The quote above comes from Ginastera’s program note for the premiere of this piece in 1953, and without context appears to direct our attention to the performing ensemble and away from the specific Argentinian folkloric elements. This may seem perfectly reasonable to our own sensibilities, but there was a political and moral reason for Ginastera to turn attention away from any specific Argentine character of the work. In 1952, Ginastera lost his faculty position at Conservatorio de Música y Arte Escénico in La Plata, Argentina’s premier music conservatory, which he had established and directed since 1948. This came about because he opposed naming the conservatory after Eva Perón, the wife of Argentinian President Juan Perón. Ginastera found himself at odds with Perón’s populist administration on more than one occasion. When he composed Variaciones concertantes, he was in significant financial peril. Eventually, he was reinstated at the conservatory, three years after a military coup ended Perón’s presidency, but resigned that same year to begin a new school. Ginastera was no more fond of the new government than he was of Perón’s, seeing Argentina’s political tendencies as a pendulum swinging violently between repression and corruption. In addition, as Ginastera gained international recognition, he came to resent his position as the musical representative of Argentina. His later “neo-expressionist” music focused on serialism and microtonal composition, and he generally avoided using the “calling cards” of his nationalist music. Upon moving to Geneva in 1971, he preferred using the Catalan pronunciation of his name ([dʒinasˈteɾa], or Jeenastera) rather than Spanish ([xinasˈteɾa], or Heenastera), furthering himself away from his Argentine identity.
We can see, then, that his retroactive labeling of his own music periods was not simply stylistic categorization, but a deeply self-critical act. We are lucky that Ginastera deemed Variaciones concertantes worthy of performance, as he destroyed many of his early works during similar bouts of self-critique. All this brings us back to the question posed at the beginning of this note: what was Ginastera communicating to us in this piece? He was a complex man, and his compositional motivations changed drastically throughout his career, suggesting multiple ways to interpret this work. On the one hand, this piece is clearly rooted in Ginastera’s Argentine identity, but on the other hand, the composer himself came to resent this identity. What does it mean for the performers to capture his compositional intentions? For that matter, what does it mean for us, the audience, to hear these intentions play out?
– Marc Lombardino
PhD Candidate, Musicology, UC Santa Barbara