Alberto Ginastera

(11 April 1916, Buenos Aires - 25 June 1983, Geneva)


Alberto Evaristo Ginastera was an Argentine composer of classical music, best known for his use of local and national musical idioms in his compositions. He is considered one of the most important 20th-century classical composers of the Americas.

As a child, Ginastera showed early promise as a performer and composer. He spent his adolescent years receiving formal lessons in Buenos Aires at the Williams Conservatory, and after at the National Conservatory. Shortly after his admittance to the National Conservatory, his music received national acclaim in prominent performance venues. He graduated from the conservatory in 1938. As a young professor, he taught at the Liceo Militar General San Martín. His initial reputation rested largely on his creative interpretations of and allusions to Argentinean folk materials, as realized in short-form pieces and suites, but by the late '40s and early '50s he had completed a number of more imposing works, such his Piano Sonata No. 1 and his first two string quartets.

He had also ventured abroad, first to Tanglewood in 1941, where he became fast friends with Copland, then to other destinations throughout the U.S. in the late '40s, and finally to several venues in Europe during the early '50s, where works such as the Variaciones concertantes and Pampeana No. 3 enjoyed warm receptions. He likewise introduced internationally acclaimed composers to Argentina; he oversaw an ambitious department at Catholic University (1958-1963), and during his tenure as director of the Latin American Center for Advanced Musical Studies (1963-1971) his invited guests included Messiaen, Nono, Dallapiccola, and Xenakis. Ginastera's works from the '60s, including the opera Don Rodrigo (1963-1964), grew more varied in their methods and ambitious in their scope.

Despite his advanced musical vocabulary, Ginastera's music marks him as a traditionalist, which owes much to the great musical figures of the early 20th century. His synthesis of techniques is unique and eclectic, and he makes use of microtones (smaller than half tones), serial procedures (basing works on selected series of pitches, rhythms, etc.), and aleatory, or chance, music as well as older established forms.

His Piano Concerto and Cantata para América mágica was well received by the Interamerican Music Festival public in 1961 and won him great acclaim. Although unsuccessful in its premiere in Buenos Aires, Don Rodrigo (1964) was hailed as a triumph in New York City in 1966. Ginastera’s masterpiece is the chamber opera Bomarzo (1967), which established him as one of the leading opera composers of the 20th century. This highly dissonant score is a reworking of a cantata of the same name for narrator, male voice, and chamber orchestra, commissioned by the E.S. Coolidge Foundation at the Library of Congress (1964). In Bomarzo Ginastera made use of novel and complex compositional techniques but preserved the traditional opera format of arias and recitatives in its 15 scenes. He further developed this style in his final opera, Beatrix Cenci, which had its debut in 1971 in Washington, D.C.

Ginastera moved back to the United States in 1968 and then in 1970 to Europe. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 67 and was buried in the Cimetière des Rois there. Among his notable students were Ástor Piazzolla (who studied with him in 1941), Alcides Lanza, Waldo de los Ríos, Jacqueline Nova and Rafael Aponte-Ledée.

Here  you can find a list of compositions by Alberto Ginastera.