Alberto Ginastera ( 1916 - 1983 )
Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on April 11, 1916. His musical study began with piano at age seven and five years later, he enrolled at Argentina’s Williams Conservatory. He later studied at the National Conservatory and graduated with honors in 1938. Three years later, he returned there as a professor of composition.
Ginastera set high standards for himself. He actually started composing in 1930 but destroyed most of his early works to ensure that he will be remembered for his best works.
Because he incorporated local and national themes, Ginastera was held in high regard for more than a decade, and successful performances of orchestral and ballet scores enhanced his reputation. However, he was never very ‘politically correct’ and opposed Juan Peron’s new government – one which Ginastera felt inhibited artistic expressions. Ginastera left Argentina in 1941 and traveled to the United States where he stayed until 1947. He spent the time interacting with American composers and studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood (a music venue and teaching center in Massachusetts).
When he returned to Argentina, Ginastera formed the Composers’ League and also founded the Conservatory of Music and Scenic Arts at La Plata. In addition to this he held numerous academic positions.
Ginastera divided his compositions into three stylistic periods.
1. Objective Nationalism
This consists of his early works where he uses Argentine folk and popular elements, introducing them in a straight forward manner. Stravinsky was an inspiration as well as Bartok and Falla. Three Argentinean Dances, Op. 2 for Piano is one the most famous works in this period.
2. Subjective Nationalism
Influenced from his time in the United States, Ginastera now uses more advanced composing techniques. Melody is still important, but intense rhythms showcase contrasts between tension and relaxation. One of the most important works in this period is the Piano Sonata No. 1, which employs polytonal and twelve-tone techniques.
3. 1958 is the start of the Neo-Expressionist period. Traditional Argentine elements in increasingly abstracted forms are found here. In Ginastera's own words, "There are no more folk melodic or rhythmic cells, nor is there any symbolism. There are, however, constant Argentine elements, such as strong, obsessive rhythms, meditative adagios suggesting the quietness of the Pampas; magic, mysterious sounds reminding the cryptic nature of the country.” Ginastera experimented with a variety of contemporary styles. Both the Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Piano Concerto No. 2 belong in this period.
Ginastera’s opera, Don Rodrigo (1964) failed in Buenos Aires, but premiered in New York in 1966, receiving rave reviews. Another dramatic cantata, Bomarzo, also successful in the United States, was banned in Argentina because of its sexually explicit content. Both of these pieces make effective use of microtones, aleatory passages, electronic effects, and established Ginastera as one of the leaders of the avant-garde.
His first marriage in 1941 produced two children but ended in divorce 28 years later. Ginastera married his second wife in 1971 and the couple moved to Switzerland shortly afterwards. In 1980 his symphonic piece Iubilum, was first performed. It was written to mark the 400th anniversary of Buenos Aires' founding. Ginastera died in Geneva at the age of sixty-seven on June 25, 1983.
Alberto Ginastera’s music was brought out of the modern classical circle when the progressive rock group, Emerson, Lake & Palmer adapted the fourth movement of his first piano concerto and recorded it for their album, Brain Salad Surgery under the title “Toccata.” Ginastera not only approved of the arrangement, but said to Keith Emerson, “You have captured the essence of my music. No one has ever done that before.”
Ginastera‘s music reflects the Argentine characteristics of energetic rhythms, captivating lyricism and colorful folk elements. He produced three operas, two ballets, six concertos, two pieces for vocal/choral orchestra, and numerous chamber/instrumental pieces. Several of the fifty-five works he composed stand as landmarks of Latin-American artistic creation and along with the Mexican Carlos Chávez and the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ginastera has earned a place among the greatest composers of the twentieth century.
-- Monica Alianello (more on the author...)