Alberto Ginastera

From New World Encyclopedia

Alberto Evaristo Ginastera (April 11, 1916 Buenos Aires - June 25, 1983 Geneva) was an Argentinian master composer of European classical music as well as a prolific nationalistic musician who preserved many of the folk elements of Argentina in lively compositions.

Ginastera won great acclaim for his masterful juxtaposing of traditional Argentine folk elements with Western classical conventions. In so doing he demonstrated the ability to unify seemingly diverse musical styles into a harmonious and highly evocative musical expression. This was accomplished not by merely integrating existing folk melodies into his music, but was far more elemental, in that he would construct original thematic material, rhythmic patterns and harmonic progressions that were predicated on the intervalic, rhythmic and harmonic properties of actual Latin folk music. He was one of several important South American composers to achieve international prominence.


Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires to a Catalan father and an Italian mother. He preferred to pronounce his surname in its Catalan pronunciation, with a soft "G" (i.e., JEE'-nah-STEH-rah rather than the Castilian Spanish KHEE'-nah-STEH-rah).

He studied at the conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938. In the 1940s, Alberto Ginastera achieved international prominence after the successes of his ballet scores, Panambí and Estancia, which employed folkloric and nationalist influences of his native Argentina. In the 1950s he began experimenting with the idea of juxtaposing folkloric elements with serial techniques. His popular work for chamber orchestra, Variaciones concertantes, was composed in 1953 and won him even greater attention.

He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942 to study in the United States from 1945 to 1947 where he studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood and later returned to Buenos Aires and co-founded the 'League of Composers'. In addition, he was awarded honorary doctorates from Yale University in 1968 and Temple University in 1975, and was the recipient of the UNESCO International Music Council music prize in 1981.

In the late 1950s and 1960s his music was presented in premiere performances by the top orchestras in the United States, including his first Piano Concerto (in Washington, DC), his Violin Concerto under with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, his Harp Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy conducting, and his opera, Don Rodrigo at the New York City Opera. In 1967 his second opera Bomarzo was premiered in Washington, DC but the subsequent Buenos Aires production was banned for political reasons and not staged in his native Argentina until 1972.

His late works include his opera Beatrix Cenci (which was presented as part of the Kennedy Center Inaugural concerts in 1971,) Glosses for orchestra, Piano Concerto No. 2 and two cello concertos in which the fusing of native Argentine musical elements with European classical tradition is accomplished to great effect.

Ginastera married cellist Aurora Natola in 1971 and left Argentina to take up residence in Geneva. He moved back to the US in 1968 and from 1970 lived in Europe. He died in Geneva.

Music and Style

Alberto Ginastera grouped his music into three periods: "Objective Nationalism" (1934–1948), "Subjective Nationalism" (1948–1958), and "Neo-Expressionism" (1958–1983). Among other distinguishing features, these periods vary in their use of traditional Argentine musical elements. His Objective Nationalistic works often integrate Argentine folk themes in a straightforward fashion, while works in the later periods incorporated traditional elements in increasingly abstracted forms. In Ginastera's Sonata for guitar, op. 47, an example of his nationalistic period, he featured folk guitar traditions and syncopated folk dance rhythms with a development of the musical themes through the "vidala," "baguala," and "andino cantos de caja."

He later used his three piano sonatas to bring in a sense of historical nationalism in which he featured Iberian musical traditions in the first sonata, introduced the American Indian stylism in the second sonata, and united the two ethnic groups into a beautiful blending of scalar musical symmetry. In his six Argentinian Dances, he features the "gato," "bailecito," "huella," "malambo," "milonga", and the "tango." His last period which is regarded as neo-expressionism brings Ginastera out of a classical tradition towards an abstract musicality without the use of folk music or symbolic nationalism.

The progressive rock group, 'Emerson, Lake & Palmer' brought Ginastera's attention outside of modern classical music circles when they adapted the fourth movement of his first piano concerto and recorded it on their popular album Brain Salad Surgery under the title "Toccata." They recorded the piece not only with Ginastera's permission, but with his endorsement. In 1973, when they were recording the album, Keith Emerson met with Ginastera at his home in Switzerland and played a recording of his arrangement for him. Ginastera is reported to have said, "Diabolical!" Keith Emerson—misunderstanding Ginastera's meaning—(he spoke no English and meant that their interpretation was frightening, which was his intent when he wrote it)—was so disappointed that he was prepared to scrap the piece when Ginastera's wife intervened saying that he approved. Ginastera later said, "You have captured the essence of my music." [1] Emerson would later go on to release an adaptation of Ginastera's Suite de Danzas Criollas entitled "Creole Dance." "Toccata" also gained fame as the theme to the New England cult TV show Creature Double Feature.



  • Don Rodrigo (1964)
  • Bomarzo (1967), banned for obscenity
  • Beatrix Cenci (1971)


  • Panambí, Op. 1 (1937)
  • Estancia, Op. 8 (1941)


  • Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 28
  • Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 39
  • Violin Concerto
  • Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 36
  • Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 50
  • Harp Concerto

Vocal/choral orchestral

  • Cinco canciones populares argentinas (1943)
  • Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta (1946)
  • "Variaciones Concetante" (1953)
  • Bomarzo (1964), a cantata described as "distinct from the opera" by the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music


  • Piano Quintet
  • String Quartet No. 1
  • String Quartet No. 2
  • String Quartet No. 3
  • Cello Sonata
  • Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 22
  • Piano Sonata No. 2
  • Piano Sonata No. 3
  • Danzas Argentinas, for piano
  • Guitar Sonata, Op. 47
  • Pampeana No. 1, for violin and piano
  • Pampeana No. 2, for cello and piano
  • Pampeana No. 3, for piano
  • Suite de Danzas Criollas, for piano
  • 12 Preludes for solo piano


  1. ELP Biography.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ginastera, Alberto, Natola-Ginastera, Aurora, et al., "Homage to Alberto Ginastera," Washington D.C.: Inter-American Musical Editions, 1982. OCLC 13793679
  • Lee, Miah, "Alberto Ginastera: an examination of objective nationalism & the Danazas Argentinas." thesis: University of Texas at El Paso, 2005.
  • Payne, Alyson, "Creating Music of the Americas in the cold War: Alberto Ginastera & the Inter-American Music Festivals." thesis: Bowling Green State University, 2006.
  • Urtubey, Pola Suarez, Alberto Ginastera. Ediciones Culturales Argentinas, 1967. ASIN: B000OOZXJU

External links

All links retrieved June 17, 2023.


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