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ClassicsOnline Home » GINASTERA, A.: Panambi / Estancia (Complete Ballets)
By Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Panambí • Estancia
"My trip through South America has been fascinating. It has been like discovering a new continent", wrote Aaron Copland to his old teacher Nadia Boulanger from Rio de Janeiro late in 1941, towards the end of an official cultural liaison trip that had taken in visits to see Santa Cruz in Chile, Chávez in Mexico, and Villa-Lobos in Brazil, besides concerts in most other South American states. "South America is in the process of becoming", he exclaimed in his diary as he returned to New York, his head buzzing with the colourful sights and sounds of his "new continent". Interestingly, he viewed the Latin American serious music scene as a series of "energetic men" (one in each country), working flat-out in environments generally antipathetic to their efforts.
The "energetic man" in Argentina was Alberto Ginastera, whom Copland met in Buenos Aires on 26 September 1941. Again, his diary: "There is a young composer here who is generally looked upon as the "white hope" of Argentine music. Alberto Ginastera would profit by contacts outside Argentina. He is looked upon with favor by all groups here, is presentable, modest almost to the timid degree, and will, no doubt, someday be an outstanding figure in Argentine music." Copland and Ginastera struck up a close friendship, and after World War II, Copland arranged a fellowship in order that Ginastera could attend Tanglewood.
In marked contrast with the vast and sprawling catalogue of his Brazilian contemporary Villa-Lobos, Ginastera's output remained small: fifty-five "opus numbers" and sixteen incidental and film scores. At the time of his meeting with Copland, Ginastera claimed only seven published works, and had already withdrawn or destroyed much juvenilia. Severely self-critical as a composer, Ginastera viewed his craft with the responsibility of an architect: "To compose, in my opinion, is to create an architecture, to formulate an order and set in values certain structures… In music, this architecture unfolds in time."
One withdrawn (but subsequently reinstated) composition, Impresiones de la Puna (1934) for flute and string quartet, shows Ginastera's first exploration of his continent's pre-Colombian heritage. The Puna is a bleak, rocky wasteland high in the Andes, the heart of the old Inca empire, and Ginastera's brief, three-movement work evokes both the landscape, and its Amerindian musics. The following year Ginastera, eager to promote an authentically national voice in his work, began sketches for a ballet score which developed his interest in "primitivism" or "indianism": Panambí, subtitled Choreographic Legend. It was this work, completed in 1937, that became Ginastera's Opus 1, and was 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. The scenario was drawn up by Felix L. Errico. Before a complete staging could be arranged, Juan José Castro conducted a suite of four dances on 27 November 1937 at the Teatro Colón under Castro.
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 protypical of much to come. The concept of a "sequence of dances", for example, informs much of his output (including dance within his operas), and the primitivism and "indianism" of Panambí remained, in distilled and subjective form, through works such as Ollantay (1947) and Puneña no.2 (1976) to the unfinished Popol Vuh (1975-83). Panambí also previews the elements of "magic" and "night" (particularly, Invocación a los espíritus poderosos and Claro de luna sobre el Paraná), preoccupations which later significantly coloured Ginastera's work in sometimes abstract ways.
A further pattern is established by the polarization of the music between vigorous, rhythmic, and powerful showpieces (including, in Panambí, an array of percussion – particularly impressive in dances such as Danza del Hechicero), and pastoral, impressionistic, and reflective music.
Panambí takes its place alongside the great "indianist" orchestral works of Latin America: Sensemayá of Revueltas (1938), Sinfonía India by Chávez (1935-6), and Villa-Lobos's Amazonas (1917), and the success of Panambí (in its complete ballet version) resulted in national and municipal music prizes for Ginastera. In the year after its première he was approached for a further score by Lincoln Kirstein, the American ballet director, who at the time was in Latin America with his own company, the American Ballet Caravan. Kirstein founded the Caravan in 1936 as a platform for young American choreographers, with the aim of moving ballet away from classical Russian traditions. One of the company's most significant productions had been Billy the Kid (1938), with music by Copland, which glorified life on the open prairies; it received several performances on the Caravan's 1941 tour. Kirstein's commission from Ginastera for a "Ballet in One Act and Five Scenes, based on Argentine country life" resulted in Estancia (1941). Kirstein planned to commission choreography from George Balanchine, and present the ballet in New York alongside new scores from Francisco Mignone (Brazil) and Domingo Santa Cruz (Chile).
The Caravan was suddenly disbanded after its Latin American tour, and Ginastera's new work was abandoned. Its subsequent performing history mirrored that of Panambí: a concert performance of four dances by the Teatro Colón orchestra in May 1943 was tremendously successful, consolidating Ginastera's growing reputation as Argentina's leading composer, but the complete Estancia remained unperformed until 1952, when the ballet was staged at the Colón, with choreography by Michael Borowski, and sets by Dante Ortolani. The Dances from Estancia remain one of Ginastera's most frequently performed works, but ballet productions are rare, and Gisèle Ben-Dor's current disc represents a recording première.
Estancia signifies a farm or cattle ranch, particularly on the vast, grassy Argentine Pampas – a landscape which 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."
Historically the Pampas had always shaped the largely pastoral economy of Buenos Aires, but by the time of Ginastera's birth, city life was encroaching on the old agrarian ways – soon to be symbolized by the pervasive throb of the tango. The mode of life of the famous Argentine gaucho (cowboy) was threatened, and he became increasingly repressed, symbolically homeless, wandering haunted and hunted on the vast plains – but consequently a hero. A rural-urban dichotomy opened, which made itself felt not only through politics, but in art and literature too. The great epic poem Martin Fierro (José Hernández, 1873) crystallized the life, the land, and the plight of the gaucho: its earthy language wonderfully evokes the eerie vastness of the plains, the gaucho's life of hard labour, his few joys, his music and folklore, and his solitude. One year after Ginastera's birth, Argentina's future dictator Juan Domingo Perón graduated from military college: his father's gift was Martin Fierro, already a classic, both as a document of socio-political manners, and as a brave evocation of landscape as life's immutable backdrop.
"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". It was thus with alacrity that Ginastera accepted Kirstein's request for a ballet celebrating the "deep and bare beauty of the land" in music presenting various aspects of the activities of a ranch during a day, "with a symbolic sense of continuity". From the outset, Ginastera decided upon a close association with Martin Fierro.
In its depiction of the passage of one day, from dawn to dawn, Ginastera sets down in Estancia a structural prototype for many later works: musical representation of time's inevitability, eternal cycle, and symmetry. Estancia's dawn – morning – afternoon – night – dawn sequence was exactly repeated two years later in the "pampean" song cycle, Las horas de una estancia (1943), while the Cantata para America Mágica (1960) travels in six scenes from the world's creation to its destruction, an idea again explored in Popol Vuh. The opera Bomarzo (1966-7) telescopes and distorts time by tracing one evil man's misfortunes through a series of flashbacks at his death – a lifetime and a moment are superimposed on the opera's real-time duration. It is also typical that Estancia should commence with El Amanecer (Dawn), the very tide of the final dance in Panambí. Ginastera was concerned as much with continuity through his output as symmetry within works.
Estancia's time sequence is determined by the lines from Martin Fierro which tell poignantly of the gaucho's day: crowing roosters and the coming of dawn, the work of the day, and the final warmth and succour of sleep in his woman's arms, "ready to start the next day where you stopped the day before". Hernández's dawn evocation is recited during and between the dances of the first tableau, and a poetic reference to the "heavenly sorrow elicited by the throb of the gaucho's viguela is underlined by musical allusion to the guitar's open strings, forming characteristic chords upon which Ginastera drew throughout his composing career to symbolize the gaucho and his home, the Pampas.
Estancia's action is organized into an essentially symmetrical, arch-like structure, simultaneously the timeless story of simple love, and a symbolic resolution of the aching Argentine rural-urban dichotomy. The opening and closing dawn tableaux flank a sequence of dances which set the scene (Danza del trigo and Triste pampeano both evoke open space and distant horizons), and unfold the story of a city boy who observes and falls in love with a country maiden. Her initial disdain turns to admiration after he proves his skill in taming wild horses (although unspoken, the "jinglin' spurs and squeak of straining leather" of Hernández are potently sensed); the coming of night brings romance, starlight, and then, inevitably, the new day.
Ginastera arranges his music in corresponding symmetry, with the horse-taming rodeo (La doma) and the twilight romance (Idilio crepuscular) as the central events, set as afternoon turns to evening. The two dawn scenes use versions of the same vital malambo-based material, while the central sequence of music is a brightly-coloured mosaic of dances evoking details of the activities of country folk and visitors from the town, carefully organized to end at the rodeo/romance. These dances are either in vigorous, "toccata" mood (again redolent of the typical gaucho dance, malambo), or are lyrical, pastoral, and reflective. The incursion of the townsfolk into the countryside (Los puebleros) is represented by a vigorous and spiky fugue. The night scene (Nocturno), with its reference to pampean nocturnal sounds, is the peaceful answer to the earlier Danza del trigo, which evoked the blowing grasses and grain fields in all their glowing day-time splendour: the ever-present spirit of Martin Fierro breaks through in sung texts lamenting the solitude of the gaucho – at the very moment when the city boy has found love.
In Estancia, Ginastera provided a truly integrated picture of pampean life, literature, and folklore. His score is a monument to a now vanished way of life, and to the spirit of Martin Fierro, "the unlucky gaucho, who has no one to call to, with no place of his own in all that space, and in all that darkness".
© Simon Wright
Growing up in Uruguay, I had learned by heart verses from José Hernández's Martin Fierro. When I first heard Ginastera's complete ballet Estancia, I was moved by the inclusion of this poetry. It seemed absurd that the full ballet had been completely neglected, like so much worthwhile music from Latin countries. Another element in Estancia – the use of the guitar's open strings played by the piano, later used in the harp part in Variaciones Concertantes, which I also recorded – attracted me for a similar reason. As a self-taught guitarist, I grew up experiencing the centrality of this instrument in Latin American life. My laboriously-acquired mastery of the piano could never compete with the social success of this ambulant instrument. And in securing a narrator/singer with an authentic Argentinian style, it was finally possible to do justice to the full work as originally conceived by Ginastera.
It is interesting to compare the full ballets with their suite selections. In Panambí, Danza de los guerreros, I opted for the brilliant suite ending. Invocación a los espíritus poderosos is used entirely from the suite allowing the players greater rhythmic force and precision. In both instances, the suite versions seem to represent an improvement. In Estancia's Los trabajadores agricolas, the percussion is omitted for sixteen bars in the original version. This provides a respite after the constant percussive environment and enhances the chamber quality of the passage. The corresponding place in the suite has a full percussion complement. Opting for the original version in this case was a personal choice. The last movement of Panambí, El Amanecer, is performed here in the alternative version, i.e. with violas and/or trumpets instead of women's voices. It would seem that the addition of the voices – like the vocal elements in Estancia – may have been one reason for the music's neglect.
In the magnificent Dawn, hypnotic Danza del Hechicero, impressionistic Juego de las deidades del agua, virile La doma, lyric Idilio crepuscular, hallucinatory La Noche, or parody in Los puebleros, the profile of a distinct personality always emerges, whatever the musical influences on the young composer, just as with Stravinsky or Copland's variety of stylistic modes and experimentation. Furthermore, many of the essential qualities of Ginastera's later music are already foreshadowed in these first words.
© 1998 Gisèle Ben-Dor
Sung texts can be accessed at http://www.naxos.com/libretti/ginastera.htm
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