Born in Buenos Aires to an Italian mother and a father of Catalan descent, Alberto Ginastera left behind a musical legacy which rightly established him as one of the most important classical composers in the Americas during the 20th century. More than any other stylistic contribution to the wide body of modern classical music, Ginastera is remembered most fondly for his success in blending aspects of European art music and indigenous Argentinian folk music so seamlessly.
As a younger man, the renowned composer studied at the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938 and pursuing a professorship at the Liceo Militar General San Martin soon after. He mentored a young Astor Piazzolla in 1941, and continued to teach at his post at San Martin until 1945, when he travelled to the United States.
He remained in the United States for two years, becoming a student of Aaron Copland’s at Tanglewood before returning to his native Buenos Aires. His self-proclaimed first compositional period (termed “Objective Nationalism”) would give way to more subtle abstractions of Argentine folk themes (the beginnings of his “Subjective Nationalism” period) by 1948.
The bulk of Ginastera’s musical output owes a great deal of its folk-centered inspiration to the Gauchesco tradition, which views the wandering native horseman as the penultimate symbol of Argentinian pride and cultural perseverance. The four-dance suite created for his ballet Estancia exemplifies Ginastera’s reverence for this tradition, and is fill to bursting with thematic tributes to the gorgeous diaspora that is Argentinian folk music.
Ginastera composed Estancia in 1941, having been commissioned by the American Ballet Caravan to create a work which included spoken and sung elements. The composer produced his ballet in one act and five scenes based on Argentinian country life, but conflicts within the American Ballet Caravan delayed Estancia’s debut performance until 1952. That did not stop Ginastera from publishing his four-dance suite from Estancia in 1943, which received its first public hearing at the legendary Teatro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires.
Each of the four dances offers to the listener a poignantly unique mental picture of rural Argentinia. The first dance, “Los trabajadores agrícolas” (Agricultural Workers) depicts the passionate labouring of a vibrant group of field hands. The rhythm in this movement is relentless, slowly bringing forth a pastoral melody which carries us into the second movement: “Danza del trigo” (The Wheat Dance). The lyrical interlude of this movement develops a melody which stands in stark contrast to the energetic sophistication of “Los peones de hacienda” (The Cattle Men). This third movement enjoys an unbridled splendor of dynamic contrasts leading into Malambo, the piece’s finale, made to stand out to the listener by way of its constant 6/8 rhythm and rapid usage of eighth-notes. Malambo is titled after a dance frequently utilized by Gauchos (Argentine Cowboys) for competitive purposes.
Though Alberto Ginestra left this world far too soon (passing away at only 67 in Geneva, Switzerland), his music holds a special place in the hearts of Argentinians the world over. His musical vision ensured a continued interest in the rustic traditionalism of Argentine folk music and culture, and it is this very celebration for which we salute him. You can hear the four-dance suite from Ginastera’s Estancia performed by your very own Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in our concert: Postcards from Buenos Aires!