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Among the leading lights of 20th-century concert music in South America, Argentina’s Alberto Ginastera is acknowledged for his successful blending of indigenous music with the more rigorous elements of European art music. Over a career extending over more than half a century, Ginastera would eventually leave behind the folk idiom and write in more contemporary styles, even adopting the twelve-tone system in his later scores. His most frequently played works, not surprisingly, are from the earlier period of his career, and they are reminiscent of the “folkloric” music of other composers who mined the riches of Latin American source material.
Ginastera’s Estancia, written in 1941 on a commission from American Ballet Caravan, was intended as a “ballet in one act and five scenes based on Argentine country life,” originally including spoken and sung elements. Because of problems on the part of Ballet Caravan, the ballet itself went unperformed until 1952, but a suite of four dances from the score was introduced at the venerable Teatro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires in 1943.
The first of the dances, entitled “Los trabajadores agrícolas,” offers an exceptionally energetic cast of field hands: clearly some dramatic license is being taken with the verisimilitude of the depiction. Eventually, the relentless rhythm subsides a bit and a tune begins to emerge. The second item in the suite, the “Danza del trigo” (The Wheat Dance), provides a lyrical interlude, which is followed by an energetic and rhythmically sophisticated dance for “Los peones de hacienda” (The Cattle Men). The furious final “Malambo” takes its title from a dance that has long figured in a competition among gauchos (Argentine cowboys). An authoritative source informs us that “the malambo was characterized by a fast and constant movement in eighth-notes and a constant 6/8 rhythm.”
— Dennis Bade