About this Recording
8.572249 - GINASTERA, A.: Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals / Variaciones concertantes (London Symphony, Israel Chamber Orchestra, Ben-Dor)

Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983)
Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals, Opp. 46 and 48 • Variaciones concertantes, Op. 23


Alberto Ginastera’s music, with few exceptions, was clearly characterized by native gauchesco harmonies and rhythms with allusions to the pampas, the picturesque and pastoral ranch lands that identify vast portions of Argentina beyond Buenos Aires and its ring of suburbs. Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires on 11 April 1916 of parents who were second-generation Argentines of Catalonian (Spain) and Lombardian (Italy) ancestry without any known musical antecedents.

Ginastera entered the National Conservatory in Buenos Aires in 1936, studying composition with José André (1881–1944), a native Argentine who had studied from 1911 to 1914 at the Schola Cantorum in Paris with the French composers Vincent d’Indy and Albert Roussel. To André can be traced Ginastera’s early French influences and, according to Ginastera himself, the scores which made the most profound effects upon him at the time were Claude Debussy’s La mer and Igor Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps.

The national movement in Argentine music was initiated in the 1890s by Alberto Williams (1862–1952), with whom Ginastera studied for a time before entering the National Conservatory, and the movement had already matured as Ginastera blossomed musically in the 1930s. Some two years before graduating from the National Conservatory with highest honours in 1938, Ginastera composed his first acknowledged work, the ballet Panambí, “a choreographic legend in one act” based on Argentine gauchesco folklore. This was followed in 1940 by a second ballet score, Estancia, which led Aaron Copland to declare in a 1942 article in Modern Music that no discussion of Argentine music could be complete without considering Ginastera’s compelling, though at the time, few, contributions.

Ginastera achieved greater hemispheric recognition when he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942 for studies in the United States from December 1945 to March 1947. From about the time of his Variaciones concertantes in 1953, the composer’s international stature blossomed, resulting in the highly-prized commission from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., among many others, for the inaugural production in its opera house. Beatrix Cenci, the composer’s final work of a trilogy based on historic figures, had its première there on 10 September 1971. In the same year he settled in Geneva with his second wife, Argentine cellist Aurora Nátola, living there until his death on 25 June 1983—a dozen years punctuated still with compositions of profundity, one, or really two, of which were Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals, Opp. 46 and 48.

Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals for String Orchestra and String Quintet, Op. 46, was composed in Geneva in response to a joint commission the composer received from the Festival Casals of Puerto Rico in celebration of the centenary of Pablo Casals’s birth and from the Puerto Rico Committee for the 1976 American Bicentennial in celebration of America’s independence from Great Britain.

Pablo Casals, who died in 1973, was a Catalan cellist without peer in his prime. His performance skills were legendary. The Glosses commission and the music it drew from the composer became something quite dear to its creator, who, for publication of the work by Boosey & Hawkes, wrote “Composer’s Notes” that read in part:

It was with great emotion that I composed the Glosses to the memory of Pablo Casals. Many things drew me to Casals: his personality; his great qualities as an artist and as a man for whom freedom is the essential element in all of life; the long friendship that existed between him and my wife, Aurora, one of his devoted disciples; the enthusiasm which he showed for my works; his interest in being aware of all events of the musical world; and, finally, my Catalan origin, the ginastera, or broom flower, being one of the symbols of Catalonia. I still have in my mind a very clear, almost photographic, recollection of him sitting on the beach of San Juan with his inseparable umbrella, looking at the sea beyond the horizon as though he were trying to reach with his eyes the opposite shore. A distant smile, enigmatic, mischievous, somewhat poetic, somewhat bitter, lighted his face at times and one knew that his thoughts were over there in his native Catalonia. And I have kept from that time certain of Casals’s imaginary memories which I have tried to bring back to life with love and friendship through his own musical themes.

Glosses is in five movements. The Introducció makes allusion to a Caribbean legend: the watchman’s song, fireworks and chorus of praise to the Virgin of Montserrat. The thematic reference here is to Casals’s sacred choral work, Oració a la verge de Montserrat (Prayer to the Virgin of Montserrat), composed in 1959. The second movement Romanç is an idyllic, serene landscape recalling Tres Estrofas de amor (Three verses of love), a setting of verses by the Spanish poet Tomás Blanco, composed by Casals in 1958 and dedicated to his wife, Puerto Rican cellist Marta Montanez. Sardanes brings forth wisps of the far-off sounds of an infinite number of sardanes, the national dance of Catalonia that is elegantly and solemnly executed in a circle. In the nocturnal and magical atmosphere of the fourth-movement Cant, amid the bird-song one can hear the theme of the Catalonian folk-tune, Cant dell Ocells (Song of the Birds), that Casals immortalized as a performance encore on the cello. In the Conclusió delirant, following allusions to blood and gold, the colours of the Catalan flag, an atypically wild and fantastic sardana breaks out and rushes to a frenzied finale.

As originally composed for string orchestra, with string quintet in lontano (placed in the hall, but apart from the orchestra), Glosses had its première on 14 June 1976 in San Juan by the Interamerican Youth Orchestra of the Centennial Festival Casals, Alexander Schneider conducting. The music, however, soon occupied the composer again. As before, the impetus would come from a virtuoso cellist. Reference again is made to “Composer’s Notes” accompanying the published score:

While composing this work for string orchestra, I could not avoid hearing the resonances of the symphony orchestra and when Mstislav Rostropovich requested a world première [he was then Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra], I proposed the reworking of a version for full orchestra of the Glosses where one can listen to the themes of his illustrious colleague. He welcomed my suggestion and I thus developed the structure of the string version by amplifying its form and adapting it to the new symphonic conception. This venture, which was carried out during the year 1977, was considerable, and took the same proportion of time as composing a new work.

This new Glosses on Themes by Pablo Casals for Full Orchestra had its première on 24 January 1978 in Washington, D.C., with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, and it was later published as the composer’s Opus 48. In this version, the original instrumentation is expanded significantly to include two flutes, piccolo, three oboes (one doubling English horn), three clarinets (one doubling E flat clarinet and bass clarinet), three bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets (one doubling piccolo trumpet), three trombones, tuba, harp, piano, celesta, harmonium and a battery of some 39 percussion instruments sounded by no fewer than four players.

Variaciones concertantes for Chamber Orchestra, Op. 23, is scored for two flutes (one doubling on piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harp and strings. The work is in twelve sections.

The theme is first stated in the upper registers of a single cello over a recurring figure in the harp that is at first the notes of the natural, open strings of the gauchesco guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E’) and later a chromatically altered form of the same chord. An interlude for strings alone serves as a bridge to the seven orchestral variations that follow, each variation highlighting in turn as solo instruments: (1) flute, (2) clarinet, (3) viola, (4) oboe and bassoon, (5) trumpet and trombone in a brief variation that serves as little more than a fanfare for the Moto perpetuo that follows featuring (6) violin and (7) horn. Then, a second interlude, this time for wind choir, leads to a reprise of the theme by a solo string bass (rather than by a solo cello as before) over the same gauchesco figure in the harp. The entire orchestra brings the work to a frenetic conclusion with a virtuosic musical malambo, the archetypical “jousting” dance of the gaucho once described as follows in an 1883 monograph, The Province of Buenos Aires:

In the manner of dances, none is comparable to the malambo. It is the gaucho’s “tournament” when he feels the urge to display his skill as a dancer. Two men place themselves opposite each other. The guitars flood the rancho with their chords, one of the gauchos begins to dance; then he stops and his opponent continues; and so on it goes. Many times the justa lasts from six to seven hours [and may consist] of seventy-six figures by each of the dancers. The spectators are fascinated by the dancer’s feet, which go through complicated tapping, shuffling, stamping, doubling, and criss-crossing, at times barely seeming to touch the ground with the soles of their boots. The onlookers applaud, shout, and make bets on one dancer or the other, while even the women and children are swept along by the frenetic enthusiasm engendered by the vertiginous motion.

The first performance of Variaciones concertantes was given on 2 June 1953 in Buenos Aires by the Orchestra of the Association of the Friends of Music, Igor Markevitch conducting. The work has also gained some circulation on ballet stages around the world, first unveiled in that form on 25 May 1960 at the Teatro Colón under the direction of Horatio Butler.

Rudy Ennis
© 2009 The Mozart Works

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