sessions and Carter.

The result is immediate, giving a harder and more modernist side to his own compositions. Ginastera described the shift from what he called the “objective nationalism” of his early period—where he deployed folkloric elements in a largely tonal context—to the “subjective nationalism” of the post-American years, where vernacular influences were less obvious. and more ambiguous tonality.

Typical of this second period is String Quartet No. 1, where the driving rhythms of the gaucho’s “malambo” dance propel the opening movement, and the open-string chord of his guitar sounds at the beginning of the third ” Calmo e poetico”. . These native elements are, however, now entirely subsumed in a tense, urgent expressive structure and newly forbidding language. A similar aesthetic informs the Piano Sonata No. 1 (1952), another strongly propulsive piece brimming with nervous energy.

Ginastera himself identified a final period of his creative life, which he called “neo-expressionism”. For cultural inspiration, he has now delved deeper into time, to the period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus who brought European habits of thought and behavior to the American continent. Technically, the influence of 12-tone serialism has become more pronounced than ever. The consequence was both the most distinctive and original music of Ginastera’s career as a composer, if not the most accessible…

Pre-Columbian primitivism invades Cantata for America Magica (1960), key work of this last period and which deploys, in addition to a soprano soloist, 15 percussionists playing more than 50 different instruments. The effect stunned the audience during the Cantatais the first in Washington, DC. A reviewer hailed the music as “stylistically unique”, creating “an almost chilling feeling of being transported to a new and enchanting world of fantastical sound”.

When Ginastera dies and what was his last play?

The quest to portray the primitive origins of South American existence continued until the end of Ginastera’s life. In Popol Vuhunfinished when he died, aged 67, in 1983, he represented the Mayan myths of the creation and development of mankind, in a convulsive orchestral maelstrom, harboring some of the wildest sounds in classical music since Stravinsky.

This cultural rooting is the key to Ginastera’s music. As he said himself: “I feel a great happiness and at the same time a deep emotion in feeling that my music (which has always resulted from a great personal effort and has sometimes been condemned for political reasons in my own country) is now appreciated in the artistic field. and university centers of the world and somehow symbolizes the art and culture of my country.

Ginastere is buried in the Cimetière des Rois, Geneva

The best recordings of Ginastera’s music

Estandstill; Ollantay; Pampeana No. 3

BBC/Mena Philharmonic

Chandos CHAN 10884

Gaucho life and the “unlimited immensity” of the pampas are vividly evoked in the ballet. estancia.

String quartets

Cuarteto Latinoamericano

Brilliant Classics 9119

Intensity and rhythmic nerve mark these pieces with increasingly sharp and modern sounds.

Ginastera: the vocal album

Placido Domingo; Ana-Maria Martinez; Virginia Tola

Warner 0825646868308

From chanson to opera, from populist to progressive, it’s an ideal introduction to Ginastera’s vocal output.

Popol Vuh; Cantata for America Magica

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Stefan Asbury

Neos NEOS10918

Ginastera becomes primitive, exploiting the deep past of the pre-Columbian continent.

Artwork by Risko

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