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ClassicsOnline Home » GINASTERA, A.: Complete Piano and Organ Music
The Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera is widely regarded as one of the most important and original South American composers of the 20th century. CD 1 of this 2-CD set of the complete works for organ and piano focuses on early works, many of which use folk-based elements without merely transcribing traditional tunes, and with increasing sophistication. The large-scale piano works featured on CD 2 include Sonata No. 1, Op. 22 (1952), one of the composer’s most popular works, and the Sonata No. 3 (1982), Ginastera’s last work, described by the soloist on this recording as a ‘single grand and violent impulse, with no time to catch its breath, like a dance to try and escape from death’. Variazioni e Toccata for organ is a highly virtuosic work, comprising twelve variations and a toccata based on a fragment of a fifth-century Easter hymn.
By Ray Picot
Iberian and Latin American Music Society
By David Denton
I knew precious little about the piano output of the Argentine
composer, Alberto Ginastera, save for the three sonatas, the music roughly falling
into three distinct periods. Starting out under the direct stylistic influences
of the French Impressionists and liberally endowed with Argentinean folk idioms,
he flirted with the influences of the Second Viennese School in his late 20's
(Preludios americanos), before reclaiming ground as a purely melodic
South American. Stopping en route to offer two gentle suites of Pieces for
Children, he arrived at what are widely regarded as the most important and
original Latin American piano scores with the Piano Sonatas. These are technically
very demanding, the first two structured in classical sonata style, while the
third he expressed in one short movement. The composer died the following year
in 1983, and we cannot be sure whether in hindsight he would have added two
further movements. Ginastera returns to the great French organ composers for
the two large-scale scores, the Toccata, Villancico y Fuga and the Variations
e Toccata, the latter having some distinctly 'naughty' bits to bring a smile
to your face. The playing throughout by the Argentinean pianist of Italian parentage,
Fernando Viani, is wonderfully alive, rhythmically secure and when required
of outstanding brilliance. But above all he never rushes the slow moving music,
his dynamic range extensive, his many levels of quiet playing bringing much
to the music. His flights of fantasy add the final dimension, keeping the listener
wedded to the music. As an organist he is fantastic and I hope to hear him much
more in this field. Sound quality through both discs is top class.
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Complete Piano and Organ Music
Molto appassionato for Alberto Ginastera
(on the 90th anniversary of his birth)
"How can it be that I long for a world I never knew?!"
(Che Guevara on seeing Machu Pichu)
I decided to record Ginastera's piano and organ works because of the fascination they exert over me and the artistic challenge they represent. Furthermore, I, like Ginastera, am an Argentinian of Italian origins, and therefore feel that his legacy has a particular significance for me.
Many nationalist trends in music originate as tools to be used during the process of finding an individual voice, achieving independence and defining oneself. This becomes more complex, however, for composers working in former colonial nations or continents, whose new citizens and cultures are the fruit not only of a healthy reciprocal exchange but also of violations, betrayals, violence and abuse dating into the fairly recent past. Who am I? What am I part of? Where do I belong? What traditions sanction my work? What is my cultural heritage? These are just some of the questions facing them as they head off an a quest that soon becomes a dilemma, and one that is hard to solve, especially when it comes to creating and bequeathing some sort of lasting message. Ginastera achieved the impressive feat of synthesising a very personal aesthetic and a universal message, bringing together the primitive and the modern, the traditional and the avant-garde, the American and the European and the opposing forces of destruction and creation.
He himself divided his works into three stylistic phases: objective nationalism, subjective nationalism and neo-expressionism. There is also a clear aesthetic shift from the symphonic work Popol Vuh, Op. 44, onwards, marking the start of a fourth phase which might be labeled "subjective Americanism" or "American neo-expressionism".
Describing these periods from an aesthetic perspective is fairly straightforward. Ginastera began by making direct allusions to Argentine folk-music, gradually distanced himself from these during his second phase, making them part of a personal and more complex idiom, until they were reduced to a minimum. Finally he drew inspiration from the music of the precolonial Americas, bringing it to bear on the European idiom without abandoning the latter. Not all of his music, however, incorporates folk-based references, and this is especially true of his third-period works.
From a psychological perspective, one might conclude that, having gained a slightly ingenuous appreciation of Argentine culture, Ginastera delved increasingly into his own complex historical world that extended beyond the borders of his native land. He ended up discovering not only a magical, hidden, damaged America, but also a definition of his own personality, by speaking up for a culture that does not want to be silenced.
CD 1: Early works, objective nationalism and transcriptions
Ginastera's Danzas argentinas, Op. 2(1937), are based on the chacarera, the zamba and the malambo respectively. The work is an early attempt by Ginastera to use folk-based elements without merely transcribing traditional tunes. "[They were] composed while I was studying at the conservatory and they made a real impact: for the first time Argentine folk sources were being used by a composer rather than studied by musicologists or simply reworked by arrangers. I was and continue to be fascinated by what is known as imaginary folklore" (Luc Terrapon: Gespräch mit Alberto Ginastera). Despite being an early work, this nonetheless features certain clearly defined elements and compositional processes that would form the basis of later compositions.
Although Tres piezas, Op. 6(1939–40) demonstrate a more sophisticated sense of development than does the previous work, the renewed influence of the French school, seemingly abandoned by Ginastera after the ballet Panambí, Op. 1, is surprising. They evoke songs and dances from different regions of Argentina: the canción cuyana [song from the Cuyo region]; the baguala [song from Northern Argentina], where the left-hand writing mimics the caja chayera, or carnival drum; and the huella or chacarera [dances], whose central section is a milonga. The melodic lines and the rhythm develop by means of an elaborate harmonic framework.
The malambo is a dance for men, and demands highly virtuosic footwork. Above a typical harmonic base, the tension in Malambo, Op. 7(1940), gradually builds as more and more elements are incorporated. As a kind of stamp of its true Argentine nature, it begins, symbolically, with a chord made up of the notes of the open strings of the guitar (E–A–D–G–B–E), which was to become a signature chord in many of his later works.
The opening motif of 12 Preludios americanos, Op. 12(1944), is taken from Chopin's First Prelude, though it is given a substantially different character and treatment by Ginastera. The ascending fourths turn and the G–A–G–B–B flat/B natural melody and its inversion function as a series across all the preludes, sometimes used as a thematic cell, sometimes forming chords. This is the first of his works to embrace a more broadly based American thinking, even if only by allusion. Some of the preludes focus on specific pianistic challenges, others quote Argentine songs and dances, or pentatonic modes used by the indigenous Amerindians, while others are dedicated to contemporary composers from North and South America.
In Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15(1946), the references to Argentine folk-music are indirect, while the attempt to build a more complex structure, with greater expressive power, is far more evident. The decision to expand on the simple folk structure is apparent in the final dance and in the attacca at the end of each movement, but becomes even clearer if one reads the unpublished manuscript of the original version of the suite, in which the first dance (withdrawn from the final version) reappears towards the end to introduce the Coda, giving the whole work a cyclical character. The Suite is therefore a transitional piece between Ginastera's first and second stylistic periods.
Ginastera had long been interested in writing music for children, but some of his works in this field required a fairly lengthy gestation period. His Argentinian dances for children remained unfinished, with just sketches of a Moderato and a Paisaje. The 1934 suite of Children's Pieces, which was awarded a prize by the cultural association El Unísono, was clearly influenced by the French school and remains unpublished, while the 1942 suite makes direct allusions to Argentine dances and children's songs. In the end, the composer withheld all these works from his catalogue. It could be that with the Rondó (1947), however (which, like the Suite de danzas criollas, blends various songs into a single form), he finally wrote a children's work with which he was satisfied.
The transcriptions Milonga (1948?), Pequeña danza (1955), and Toccata (1970) were written for various different reasons. Both the Milonga, based on the Canción para el árbol del olvido, Op. 3, and the Pequeña danza, based on a part of the ballet Estancia, Op. 8,resulted from the huge popularity of the original works. The Toccata came about in different circumstances: Ginastera saw Zipoli as the link between Argentina and Europe, and as the starting point in the history of American composition: "In 1716, Domenico Zipoli published his Organ Toccata in Rome … Soon afterwards he voyaged to Córdoba [in colonial Argentina] and there through his music endowed religious celebrations with great solemnity … One of the greatest organists of all time was, therefore, the first composer to set foot in our country and he connects us materially and spiritually to the Old World…" (A. Ginastera).
CD 2: Large-scale works
Cast in four movements, Sonata No. 1, Op. 22(1952) is one of the composer's most popular works for piano, and the only one that belongs to the period of subjective nationalism, during which Ginastera resolved the problem of incorporating nationalist elements into larger-scale works by using indirect references to Argentine folk-music. The Allegro marcato opens with an ascending-thirds motif and an emphatic rhythm that dominates the entire movement, inspiring the secondary theme as well, although this gentle and pastoral music is very different in character. The Presto misterioso is a forerunner of the scherzos Ginastera would compose in later works. The use of the full chromatic scale with rarely interrupted runs of quavers in a mysterious, pianissimo atmosphere, would become one of his signature techniques. A new lyricism and depth are achieved in the Adagio molto appassionato, before the Ruvido ed ostinato closes the work in festive manner, combining the 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms characteristic of Argentine folk-music.
Almost three decades separate Ginastera's First and Second Piano Sonatas. Sonata No. 2, Op. 53(1981) is without doubt one of the most significant and creative pieces ever written for the piano as Ginastera, having gone through his neo-expressionist phase, emerged from a darker world and looked again at pre-Colombian music, drawing on it for his second and third piano sonatas and the Variazioni e Toccata for organ.
"[…] Just as the first sonata was inspired by the music of the Argentine pampas, this sonata evokes the Aymara and Quechua (extra-European) music of the north of my country, with its pentatonic scales, melancholy melodies or lively rhythms, kenas [Andean flutes] and drums, and microtonal melismas.
"[…] The first movement, Allegramente, comprises a principal theme which acts as a kind of introduction and conclusion, framing developments based on its rhythms and on various different songs, including the Argentine pala-pala. The Adagio sereno — Scorrevole — Ripresa dell'Adagio is nocturnal in character. The first part is a harawi, a melancholy love song, pentatonic and of pre-Colombian origin (from Cuzco), featuring the characteristic inflections of the primitive peoples. The scherzo-like Scorrevole evokes the nighttime sounds of the solitary Andean plateaux. The movement ends with the Ripresa dell'Adagio, which gradually dissolves and fades into silence. The final Ostinato aymará is in toccata form and its basic rhythm is taken from a dance known as a karnavalito. It is robust and impetuous, typical of South American music …" (Alberto Ginastera)
Sonata No. 3, Op. 54(1982) seems to have been conceived as a single grand and violent impulse, with no time to catch its breath, like a dance to try and escape from death. Ginastera finished this, his last work, shortly before his death in Geneva in 1983.
"In contrast with my First and Second Sonatas … the Third is composed in a single, binary movement consisting of two main sections and a coda. The initial tempo marking, Impetuosamente, establishes the mood for the whole piece, while the rhythmical textures are based on Amerindian and colonial Latin American dances…" (A. Ginastera)
Toccata, villancico y fuga, Op. 18(1947), like Ginastera's Psalm CL and Hieremiae prophetae lamentationes, moves away from folk references. The Toccata takes its inspiration from the Baroque model and is improvisatory in nature. From the very beginning, a clear allusion pays homage to J.S. Bach. The Villancico is a traditional South American Christmas carol, dedicated to the baby Jesus. The final Fugue is based on a theme built around the letters B–A–C–H and culminates in a grandiose coda with the theme in diminution.
On Variazioni e Toccata sopra "Aurora lucis rutilat", Op. 52 (1980), Ginastera wrote: "Aurora lucis rutilat" is a fragment of a fifth-century Easter hymn, which I used in the conclusion of my work Turbae, Op. 45. Variazioni e Toccata is a highly virtuosic work comprising twelve variations and a toccata on the "Aurora" theme, which only appears in its original form in the finale, serving as a climax for the work as a whole. The variations alter its texture and structure, and new themes are generated through this process of metamorphosis…"
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GINASTERA, A.: Complete Piano and Organ Music