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Alberto Ginastera

 1916 - 1983Alberto Ginastera Photo: www.booseyprints.com

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An introduction to Ginastera’s music by Aurora Natola-Ginastera

I had the privilege of being the wife of one of the leading composers of our time, as well as both his muse and interpreter.

After three years of silence, Alberto Ginastera started composing again in 1971, the time of our meeting and marriage. This new period of composition began with the cantata Milena, a collage of the letters of Kafka to Milena which reflected in some way Alberto’s own temperament—passionate, yet introverted.

His music began to evolve toward a new humanism and poetry. This development—evident in the Serenata op.42, the Third Quartet and his great masterpiece, Turbae ad Passionem Gregorianam op.43, which ends with a Deo Gratias and a hymn from the 6th century: Aurora lucis rutilat—culminates in the Cello Concerto No.2. It was written especially for me as an expression of his wish to create a work which celebrated our union, one of great happiness lasting twelve and a half years. Alberto’s music was a precious gift to the twentieth century and his death signified a great loss for the artistic world.

Aurora Natola-Ginastera

* * *

An introduction to Ginastera’s music by Malena Kuss

"To compose, in my opinion, is to create an architecture, to formulate an order and set in values certain structures, considering the totality of its components. In music, this architecture unfolds in time… When time has passed, when the work has unfolded, a sense of inner perfection survives in the spirit. Only then can one say that the composer has succeeded in creating that architecture."1

The death of a major figure challenges history to reject easy categories and dismantle myths. For all the immediacy of expression, instrumental virtuosity and outward exuberance associated with his music, Ginastera viewed composition as a slow and painful process of transforming, "en noir sur blanc", his initial mercurial visions into intricately ordered canvases of sound. His meticulous manner and "unflappable, pristine and logical mind, an elegantly furnished Bauhaus mind"2, were often made to stand in puzzling contradiction with the unrelieved, dramatic intensity of his music. However, the "tremendous contrast between the outer personality and the inner man", that Aaron Copland once suggested3, appears less marked if viewed as characteristic of a noted generation of Latin American artists who were steeped in the values of an emerging and conservative middle class that emulated European trends while, at the same time, seeking to unlock the expressive potential of their own cultural past.

Equally misleading are attempts to divide his output into clearly defined creative periods, as even Ginastera himself had once done. The sense of continuity that compelled him to begin his second opera Bomarzo (1967) on the final cluster of Don Rodrigo (1964), and to recompose earlier materials in works spanning well over three decades (as with the structural and thematic links between the Pampeana No.2 [1950] and the Cello Sonata [1979], binds stages in the development of a personal language that retains stylistic consistency while facing the challenge of rapidly changing aesthetics. It is more accurate to view the fifty-three opus-numbered works that represent his total œuvre (1937-83) as an uninterrupted search for synthesis between the sounds that carry the stamp of his culture and the 20th-century techniques he learned to master with consummate virtuosity.

Of the unadulterated folk idioms that were a trademark of his style between 1937 and 1952, Ginastera retained only distilled traces in compositions written after Don Rodrigo (1964), his first opera. Unlike other composers of his generation, however, he sought in the rich rural folk tradition of his country not just thematic materials but something essential in the folk idiom itself that became generative in his own compositional process. The smooth adoption of the 12-tone method in the second string quartet (1958), prefigured in the second movement of the Piano Sonata No.1 (1952) – a technique he used with uncanny ingenuity in works like the Violin Concerto (1963) and Don Rodrigo (1964) – was followed by experimentation with indeterminancy in compositions up to and including Milena (1971), a cantata for soprano and orchestra based on Kafka texts. Works representing peaks of stylistic synthesis include Bomarzo (1967), and works since 1972 in which a new, non-dogmatic constructivism elicited intense freedom and sonic beauty, as in the String Quartet No.3 with soprano (1973) and the Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals (1976). As Ginastera abandoned his reliance on folk idioms in the mid 1960s, retaining them only at structural compositional levels, he relied more on larger forms. Music theater attracted him because it provided the vast canvases needed to project increasingly powerful dramaturgical visions that range from the heroic and in poetic Don Rodrigo to the surreal and bizzare in Bomarzo and Beatrix Cenci. Between 1975 and 1983, Ginastera completed seven of the eight movements of what was to be his last work conceived on a monumental scale, Popul Vuh, a symphonic fresco based on the creation of the world according to the Mayas and an apotheosis of that elusive pre-Columbian past that nourished his musical imagination intermittently since the earliest ballet Panambí (1937).

Consistent with his commitment to an ideal of architectural perfection (leading to obsessive revision of details and delays in publication of works) was an unremitting bond with tradition that ruled out delegation of control of the conception of the work to the performer. Most traditional was his conception of the solo sonata and concerto as vehicles for dramatic contrast and idiomatic instrumental virtuosity. Among these, the works for cello assumed special personal significance during the last twelve years of his life, since they were inspired by, dedicated to, and brilliantly performed by his second wife, Aurora Natola.

Death interrupted his creative journey at the instant when it had reached its most perfect definition. Nonetheless, his powerful musical visions have secured him a lasting place in 20th-century music.

Malena Kuss, 1986
(University of North Texas)

1 Alberto Ginastera, A la découverte d’un compositeur d’aujourd’hui, interview by Luc Terrapon in Musique Information, journal of the Jeunesses Musicales de Suisse (8 April 1982)
2 Donal Henahan, The New York Times Magazine (10 March 1968), 86
3 Ibid., 72

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