Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Quartet No. 1 Op. 20 (1948)

Pampeana No. 2, Op. 21, Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1950)


Quartet No. 1 Op. 20 (1948)

GinasteraAlberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires and received a musical education starting at an early age. He gained national recognition after the performance of an Orchestral Suite from his Ballet Panambi (1937) at the Teatro Colon. He achieved this prominence even before completing his musical studies. He gained international acclaim with the performance of his Second String Quartet by the Juilliard Quartet in Washington, D.C. in 1958.

By his own account, he saw his composing career as consisting of three creative periods. The first 1937-48, he called "Objective Nationalism", in which he used Argentine folk music in his compositions. Argentine folk music is a multi-cultural fabric containing strands from Native Indian, African, European and "Criollo" (or Latin American) peoples. Ginastera was particularly attracted to the music of the Pampas - Argentine cowboy music. His most famous work in this genre was the ballet Estancia (1941) which is about life on a cattle ranch (estancia) Like Aaron Copland’s Rodeo (1942) and Billy the Kid (1938), Ginastera would quote actual folk tunes.

His second period "Subjective Nationalism" 1948-56, the period of the String Quartet No. 1, the composer uses rhythms and creates folk-like melodies without actual quotation - much like the later work of Bartok and Kodaly.

The third period "Neo-Expressionism" from 1957-83 saw Ginastera embrace dodecaphonic serialism. The most prominent compositions of Ginastera’s Neo-Expressionist period are the Quartet No. 2 for Strings (1958) Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1961) and the operas Bon Rodrigo and Bomarzo (1967)- the latter (which Newsweek had dubbed the "topless opera"), a potpourri of "sex, violence and hallucination"" was actually banned in Buenos Aires for five years. Ginastera was the head of the Center for Advanced Musical Studies in Buenos Aires. His works are well represented on recordings.

The String Quartet No. 1 is representative of his "Subjective Nationalism". The first movement evokes the rhythms and melodies of the Gauchos (cowboys). A parallel to this evocation in Argentina’s literature might be found in some of the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges. The music itself is somewhat reminiscent of the music of Bartok; strident, driving rhythm, contrasted with spare, quiet music evoking sounds of the night.

The second movement is also an "Evocation", this time of a rural dance of the Pampas in the Criolla tradition called "Malambo". In this dance, often lasting several hours, two men vie with each other in an aggressive display of dancing prowess- to the accompaniment of guitars.

The third movement, "Nocturne", opens with open string tuning of the guitar, a device which runs through other Ginastera works. This movement contains much interesting tone color, and features a beautiful solo for cello - an instrument he often composed for. His wife, Aurora Natola-Ginastera, a noted cellist, still alive and performing, premiered many of his works for cello.

The final movement is a return to the high energy of the first movement. Two contrasting themes, one again evoking the strumming of guitars, the second derived from Criolla folksong tradition, alternate in varied tonal coloration.

We are pleased to present this unique work for string quartet by Argentina’s foremost 20th Century composer.

 1994-95 Season, Program I, Sunday October 2, 1994

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Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Pampeana No. 2, Op. 21, Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1950)

Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires - jokingly referred to by composer Saint-Saens as "Conservatoriopolis" because of the huge number of music conservatories to be found in that city, (Good grief, I haven’t even made it through the first sentence without a digression). His musical education commenced at an early age. He went on to gain national recognition, before he had even completed his musical studies, as a result of the performance of an orchestral suite from his ballet Panambi (1937) at the Teatro Colon. International acclaim would come to him with the performance of his Second String Quartet by the Juilliard Quartet in Washington D.C. in 1958.

By his own account, he saw his composing career as consisting of three creative periods. The first 1937-48, he called "Objective Nationalism", in which he used Argentine folk music in his compositions. Argentine folk music is a multi-cultural fabric containing strands from Native Indian, African, European and "Criollo" (or Latin American) peoples. Ginastera was particularly attracted to the music of the Pampas - Argentine cowboy music. His most famous work in this genre was the ballet Estancia (1941) which is about life on a cattle ranch (estancia). Like Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942), Ginastera quoted actual folk tunes.

His second period "Subjective Nationalism", he dates from 1948-56. Works of this period, which include the String Quartet No.1 (given a rousing performance by the SCS in the 1994 Season), and Pampeana No.2 feature rhythms and folk-like melodies without actual quotation - much like some of the later works of Bartok.

The third period "Neo-expressionism" from 1957- 83 saw Ginastera embrace dodecaphonic serialism. The most prominent compositions of Ginastera’s Neo-Expressionist period are the String Quartet No. 2 (1958), Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1961) and the operas Don Rodrigo and Bomarzo (1967). The latter (which Newsweek had dubbed "the topless opera"), a potpourri of "sex, violence and hallucination" was actually banned in Buenos Aires for five years.

Incidentally, that work had its world premiere in Washington D.C. by the Opera Society of Washington. Had the work premiered there in 1997 instead of 67 Jesse and the Zealots probably would have shut down the National Endowment for the Arts altogether. Sex, violence and hallucination are bad enough, no less having to listen to twelve-tone music on top of everything else. On the other hand, perhaps Ginastera, were he not deceased, would have been the guy to make the Clinton Administration the subject of an opera, like John Adams did with the Nixon Administration in Nixon in China (1987). Bill, Hillary, Gore (Gore-nicht), Stephanopoulos, Carville, Albright, Shalala, Reich, Monica, Tripp… this is starting to look like the cast of characters in Wagner’s Rheingold (1869). Back to Ginastera… I should probably mention that he was the head of the Center for Advanced Musical Studies in Buenos Aires; probably his most famous student the composer of tangos, Astor Piazzola. Ginastera’s works are well represented on recordings.

Dating as it does from 1950, we can expect this rhapsody for cello and piano to be an evocation; as the composer says, "without using any folkloric material, it recalls the rhythms and melodic trends of the Argentine pampas". This work, as well as a number of other works composed for cello, was dedicated to Aurora Natola-Ginastera, cellist and wife of the composer. She gave the world premiere performance of Pampeana No. 2 on May 8, 1950 in Buenos Aires.

Yes, there is a Pampeana No. 1; it’s for violin and piano.

 1998-1999 Season, Program IV, Sunday April 11, 1999

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All original text on this page copyright 2000 by Joseph Way