Variaciones concertantes, op. 23

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            Ginastera was the most important Argentinean composer of the twentieth century—as important to that country as, say, Bartók, was to Hungary (incidentally, his name is pronounced after Catalan pronunciation style—JEE-nah-STEH-rah).  He was a prolific composer, working in most all genres, and stylistically focusing early on in his career on native Argentinean folk elements.  During this time he employed traditional folk scales, sonorities that reference the sound of the guitar, and especially the gaucho dance, the malambo. He won a Guggenheim award in 1942, and came to this country for two years right after WW II, visiting schools, hearing performances of his works, and studying with Aaron Copland, who became one the major influences upon his musical style.   By the end of the 1940s he had moved away from direct utilization of these native elements and toward a more nuanced and subtle abstraction of them.   At the end of the 1950s he changed yet again, and his compositions thence reflect an embrace of the most modern and advanced of twentieth-century musical stylistic elements. 

            Variaciones concertantes was completed in 1953, and is representative of the second period style.  It consists of a theme and eleven variations that collectively feature in a soloistic fashion all of the instruments of the orchestra.  The composer observed: “instead of using folkloric materials, an Argentine atmosphere is obtained by using original melodies and rhythms [that have] a pronounced Argentine accent.”   The twelve sections flow together without pause, but the careful listener will hear a signature Ginastera characteristic at the very beginning—the famous open notes of a guitar scored for harp, accompanying the main theme.  If you’re counting sections, you’ll hear the famous malambo rhythm in sections four (clarinet), seven (trumpet and trombone), and finale as the work drives to a frenzied climax in the whole orchestra.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan