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The Kennedy Center

Estancia Suite

About the Work

Alberto Ginastera Composer: Alberto Ginastera
© Thomas May

Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera gained international acclaim as a composer who combined national and folkloric elements with modernism to create a convincing synthesis. Ginastera divided his career into three periods, the last being the longest in curation (lasting until his death) and involving a style he termed "neo-Expressionism." Estancia ("Ranch") is the product of the first of these periods, during which Ginastera concentrated on the musical traditions of Argentina.

The composer had already developed a reputation during his conservatory years thanks to the reception of his early ballet Panambí, a piece inspired by the Amerindian musical heritage. The work impressed the impresario Lincoln Kirstein, who was intent on founding an American ballet company together with the choreographer George Balanchine. They had gone on tour with their American Ballet Caravan-a precursor of New York City Ballet-to South America in 1941. Inspired by his discovery, Kirstein commissioned the 25-year-old Ginastera to write a new ballet score for their company, with the request that he compose on a scenario involving "Argentine country life." American Ballet Caravan had recently produced Billy the Kid, Copland's breakthrough evocation of American lore.

The source for Estancia's scenario was taken from the 1870s epic Martín Fierro by the Argentine poet José Hernández . Set as a ballet in one act, Estancia celebrates the image of the Argentine cowboy (gaucho) life on the grassy plains (pampas) during the course of a single day. It recounts the romance of a city boy who falls in love with a cattle ranch owner's pretty daughter. She rejects him at first, but he wins her over when he proves he can match the local gauchos when it comes to handling horses and dancing. The American Ballet Caravan dissolved before Estancia could be produced. To salvage what he could for the moment, Ginastera put together a brief suite of four dances taken from the originally 30-minute-long ballet score. The suite enjoyed a triumphant premiere in Buenos Aires in 1943 and established Ginastera's fame. (The complete ballet was not premiered until 1952.)

Excitingly vibrant rhythms are intensified by Ginastera's richly colorful orchestration and bold harmonies to illustrate the strength of the field workers in the first dance, Los trabadores agrícolas ("The Land Workers"). Danza del trigo ("Wheat Dance") offers a quasi-Impressionist perspective on the horizons of the pampas shimmering in morning sunlight. With a return to the thrillingly energetic spirit of the opening dance, Los peones de hacienda ("The Cattlemen" or "Ranch Hands") pairs percussion and brass to evoke an almost elemental sense of power, along with playful turns. Danza final ("Final Dance") presents the hero as he engages in a traditional dancing tournament (the malambo) and beats the gauchos. A syncopated malambo rhythm is passed back and forth across the orchestra, with intensifying frenzy. Here Ginastera makes maximal use of his array of percussion instruments, which include snare, tenor, and bass drum, castanets, cymbals, tam-tam, tambourine, triangle, xylophone.