Our latest concert broadcast with Sir Simon Rattle takes us on an adventure across continents, stopping off at the Argentinian pampas of Alberto Ginastera in his Variaciones concertantes Op 23. New to Ginastera? Read more about him and four fellow iconic composers of Latin America below.
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1916 (Argentina) – 1983 (Switzerland)
One of Argentina’s musical royalty, Alberto Ginastera’s musical talents were spotted early and he won his first composition prize aged just 22. He came to prominence with his two ballet works, Panambi and Estancia, both of which highlight his immersion in folklore music, predominantly that of the Gaucho, the skilled nomadic horseman, an important part of the Argentine cultural tradition.
Ginastera became better-known through his international career. He lived for a while in the US, immersing himself in life at the famous music school Tanglewood, where he met and studied with Aaron Copland. On his return to Argentina the unstable Péron government – the reason he’d left Argentina in the first place – was still in power. A repressive regime that Ginestera did not agree with, it led to troubling arguments. He managed to stand his ground and wrote some of his most memorable compositions during this time, including Variacones concertantes.
During the 1960s, Ginastera's music took on a more contemporary feel and he wrote a number of his most memorable works with significant folk influences during this time, such as his Harp Concerto (1965), Estudios sinfónicos (1963), and his opera Don Rodrigo. But wranglings with the government took their toll, with three years of nothing. All ended happily: he emigrated to Geneva with his second wife and muse, the cellist Aurora Natola, and found a new lease of life. He composed works, many inspired by Aurora, until his death in 1983.
Note © Sarah Breeden
> Watch the final movement of Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes below
Arguably the most well-known Latin American classical composer among Europeans, Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in 1887 in Rio de Janeiro. He had very little formal musical training in his early life, instead learning cello, clarinet and classical guitar from his father, after whose death Villa-Lobos supported the family by playing in cinema and theatre bands. At 18 he started exploring more of his native Brazil, absorbing the musical influences of Brazil’s indigenous cultures and amassing, along with folk songs from the north-east, tall tales of his expeditions (which include a story of escape from cannibals).
From 1915 his music began to be published and performed in concerts, giving a vital boost to his blossoming career. He started professional study of Western classical music, and his ambition was set: to apply European skills to the composition of genuinely Brazilian classical music, true to the country’s diverse idioms and traditions. His friendship with pianist Artur Rubinstein helped internationalise his career in the 1920s. In 1932, back in Brazil he took a position as director of musical education and instituted long-lasting systems of training and study.
Before his death in 1959 he composed upwards of a staggering 2000 works, which include 12 symphonies, nine Bachianas Brasileiras, stage works from opera to a Broadway musical, numerous songs, and piano and chamber pieces. He remains a figure of huge cultural and artistic significance in his home country.
> Listen to Julian Bream perform Villa-Lobos’ Guitar Concerto with the LSO and André Previn
> Bachianas Brasileiras No 2, The Little Train of the Caipira, performed by the LSO with Sir Eugene Goossens
Responsible for whisking tango music away from the Argentinian dance hall and giving it a place in concert halls around the world, Astor Piazzolla was widely recognised as the world’s foremost tango composer.
Born to Italian parents in Argentina, he spent much of his childhood with family in New York City. A bandoneon (a kind of accordion) prodigy as a child, Piazzolla worked his way up through local clubs, briefly moving into modernist classical composition, inspired by Stravinsky, Bartók and Ravel, before turning his attention back to tango. His return to tango may in part be thanks to composer Nadia Boulanger, who taught Piazzolla and urged him to continue his experiments with the form.
A truly innovative composer and musician, Piazzolla’s fusion of tango, jazz and classical music was highly controversial among his Argentinian contemporaries (musically and politically), as he reworked established sounds to form a revolutionary new style – dubbed Nuevo Tango. He imparted his musical wisdom on Marcelo Nisinman, an important figure in contemporary tango music and his protégé.
> Hear Astor Piazzolla performing some of his own works
b 1942 (Bolivia)
Born in 1942, as a poet and songwriter Matilde Kasazola’s work is rooted in the cultural traditions of her home country, where she is something of an icon. She grew up in an artistic family (her mother too was a poet and composer) and started writing at the age of eight, before studying piano as a teenager and ultimately taking guitar and music lessons from the Spanish musicians Pedro García Ripoll.
Both her poetry and music are characterised by simplicity and intimacy, and as a performer Matilde says she ‘like[s] performing on small stages, singing songs about life and everyday themes’. Her songs have been interpreted by many Bolivian artists, in particular her song ‘El retreso' (The return).
In 2016, she Matilde received the National Culture Award in recognition of her lifelong career as an artist. She is Guitar Chair at the National School of Folklore Mauro Núñez Cáceres La Paz, and continues to write poetry and songs.
> Listen to Matilde Kasazola’s album Te Llamabas Sonrisa
We’ll hand over to Second Violin Julián to introduce this Colombian composer …
Watch our latest concert featuring Ginastera Variaciones concertantes, Gerhard Dances from Don Quixote & Dvořák Serenade in D minor and American Suite, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, on Marquee TV. Free to watch for 7 days (with registration) from Thursday 4 February 7pm GMT, then available on demand with a subscription.