The composer Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires on April 11, 1916. This means that next year will be the year for celebrating the centennial of his birth. It remains to be seen how this occasion will be marked in the United States. Ginastera’s music has received relatively little attention here, and it would be more than a little unfortunate if he is remembered only as the teacher of Astor Piazzolla. His reputation was probably better established in Europe. He died in Geneva at the age of 67 and was buried there.
It does seem as if some of his strongest advocates can be found outside the United States. Last year this site reported on an engagingly innovative recording by Polish-Canadian pianist Katarzyna Musiał entitled Come Dance With Me, which began with Ginastera’s Opus 2 set of three Argentine dances and concluded with the Opus 15 suite of five Creole dances. Last month, however, Ginastera’s piano music got more thorough attention from Italian pianist Mariangela Vacatello when Brilliant Classics released a two-CD collection of his complete works for piano. This was certainly a thorough undertaking, since it included the eight Piezas Infantiles (pieces for children), which he collected in two books, each with four pieces. He composed these in 1934 and subsequently withdrew them for publication. She also included “Milonga,” a short piece that cannot be found in the Grove Music Online list of Ginastera’s compositions.
Unfortunately, Brilliant Classics is not the best label for background information. In this case the booklet has a highly personal “memory essay” by Hugo Aisemberg in both English and Spanish, a complete track listening, and little else. Thus, we know nothing about how Vacatello came across “Milonga” or, for that matter, the withdrawn Piezas Infantiles. Fortunately, her recordings provide a spirited and expressive account of all of the compositions, meaning that she is just the sort of keyboard advocate that Ginastera deserves.
While Ginastera composed a generous number of lengthy compositions, it is worth noting that, where piano music is concerned, he was basically a miniaturist. Only two of the tracks are longer than six minutes in duration; and one of those is an arrangement of an organ toccata by the Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli, which comes close to suggesting that Ginastera decided to try his hand at following in the footsteps of Ferruccio Busoni. The other long track is the second of the three movements of his Opus 53 (second) piano sonata, composed in 1981 and revised in 1983. This movement reflects many of the moody qualities that can be found in slow movements by Béla Bartók (sometimes described as “night music”), complete with Bartók’s ABA structure. However, the motivic material is definitely in Ginastera’s, rather than Bartók’s voice.
Ginastera’s father was Catalan. This is worth observing because most, if not all, of his shorter pieces (none of which exceed four minutes in duration) recall a slightly earlier Catalan composer and pianist, Federico Mompou. Deborah Schwartz-Kates’ Grove Music Online article makes no mention of Mompou, but one could be forgiven for suspecting a “family resemblance” to Mompou’s pieces, most of which are also miniatures, particularly in the dance portions of his song-and-dance couplings. Indeed, Musiał had Mompou and Ginastera “rub shoulders” (if not dance with each other) on her Come Dance With Me album.
On the other hand where Mompou tended to be quietly meditative, Ginastera seems to have had a passion for high-energy rhythm. This is where Vacatello serves him well as a pianist. Her sense of his rhythmic drive is always right on the money, and she has all of the technical chops to keep up with what he demands of the pianist. As a result we can now be assured of having at least one new album that will honor Ginastera’s 100th birthday.