The rich cultural heritage and dramatic landscapes of Latin America, the pulsing rhythms and ecstatic melodies of its folk-music, and the cross-fertilisation between influences from the Old and New Worlds all find expression in the music of composers from Meso- and South America, and have inspired countless composers from other nations as well.
Carlos Chávez received formal training as a pianist, but was largely self-taught as a composer. His formative years coincided with a time of intense nationalism in Mexico brought about by the end of the Mexican revolution. His investigation into Indian cultures, native folk music and dance forms were of significant influence in his music, which was characterised by a highly distinctive use of cross-rhythms, syncopation, irregular meter and colourful orchestration. Chávez was also a distinguished teacher and had an active conducting career, working in the course of his career with nearly every major symphony orchestra in the United States, Europe and Latin America.
Alberto Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires on 11 April 1916 and died on 25 June 1983 in Geneva. Several of the fifty-five works he composed stand as landmarks of Latin-American artistic creation and have earned him a place—together with the Mexican Carlos Chávez and the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos—among the greatest composers of the twentieth century. As well as two concertos for piano, one for violin, two for cello, and one for harp, he wrote two operas, ballet music, orchestral music, chamber music and a dozen works for solo piano.
Osvaldo Golijov was born in 1960 in La Plata, Argentina, to a family of eastern European Jewish origin. He grew up surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical music, the sounds of eastern European klezmorim, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. He studied piano at the local conservatory, and composition privately with Gerardo Gandini (b. 1936), a pupil of Argentina’s most famous composer, Alberto Ginastera. After living in Israel for three years, where he studied at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, Golijov emigrated to the United States in 1986 and now enjoys an international career as one of today’s most exciting composers.
Mozart Camargo Guarnieri
The son of a father from Sicily and a Brazilian mother, Camargo Guarnieri established himself as a musician of importance in São Paulo, before moving in 1938 to Paris for lessons with Koechlin. In style he belongs to a third generation of Brazilian composers, after Braga and then Villa-Lobos, with national traits now fully absorbed into a mature and often passionate musical language. His completely violinistic sonatas for violin and piano, Nos. 4–6, written in 1956, 1959 and 1965, are a fascinating addition to duo repertoire.
Although self-taught as a composer, Rodolfo Halffter had the benefit of advice from Manuel de Falla and Arnold Schoenberg. His music is characterized by impeccable technique and careful attention to dynamics and accents, with a modernism that never ceases to be infectiously Latinate. He spent the greater part of his life in Mexico, as musician, conductor, writer and musical administrator, while still considered in his native Madrid as an important figure in Spanish cultural life. He received the highest honours from both Mexico and Spain.
Astor Piazzolla was born in Argentina in 1921 and became one of the major classical composers of that country. He became so besotted by the music of the South American dance, the Tango, that he destroyed his early works and devoted his life to writing music with that rhythm as its basis. He has developed this art to the point where it is difficult to detect the dance in his complex and strictly classical music. Outside of the South American continent his music was little known until the past decade, when a renewed interest in the dance, mainly through major exposure in the cinema, has taken his works back into the concert hall. Though there are examples of the dance used in its most basic and popular form, Piazzolla has composed most of his music for small chamber groups or solo instruments.
The Argentinian composer and pianist Ariel Ramírez is known through South America for his synthesis of popular and liturgical styles. Ramírez uses popular Latin American dance forms in his Navidad Nuestra, with Spanish texts that present scenes from the Nativity. His Misa Criolla (‘Creole Mass’) again draws on popular musical elements, setting a Spanish text of the Mass.
Born on the last day of 1899, in Santiago Papasquiaro, Durango, a small town in the north of Mexico, Silvestre Revueltas showed great interest in music, his early artistic bent apparent by 1906. In 1917 he moved to the United States to study, remaining there until 1924. With Carlos Chávez he organized the first concerts of contemporary music in Mexico in 1924 and 1925. After a rather long concert tour in Mexico and in the United States, he returned to his home country, where he remained from 1929 onwards. His extraordinary contribution to the national Mexican symphonic poem shows his originality, freshness of inspiration, and technical mastery.
José Serebrier was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, of Russian and Polish parents. At the age of nine he began to study the violin, and at age eleven made his conducting debut. While in high school he organized and conducted the first youth orchestra in Uruguay, which toured the country and gave more than one hundred concerts over four years. Today, Serebrier conducts most major orchestras around the world, and has become the most recorded conductor of his generation, with well over two hundred and fifty titles. His published compositions, many of them written at an early age, also number over one hundred.
Villa-Lobos came to occupy a leading position in the musical life of his native Brazil, a country the varying musical traditions of which he absorbed as a young man by extensive and adventurous travel throughout the region. After a period in Paris he returned home in 1930, eventually winning official recognition and making a significant contribution to Brazilian music education.