© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Composer Alberto Ginastera's Unshakable Tie to Argentina

Wikipedia Commons
Alberto Ginastera

In his early twenties, Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) won the title "Argentina's Great Musical Hope" with works such as the ballet score Estancia, and popular piano pieces like Danzas argentinas, which strongly evoke the rhythm and flair of the folk music of Argentina.

As a brilliant and ambitious young composer, Ginastera studied abroad in the mid-1940s with Aaron Copland, and returned to Argentina with high hopes to make his country a place for serious musical study. However, struggling against the repressive dictatorship of Juan Perón, he became disillusioned not only with Argentina, but with the label "Latin composer." By the early '60s, he began to write in an atonal, modernist style that obliterated his Latin identity, and earned him critical praise. He left Argentina for good in 1971.

Living as an expatriate in Switzerland, his final compositions reveal an inexorable tie back to the music of his native land. Today, the only music of Ginastera regularly performed is that which retains a strong Latin influence. What makes Ginastera unique in the ears of listeners is the identity he sought to shake — proving that, even for genius composers, you can't escape your roots.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Variaciones concertantes by Alberto Ginastera, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Jennifer Montone, principal horn, Cristian Macelaru conducting.

Debra Lew Harder: In 1952, Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera refused to name the conservatory he'd founded after Eva Peron. He was ousted from his position. A commission helped him survive, and produced the Variaciones concertantes, a concerto in variations that highlights solo instruments of the orchestra with folkloric color and sophistication.

MUSIC: Variaciones concertantes, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Jeffrey Khaner, principal flute, Cristian Macelaru conducting.

Later, struggling with another oppressive regime, and encouraged by supporters in Washington, Ginastera began to write in a 12-tone style, hailed as more modern — and international. He left Argentina in 1971 and died in Switzerland 12 years later.

MUSIC: Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 36 by Alberto Ginastera, Mark Kosower, cello, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Lothar Zagrosek conducting.

Now, the music of Ginastera's global, modernist style is all but forgotten. What endures is the Variaciones concertantes and his other distinctively Argentinian works. Despite his fraught relationship with Argentina, it is the music inspired by his native land that gives Ginastera a place on the concert stages of the world.

MUSIC: Variaciones concertantes, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet, Cristian Macelaru conducting.

Listen to Debra Lew Harder chat with Philadelphia Orchestra conductor-in-residence Cristian Macelaru in 2016 about the music of Ginastera, including the Variaciones concertantes. They also talk about Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.