You are here: American University University Library News Feature Fridays

Student Life

Feature Fridays Alberto Ginastera

By  | 

Man in a suit and tie with glasses

For National Hispanic Heritage Month, Music Library Assistant Ryan Jacobs has chosen three Latin American composers to highlight from the Naxos Music Library. This is part one of a three-part series. These individuals were chosen as some of the premier examples of composers whose work has been shaped heavily by the culture and influence of their native lands and lands where they traveled.

Alberto Ginastera

The first composer I’d like to feature in this series is Alberto Ginastera, an Argentinian composer who lived from 1916-1983.

Ginastera occupied a leading position in the musical world of his native Argentina, where he exercised strong influence over a younger generation of composers. He later spent much time in Europe, settling in Geneva. His style of writing developed from overt nationalism to a flexible application of the serialist principles proposed by Schoenberg. (Naxos)

I want to pay particular attention to the ballet scores Panambi and Estancia as well as Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, as they are widely considered to be excellent introductions to his “nationalist” musical periods. These periods are important to understand Ginastera’s uniquely Argentinian compositional voice.

Panambi and Estancia represent Ginastera’s objective nationalism period, which featured repeated use of the gauchesco (Argentinian cowboy) and indigenous themes as subject matter, although he rarely borrowed directly from folk materials. 

The exotically scored Panambí is based on a romantic and supernatural legend of love and magic from the Guaraní Indians, a tribe from the headwaters of the Rio Paraná in northern Argentina.

Panambí has been dubbed a distillation of Ginastera's major formative influences: Falla, Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bartók. Indeed, elements of each composer may be detected in the score. However, it is more helpful to view the ballet as a young man's statement about his country's heritage, and prototypical of much to come.” (Naxos)

Estancia signifies a farm or cattle ranch, particularly on the vast, grassy Argentine Pampas - a landscape that had profoundly affected Ginastera since boyhood. "Whenever I have crossed the Pampa or have lived in it for a time, my spirit felt itself inundated by changing impressions, now joyful, now melancholy, some full of euphoria and others replete with a profound tranquility, produced by its limitless immensity and by the transformation that the countryside undergoes in the course of a day."

"From my first contact with the Pampas", wrote Ginastera, "there awakened in me the desire to write a work that would reflect these states of spirit". Panambí had celebrated his country's indianist folklore tradition: for his new ballet he chose the equally potent gaucheso tradition, in which the landscape itself would appear as "the veritable protagonist, imposing its influence upon the feelings of the characters. (Naxos)

In contrast with these two ballets, his String Quartet No. 1 marked a new period for Ginastera called subjective nationalism. He commented that “it was time to drop ethnic realism in favour of the creation of an imagined folklore”. 

In his first String Quartet Alberto Ginastera incorporates rhythmic and thematic aspects of his country’s folk-music while advancing towards a rigorous, dissonant and varied vocabulary. Thus though the first movement, Allegro violento ed agitato, is propelled by rhythms which evoke images of gauchos, the cowboys of Argentina, the complexity of the textures is reminiscent of Bartók and Stravinsky. The fast second movement, a scherzo, may present distinct impressions of the pampas but the technically intricate string effects, accumulated trills, and interaction of parts, suggest wider horizons looking towards post-war Europe. The emotional centre of the quartet is the third movement, Calmo e poetico, where the first violin sings its melody before the lead is passed to the cello, an instrument for which Ginastera frequently composed. Allegramente rustico, a folk-inspired theme in the criolla tradition concludes the work, its rapidly changing time signatures expressing a fiery tension ultimately resolved within the triumphantly frenetic climax. (Naxos)

It is my hope that this series provides a jumping-off point for the exploration of Latin American music, which is as rich as it is distinct. As varied as the music of North America and Europe are, it can be argued that the music of Latin America is even more diverse.

In addition to the three composers highlighted in this series, there are many other Hispanic and Latinx composers’ works available to listen to via Naxos. We have prepared a playlist including some of this great music! This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are a myriad of high-quality recordings of incredible works of music by hispanic composers available through Naxos, and further research and listening (either independently or with the assistance of the Music Library) is highly recommended.