Buenos Aires 11-April 1916-Geneva 25- June 1983
Just like Chopin, Ginastera wrote his first concerto at the age of 19, the Concierto Argentino which he later withdrew as he did with many of his early works preferring start his Op. 1 with the Ballet Panambí following that with the now famous Three Argentinean Dances for piano.
Ginastera was born in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Argentinean Independence from the Spanish Empire which was probably a time of affirmation of the national identity.
Ginastera is in love with his land but also expresses, especially in his late works, the anguish and disappointment of most of the 20th century Latin American artists with the outcome of the local politics, with the debacle of what has become by now the eternal failure of the handling of an already suffered society.
How many dictatorships did Ginastera endure in his life? The performance of his Bomarzo opera, for instance, was forbidden by one of the Argentinean dictators in 1967. Luckily his works, although not always well received by the critics, were being championed by musicians in the USA, Europe and other Latin American countries. Little by little his music has become mainstream.
He founded La Plata Conservatoire but in 1949 left the country to live in Tanglewood where he was helped by Aaron Copland; he went back to Argentina in 1958 when he was invited to teach composition at the Instituto di Tella where he taught, amongst many students, Astor Piazzolla and could invite the most important international composers of the time such as Nono, Ligeti, Xenakis to share their expertise.
Villa-Lobos who was an established composer by then, admired the talent of the young Ginastera.
In much of his music, Ginastera shows the influence of the Argentinean folk music and dances which derive naturally from the Spanish, the native Indian and the African cultures just like in the rest of Latin America. He seems to enjoy the obsessional character of the malambo dance and seems to be inspired by the gaucho traditions.
In fact what is great about Ginastera is that he transcends the nationalistic notion even when his music is telluric and a good amount of his works are close to the Argentinean Pampas and South American music such as the genres from the Andean plateau. He embraces in his own personal way pantonality, serialism, bi and micro tonality using all these techniques to create his idiom.
His writing is very clear, according to pianist Alberto Portugheis who met him and has recorded his piano and chamber music; he was very meticulous with the way his scores looked having in the end the appearance of near architectural designs.
Composer Juan Carlos Núñez also met Ginastera in Venezuela in 1983 and tells me that it was a pleasure to talk to him as he was a highly educated person and they had the chance to discuss many subjects including the books and scripts that gave rise to his operas Bomarzo (Manuel Mujica Láinez) and Beatrix Cenci (Antonin Artaud, the Theatre of cruelty).
I have been in love with his music since I was a teenager in Caracas and have enjoyed playing it enormously. It has to be thanks to the rhythmic drive and technical challenges in the fast sections but also to the great lyricism and sense of loneliness and space in his slow movements.
Incidentally I shall play his Three Argentinean dances next to the Children Songs by Antonio Estévez who was also born 100 years ago and who was a close friend of Ginastera’s in my Alma llanera concert on April 16th at 7.30 pm at St. James’s Piccadilly.
Piano works by Alberto Ginastera:
Danzas argentinas, Op. 2 (1937)
Tres piezas, Op. 6 (1940)
Malambo, Op. 7 ( 1940)
Pequena Danza (from the ballet Estancia, Op. 8) (1941)
12 Preludios americanos, Op. 12 (1944)
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (1946, revised 1956)
Rondó sobre temas infantiles argentinos, Op. 19 (1947)
Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 (1952)
Arrangement of an Organ Toccata by Domenico Zipoli (1970)
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 53 (1981)
Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 54 (1982)
Danzas argentinas Para los niños (Unfinished)
Moderato: para Alex
Paisaje: para Georgina