You may not have heard of him before, but you’ve probably heard his music before: Alberto Ginastera remains one of the groundbreaking Latin American composers in history. Known for his lyrical creativity and non-traditional incorporation of traditional Argentinian musical elements, Ginastera was a composer held in high regard in the mid-20th century.
Ginastera’s compositions--whether those written for opera, ballet, orchestra, film scores, or chamber groups-- feature modern viewpoints alongside the rhythms and sounds of Argentinian folk music.
Let’s learn more about this pivotal composer, shall we?
He was born Alberto Evaristo Ginastera on April 11, 1916 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Like most of his Argentine peers, he descended from European ancestry (his father was from Spain; his mother was Italian). He was just seven years old when he began to study piano at the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires.
It wasn’t long before Ginastera attended the National Conservatory, where he came to study the art of composition with other notable musicians (Gil, Palina, and Argenziani). As an undergraduate, his work garnered national attention--and quickly. He received the first place prize of the El Unisono musical society for Piezas Infantiles, a composition for piano. (Does it come as any surprise that he graduated with honors from the Conservatory in 1938?)
Making his mark
Ginastera spent two years in the U.S. on a Guggenheim fellowship. It was during this time that he studied under Aaron Copland, with whom he became friends. Upon completion of the fellowship, Ginastera embarked on an extensive journey throughout Europe. He married pianist Mercedes de Toro in 1941, and his marriage and exposure to other cultures and countries affected his compositions in the 1940s and 1950s. While Ginastera’s early work consisted of short-form pieces and suites reminiscent of Argentine folk melodies, he quickly progressed from a traditional form of composition to one that was considered to be quite avant garde at the time (such as Piano Sonata 1.).
Later in life
Ginastera eventually returned to Argentina. He co-founded the League of Composers, which enabled him to introduce and bring internationally-known composers to his home country. Through the 1960s, Ginastera worked in an academic sense: he oversaw the department at Argentine Catholic University for five years and spent the better part of a decade as the director of the Latin American Centre for Advanced Musical Studies. It should not come as a surprise that his compositions became even more eclectic during the 1960s.
Ginastera retired to Switzerland and passed away on June 25, 1983 in Geneva. We will never know exactly how many pieces Ginastera wrote since he destroyed the majority of his early work--he didn’t want a record of any work he saw as inferior to remain. Instead, we are left with what Ginastera saw as his strongest pieces. Throughout the three stylistic periods of his work (Objective Nationalism, Subjective Nationalism, and Neo-Expressionism), you can hear a progression in Ginastera’s approach to compositing. Yet, even in spite of the changing times and changing world, Ginastera felt the inspiration of his motherland, evident in the various themes he wrote that were inspired by the gaucho, the brave and unruly horseman of Argentina’s plains.
Notable works include:
Ginastera composed over fifty-five pieces (that we know of and that remain). Listen to these pieces and see if you can detect the sounds of the gaucho:
Pampeana No. 3
Sonata for Guitar:
Argentinian Dance No. 3:
Cantata para América mágica
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 39 (1972)
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