Regarded as Argentina’s leading composer of the 20th century, Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) first became known for his ballets Panambi and Estancia that reflect the folkloric roots and rhythms of Latin America.
By the early ’50s, after studying in the United States, Ginastera felt constrained by his identification with Latin music. Meanwhile, he also bristled under the rigid dictatorship of Juan Perón. Eventually, Ginastera transitioned to what he called his “neo-expressionistic period,” adopting the 12-tone technique and polytonality.
Before that evolution, Ginastera ran afoul of the Perón government in 1952 when he refused to name the conservatory that he had founded after Eva Perón, the dictator's wife. Though Ginastera was forced out of his post, a commission brought him redemption and became one of his most enduring works: Variaciones Concertantes, a concerto that highlights solo instruments with folkloric color. (A selection will be heard in a CSO for Kids program Nov. 4.)
Throughout the ’60s, Ginastera moved closer to modernism, and in 1969, finding himself out of synch once again with the prevailing politics in Argentina, Ginastera left the country and settled in Geneva. At his death in 1983, he had began to move away from modernism and back to the tonality and folk-music roots of his early works.
Nowadays, Ginastera's global, modernist style is all but forgotten. What endures are the Variaciones Concertantes and his other distinctively Argentinian works. Despite his fraught relationship with Argentina, the music inspired by his native land gives Ginastera a place in the classical repertory. As one critic once observed: “What makes Ginastera unique in the ears of listeners is the identity he sought to shake — proving that, even for genius composers, you can't escape your roots.”