Four Dances from Estancia, Opus 8A
Alberto Ginastera was one of the great stars of South American composers; noted for his patriotism, love for his homeland, and incorporation of native Argentinian folk music within his works. Opus 8, written only three years after he graduated from the conservatory, was a ballet, commissioned by Lincoln Kirsten, Director of the American Ballet Caravan. Its focus was on the life of the gauchos (tough cowboys) on one of the estancias (cattle ranches) in the pampa. Ginastera mused, “Whenever I have crossed the pampa or lived in it for a time, my spirit felt itself inundated by changing impressions, now joyful now melancholy, some full of euphoria and others replete with a profound tranquility, produced by its limitless immensity and by the transformation that the countryside undergoes in the course of the day.” The ballet was not performed until 1952, but the Estancia Suite, Opus 8a (four dances extracted from the ballet score) premiered in 1943 at the Teaotro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires. It was an immediate success, and quickly gained popularity on the world stage.
The four dances are:
Los Trabajadores agricolas (Agricultural workers) comes from the “morning section” of the ballet, which traces the life of a gaucho through an average day. The music, inspired by the folkdance, malamba, begins with driving brass, propelling heavily accented, fast rhythms accompanied by timpani and violins. Toward the close, woodwinds dance insistently in a small episode before the malambo closes.
Danza del trigo (Wheat Dance) presents a gentle interlude, featuring an opening melody performed by flute. In the central section, violins soar in rhapsodic song before the opening is recalled, this time with the lush melody sung by solo violin until a soft conclusion.
Los Peones de hacienda (the Cattlemen): Ginastera takes us back to the brash first dance. Again brass and timpani hold the spotlight in a syncopated dance, which maintains its aggressive nature until the close. Meters change continuously, lending ragged propulsion and excitement.
Danza final (Final Dance) finds us back to the malambo now featured in a ferocious dance contest between the gauchos. As the contest develops the music becomes increasingly complex in a series of episodes, which not only gain momentum, but also become louder as the constant eighth note demands roar to a brilliant climactic ending.
Should you go to Buenos Aires or other parts of Argentina, many of the great estancias have been turned into tourist ranches along with being a working ranch. You can ride across the grassy pampa (vast plains of 800,000 square miles stretching across the country), have the gauchos prepare an asado (a roast), sip traditional mate, and possibly hear gauchos singing folksongs. One of the very best is El Ombu.
The last ISO performance of Four Dances from Estancia was in December 1966, conducted by Renato Pacini at Clowes Memorial Hall.
© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016