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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Argentina had a vigorous musical life in the 19th century, and the opera at Buenos Aires became (and remains) world famous. The 1880s saw the rise of a nationalist music style drawing on indigenous folk-music, and especially that of the gauchos and their ranching life. The father figure of this movement was Alberto Williams (1862-1952), of Basque and British descent, whose mantle was taken over by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), the major Argentinean composer of international stature. In reaction to this movement, the composer Juan Carlos Paz (1901-1972), who considered nationalist material a dead form, introduced the latest ideas current in Europe, especially 12-tone techniques. After co-founding the Grupo Renovacion in 1929, and as Director of the Concerts of New Music from the 1930s and of the acclaimed Teatro Colón (founded in Buenos Aires in 1908), he performed foreign contemporary works; through his own compositions he influenced the subsequent generation of Argentinean composers. It was he who introduced the other major Argentinean composer, Mauricio Kagel (born 1931), to contemporary music.

The most fertile period of new music in Argentina was probably the period 1950 to 1970, especially with the foundation in 1962 of the Latin American Center for Advanced Musical Studies, which included an electronic music studio and maintained contacts with visiting composers of an international reputation. It closed in 1970. In spite of this, such composers as Kagel preferred the freer musical atmosphere of Europe to their politically troubled homeland. Like Kagel, Carlos Alsina (born 1941) left Argenta for Germany in 1964. He has also followed Kagel in embracing the extremes of the avant-garde movement of the 1960s, though without the same notoriety, and in composing works for music theatre. In 1969 he formed with Drouet, Globokar, and Portal an improvisation group New Phonic Art for performances both of improvised music and their own works. His own music has embraced most of the new techniques developed in the 1960s, including aleatoric devices and free improvisation, exploring the possibility of dramatized performance of music works in addition to more overt stage works. His music often employs extreme instrumental ranges and unconventional instruments, and the merging of apparently antipathetical instrumental timbres.

As with so many South American countries, the paucity of composers in this section does not reflect the quality of Argentinean composition, but rather the near impossibility of encountering works by such composers as Williams and Juan Carlos Paz (who would otherwise be in the Guide) either on the concert platform or on recordings outside South America.






see under SPAIN



born 11th April 1916 at Buenos Aires

died 25th June 1983 at Geneva


Although Ginastera has long been recognised as the major exponent of Argentinean nationalism in music, the label is misleading, and his international reputation rests as much on the international style of his later works as on the expression of local colour.

Nonetheless, he first came to prominence with nationalist works. In these, the style of Argentinean folk music is blended into his music, rather than overtly using the genuine or quasi-folk music and tunes so prevalent elsewhere in South America in the 1930s and 1940s. These folk-influenced effects included polytonality, the feel of the melodic lines of the música criolla, rhythmic effects, and the chord of the open strings of the guitar. Ginastera himself called this "objective nationalist", expressed both in music suggesting primitive ritual and in music of a more contemplative lyrical feel. Two such works, the Danzas Argentinas for piano (1937), and the ballet Panambí (1934-1936), established his reputation. Panambí is occasionally heard as an orchestral suite. It is a heady and vivid piece, that pits sections of sensuous, rather Impressionistic orchestral colours in thick textures with marvellous descriptive touches and effects (birds calls, rain-forest sounds) against primitive violence (with a heavy percussive bass and ostinati) or a rather spare, languid lyricism. The works between 1937 and 1947 confirmed this nationalist reputation, notably the ballet Estancia (1941, suite 1943) which included spoken and sung evocations of the pampas and the use of the gaucho popular fast dance, the malambo, and Las Horas de una Estancia (1943) for voice and piano.

In 1945, with the rise of Peron to power, Ginastera left Argentina for the U.S.A. From 1947 he travelled extensively in Europe and the States before returning to Argentina at the overthrow of Peron (1955). These wanderings correlated with a second period in his music. With the first of three Pampeana (No.1 for violin and piano, 1947) and the String Quartet No.1 (1948) the indigenous influences became assimilated into his personal style, in a process he called "subjective nationalism" - the overall feel may have an Argentinean character, but the folk elements are no longer individually recognisable, apart from general ideas (such as the continued use of the `guitar chord'). The most-often heard work of this period is the tense and pianistic Piano Sonata No.1 (1952), with dense and percussive writing characterised by a nervous rhythmic flow, contrasted by a sparse slow movement (recalling Prokofiev), and ending with a malambo rhythm, and characteristic ostinati.

Pampeana No.3 (1954) for orchestra introduced elements of 12-tone techniques into Ginastera's music, even if the overall effect remains tonal (Ginastera himself pointed to the presence of 12-note rows in Panambi and the Piano Sonata No.1). This change of direction seems temporarily to have halted Ginastera's output, for the only work in the next four years was the Harp Concerto (1956), a brilliantly orchestrated work (with winds and percussion to the fore) of varied textures, an ostinato opening, an atmospheric slow movement, and involved writing for harp, sometimes recalling guitar effects. It heralded a third stage in Ginastera's development, in which 12-tone and serial techniques are employed for dramatic, ritualistic, sometimes surrealistic, and above all expressive effect, while utilising the experience of his earlier music, particularly the nervous rhythmic energy and the use of ostinati, and regularly maintaining classical forms (sonata, variations). Gradually the experimentation, especially of texture and timbre, became more developed, close to similar exploration in Europe and a far cry from the nationalist early works.

With the String Quartet No.2 (1958) 12-tone technique was openly embraced, although with a continuation of the nervous rhythmic drive. The individuality of his new "neo-expressionist" style was announced in the Cantata para América Mágica (1960) for soloists and percussion ensemble, a total of 53 instruments, mostly percussion but including two pianos and a celesta, and based on pre-Columbian poems. Technically the cantata is overtly serial (pitch, rhythm and dynamics are treated serially, as well as the melodic material), but emotionally it has an extraordinary undercurrent of expressive primitivism, especially in the pervasive rhythmic effects (polyrhythms and irregular metres) and in the difficult and dramatic vocal writing, with wide leaps and subtle inflections. This cantata is a genuine marriage of the expression of ancient emotions and modern techniques, in which the power of expression may attract many listeners who are otherwise antipathetical to serial techniques. The dramatic elements of this cantata were developed in four operas, modern in language if traditional in format, and highly successful in their debuts if now largely ignored (Don Rodrigo, 1963-1964, Bomarzo, 1966-1967, Beatrix Cenci, 1971, and Barabbas, 1977). They present strong formal structures, surrealistic situations arising from characters on the edge of sanity, and a pervasive theme of sex and violence (one critic called Bomarzo "Porno in Belcanto").

The other element of Ginastera's later music is its virtuoso writing (a natural ally to a strong expressive intent). The brilliant and expressive solo part of the Piano Concerto No.1 (1961) is initially pitted against the orchestra in a dialogue of variations, then utilized in an "hallucinatory" slow movement before a rhythmic finale. The long Piano Concerto No.2 (1972) is more florid, shot through with nervous energy, and with dense, sometimes dissonant and exceptionally virtuosic textures with cluster effects, the orchestra used for swathes of a single tone colour or for points of emphasis. Its second movement is in the form of 32 variations on a chord from the fourth movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.9, and, while more difficult than its predecessor, it is both a more introvert (in spite of its massive effects) and a more rewarding work. Similarly personal is the spiky and nervous Piano Quintet (1963), the strings exploring tense intimate effects in the central slow section, the piano dense and complex expression in the outer, with a suggestion of the maniacal. The tense energies of these works, notes piled on notes, correspond to the 'primitive' aspects of his earlier work. Much clearer in texture and in the formality of its structure is the powerful Concerto for Strings (1965), more obviously lyrical within its dramatic and rugged mould (with swooping effects, and the glistening of high harmonics). The Violin Concerto (1963) requires brilliant technique, while the Estudios Sinfónicos (Symphonic Studies, 1967) for orchestra include clusters and micro-tones. The performance difficulties of these works have hampered their wider dissemination.

His final works (e.g. the last two piano sonatas, 1981 and 1982, of which No.2 has an ostinato final movement Ostinaro ayamara; and Iubilum for orchestra, 1980, with dissonant fanfares contrasted with quiet meditations, Impressionist writing, and tonal climaxes) showed a mixture of this uncompromising language with a return to the more accessible concerns of his early works.

Ginastera was professor of composition at the National Conservatory (1941, dismissed 1945), and 1958 was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science at the Argentine Catholic University. In 1968 he again left Argentina for the U.S.A., and settled in Geneva in 1970, where he lived until his death. In common with many composers in the years immediately following their deaths, Ginastera's music appears to be currently neglected. But it seems only a matter of time before it reappears, both for the primitivism of the earlier works, and more especially the individuality of the later. In these, even if the language shares many of the styles and techniques of contemporary Western music, the statement - nervous, dramatic, surrealist - is unique.


works include:

- 2 cello concertos; harp concerto; 2 piano concertos; concerto for strings; violin concerto

- Iubilum (Celebracion Sinfónica), Popol Vuh and Estudios Sinfónicos (Symphonic Studies) for orchestra; overture Obertura para el "Fausto" Criollo (Overture to the Creole Faust) for orch.; Variations Concertante for chamber orch.

- 3 Pampeanas (No.2 for violin and piano, No.2 for cello and piano, No.3 for orch.); 3 string quartets; piano quintet; On a Theme of Pablo Casals for string quintet and strings

- 3 piano sonatas; Malambo, Twelve American Preludes and other works for piano; guitar sonata

- Five Popular Argentinean Songs, song cycle Las Horas de una Estancia; 3 Cantata Drammatico (No.1 Cantata para América Mágica, No.2 Bomarzo, No.3 Milena); Turbai ad Passionem Gregorianum for soloists, chorus and orch.; Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah for chorus and other vocal works

- ballets Estancia, Panambí

- operas Barabbas, Beatrix Cenci, Bomarzo, Don Rodrigo

- film scores


recommended works:

Cantata para América Mágica op.27 (1960)

Concerto per Corde op.33 (1965)

Harp Concerto op.35 (1956 revised 1968)

Panambi op.1a (1934-1936) (suite from ballet)

Piano Concerto No.1 op.28 (1961)

Piano Concerto No.2 op.39 (1972)

Piano Quintet op.29 (1963)

Piano Sonata No.1 op.22 (1952)

Piano Sonata No.2 (1981)



P.Suárez Alberto Ginastera Buenos Aires, 1967

P.Suárez Alberto Ginastera eu cinquo movimentos Buenos Aires, 1972


KAGEL Mauricio

born 24th December, 1931 at Buenos Aires

doed 18th September, 2008 at Cologne


Mauricio Kagel properly belongs to the European avant-garde as much as to Argentinean musical life, for in 1957 he moved to Cologne, quickly became an integral part of the German musical scene, and has continued to live in Germany. He has been one of the most colourful and extreme music experimenters, whose works have often shocked and horrified, but elements of which have had wide influence on other composers. In 1969 he was appointed Director of the Institute for New Music at the Cologne Musikschule.

His work has shown a consistent thread of restructuring what might be described as the dialectic of music. Initially, and in common with many other composers, this involved physically the extension of instruments into new ranges and sounds, including the human voice (unusual texts and vocal techniques), and abstractly the exploration of free forms and chance happenings of musical events. He then extended this to the restructuring of the ambiance of the performance, creating dramatic events out of concert works, and especially redefining music theatre. As this involved irony and a surrealist humour, it has infuriated those who have seen it as insincere or a negation of the weight of received tradition. He has broadened these concerns to include film and the cross-over of various media. Finally, he has filtered earlier music through these techniques to redefine it too, causing further furore.

His experimentation started while he was still in Argentina, while choral director of the Teatro Colón (1949-1956). Palimsestos (1950) mixed speech patterns, while Musica para la torre (Tower Music, 1953) was an early electronic work using concrete sounds and distortions, broadcast from a tower with a light show - an early indication of the preoccupation both with unconventional sounds and dramatic effects. The String Sextet (1952, revised 1957) contrasted structured sounds (including microtones and polymetric patterns) against free expression.

The first work to attract wider attention after his move to Germany was the influential Anagrama (1955-1958) for four voices, chorus, and orchestra, in which unconventional texts - the sounds, not the sense, of anagrams - were performed by unconventional vocal techniques, including whispering and declamatory, shouted passages. The purely electronic Transición I (1958-1960) explored the evolution of timbre changing into timbre, in a revolving roll-over of sound, since used by many composers but at the time quite new. Improvisation ajoutée (1961-1962) not only uses the extremes of organ sounds, and a large element of random interplay as two assistants improvise registration changes while a third plays (all to prearranged instructions), but also includes their voices and hand-clapping, to haunting effect like some Inquisition nightmare. The element of action in sound was even more overt in another organ piece, Phantasie, which caused considerable stir when it appeared in 1967. In it, the purely organ part (signifying the organist's official duties) is contrasted with a tape (that should be pre-recorded by the organist) that might typically include the sounds of breakfast, commuting, the church bells, the noises of the services - the background to official duties - in a surprisingly evocative manner. But the major and most extended work concerned with new vocal sounds was the then innovative Hallelujah (1967), an arcane hymn of praise for 16 soloists (and also a film). The major score exploring new instrumental sounds was Acustica (1968-1970)), which uses experimental sound-makers (from bull-roarers and nail-violins to gas blow-torches), loudspeakers and tape, the musical events precisely delineated on 200 file cards, but then distributed randomly and played in a random order against the fixed sequence of the tape.

His first stage work - and one of his major successes - was Sur scène (1959-1960), which ridiculed the pretensions of critics, using musical-hall elements, a process taken to its culmination in the anti-opera Staatstheater (1967-1970), whose nine scenes include a satirical swipe at earlier opera, and whose musical instruments - all household objects - include a chamber pot. In other stage works, the music itself has more subtly become the drama. In Match (1964) two cellist/table-tennis players and a drummer/referee play out the tensions found in chamber groups, while in Pas de Cinq (1965) the players walk around in pentagrams, and the rhythms of their footfalls and the tapping of their walking-sticks - precisely notated - create the music.

The re-evaluation of older music through avant-garde eyes was first apparent in Heterophonie (1959-1961), in which the 42 traditional instruments play as soloists in a work which, in its chance elements, is concerned with spatial changes of timbre for its effects. Music for Renaissance Instruments (1965-1966) employed an orchestra of disparate historical instruments, while Der Schall (Sound) (1968) for five players with 54 instruments of the most varied kind imaginable and whose combinations only appear once, suggests the break-up of some old symphonic work, like a once shiny piece of metal dug up unrecognisable and rusted. The avant-garde culmination of this process was Ludwig Van, Homage to Beethoven (1969), processing Beethoven's music for a film as well as a score. Similarly, Variations ohne fugue (1971-1972) for orchestra arose out of Brahms' Hungarian Variations, and catalogue effects appear in 1898 (written in strict two parts for a number of instruments for the 75th anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon).

In common with many composers of the avant-garde period, Kagel dropped from the limelight in the reaction of the middle 1970s. If the swirling vocal sound of such works as the short Intermezzo (1983) for chorus, orchestra and narrator continue the choral techniques developed earlier, and Ex-position (1978) the unusual performing groups (vocal ensemble, percussion, rhythm generators and gymnasts), such works as "Rrrrrrr..." (title abbreviated - 41 movements for various forces) suggest a mellowing of the extremes of sound. The opera Aus Deutschland (1981) filters Schubert and the lied through his perspective. But his most remarkable work of recent years continues the preoccupation of re-evaluation. St.-Bach-Passion (1985) is a huge - perhaps too long - oratorio with the unmistakable ambiance of a Bach Passion filtered through modern techniques, without being overtly dissonant or extreme. It is a passion of the life of Bach (and its repercussions, including modern kitsch renderings of Bach tunes), and once one has accepted the inversion of format and content, it is both reverent and moving.


None of the avant-garde music is easy to listen to. So many of the actual sounds themselves, as well as their interactions, are unfamiliar, combined with an almost total lack of traditional norms. The large element of the dramatic, in the concert as well as the stage works, makes them more effective live than on radio or recording. But if, as seems likely, the products of this ever-inquiring and irreverent imagination seem destined to remain in the history books for their influence on other less extreme composers (particularly in the multi-media fields) rather than in the repertoire, their acquaintance can sometimes be fascinating, especially if the listener allows his or her imagination to interact much in the manner of listening to a radio-play.


works include:

- Heterophonie, Intermezzo and Variations ohne fugue for orchestra

- Music for Renaissance Instruments; Rrrrrrr... for various forces; Sonnant for guitar, harp, double-bass and percussion

- Opus posthumum for piano trio; Match for three players; string quartet; string sextet; Transición II for piano, percussion and 2 sound tapes; Der Schall for five players

- Matapiece for piano

- Improvisation Ajoutée and Phantasie for organ

- Anagrama for 4 soloists, speaking chorus, and chamber ensemble; Diaphonie for chorus, orch. and "diapositive projections"; Die Frauen for voices and instruments; Hallelujah for voices; Palimpsestos for chorus; Kanrimusik (Countrymusic); monologue Kommentar & Extempore; Con voce for mute actors; Die Himmelsmechanik "composition with indigenous birds; "bandoneon" piece Pandora's Box; Pas de cinq for five performers; Phonophonie (4 melodramas); Synchronstudie for singer, noise-maker and film; oratorio St.-Bach-Passion; chamber music theatre piece Sur Scene; Variationen for singers and actors

- ballet for non-dancers Staatstheater

- operas Aus Deutschland, Die Erschöpfung; theatrical Oral Treason

- Acustica for various sound sources and loudspeakers; Camera Obscura for light sources with representers; Montage for various sound sources; Privat for lonely listener(s); electronic Antithése (with "publicly performed sounds"), Transición I, Ludwig van (Hommage von Beethoven)

- film scores; radio plays


recommended works:

Acustica for experimental sound-producers & loudspeakers (1968-1970)

Hallelujah for 16 solo singers a capella (1967-1968)

Ludwig Van, Homage to Beethoven (1969)

Phantasie for organ (1967)

oratorio St.-Bach-Passion (1985)

electronic Transition I (1958-1960)



D. Schnebel Mauricio Kagel: Musik, Theatre, Film Cologne, 1970





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