Allen Reiser writes a pedagogical column "Sound Thoughts" for
A.P.T.A.'s (Alberta Piano Teachers' Association) quarterly newsletter - "NEWS
AND VIEWS". It is amied at giving teachers hints and pointers about teaching
repertoire. The following is from that column and appeared in the Winter 2007
issue, Vol. XIV #2.
Rondo sobre temas infantiles argentinos, Op. 19
Alberto Ginastera, (1916 - 1983), Argentina's most prominent 20th century composer, was born in Buenos Aires to a Catalan father and an Italian mother. He preferred to pronounce his surname in its Catalan pronunciation, with a soft "G" (JEE'-nah-STEH-rah rather than the Castilian Spanish KHEE'-nah-STEH-rah). His artistic life in an often turbulent 20th century Argentina mirrors elements of some Soviet composers (Shostakovich quickly comes to mind) of the same time period. He had a meteoric rise to national prominence in 1937 with the production of his ballet "Panambi". In 1948, after a stint in the United States on a Guggenheim fellowship, he was head of the Provincial Conservatory in La Plata, sacked in 1952 by Peron, and then reinstated four years later after the dictator's downfall. His opera "Bomarzo", slated to premier in Buenos Aires in 1967, was banned because it contained too much sex, violence and dissonance. Ginastera, along with his cellist wife, Aurora Natola, left Argentina for good in 1971 and he spent the remainder of his life in Switzerland.
Ginastera divided his works into three periods, the first of which he labeled Objective Nationalism (1937 - 1948). During this period, Ginastera drew upon Argentine folk and popular elements, notably gaucho and Indian music, which he introduced in his works in a straightforward manner. His style was strongly influenced by Stravinsky and, to a lesser degree, Bartók and Falla. The music is generally accessible and tonal, enlivened with vibrant, sizzling rhythms. His "Rondo on Argentine children's folk-tunes, Op. 19", bearing the dedication "For my children Alex and Georgina", was written at the end of this period, in 1947.
The rondo opens with a short introduction of high-spirited, clock-like leaping octaves in the right hand above open 4ths and 5ths in the left hand. The left hand 5ths are reminiscent of the tuning of an instrument (country fiddle, guitar?) and establish the folk character and atmosphere immediately. Care should be taken to keep the eighth notes uniformly staccato and ensure that the downbeat receives its due, preventing the second beat from sounding like the downbeat as it often incorrectly does.
The first folk-tune, which serves as the main theme of the rondo, is then stated. True to textbook form, this theme appears three times; first in single notes (bars 4 to 12), then in larger, 1st inversion triads (bars 66 to 74), and finally as a faint reminiscence and then in fortissimo chords (bars 107 to 123). This tune is a popular Spanish song called "Sobre el puente de Aviñon" (On the BrIdge of Avignon), which has almost the same text as the French folk-song "Sur le Pont d¹Avignon", but with different music. It was common for Argentine children to sing and dance to this tune in the school yard.
In Spanish, the song goes like this:
Sobre el puente de Aviñon
Marked "cantando", this theme should nevertheless be delivered with a marked staccato, featuring the downbeats of bars 6, 8, 10 and 11 as points of dynamic arrival. The left hand counter-melody, with its mildly dissonant clashes, adds a dimension of melodic tension and provides a spiraling undercurrent. Be sure that the legato in the left hand is well observed with careful fingering. At "scherzando" the tone can increase to give a heightened liveliness. The left hand can play the triads of bars 14 - 16 most easily if it plays under the right hand with fingers slightly flattened, and makes use of the fingering 5-3-2 for all four chords. The "subito piano" of bar 18 seems to require the tiniest bit of rhythmic relaxation, with the ensuing "forte" cadence dead on time. Another tricky bit to finger occurs in bars 24 - 26 and is the result of the interlocking of the hands. A fairly easy solution is to have the left hand play all of the melody notes, over the right hand, with the fingering of 55 - 22 -33 (for the eighth notes) and then a 2 on the top 'B' of the chord in bar 26. The right hand can play the four chords under the left, with the fingering of 235; 35; 25; and 23 for the final chord (bar 26) which consists of the bottom note of the treble clef chord and the bass clef note. This theme then makes a quick exit with the use of a descending five-note pattern which assumes greater importance later on.
Ginastera uses the remote key of B major, a "pianissimo" marking, and the unstable time signatures of 7/8 and 5/8 for the transition (bars 29 - 33) to the second folk song. (Is it deliberate on the part of Ginastera that the first 5 eighth notes of this transitional theme mirror the first 5 eighth notes of the folk-tune starting at bar 100?) Care should be taken to make the speed of the eight notes in these bars match the previous eighths until the "ritard" in bar 33. Note too that bar 28 has only one beat in it, and it should be exact. The low sustained 'G' in bars 29 - 30 would seem to indicate a prolonged damper pedal, which works surprisingly well, if the left hand open-fifths are played lightly enough. For those with access to a grand piano, the use of the sostenuto pedal is also a possibility, if it, and the una corda pedal, are activated simultaneously on the downbeat of bar 29, to avoid being late for bar 30. In either case, the lack of a slur in this transitional theme invites a non-legato touch.
The next section (bar 34 - 55), which remains in B major, uses the poignantly wistful little folk-tune "Palomita Ingrata" (Little Ungrateful Dove).
The text in Spanish is:
Palomita ingrata cuando te veré?
Ginastera gives the feeling of a bird soaring out of reach by placing the melody high in the treble and by suspending the entire passage on the dominant, not allowing it to come to earth until the tonic appears in the bass in bar 52. He marks this passage "con molta espressione" and indicates a number of marked slowdowns as it comes to its conclusion. The melody requires very sensitive, lyrical shaping, with careful attention given to the dotted rhythm in it, and a vocal awareness of the distance, in both time and pitch, required by the leap of the minor 6th. Care must be taken to keep the left hand gentle, with a slight stress on the first chord of each bar and a lightning of the upbeat chord. The telling chromaticism in bars 49 - 51, leading to the 'B' in bar 52, can be projected slightly. (The term "chiaro" in bar 50 means 'clear' or 'distinct'.)
The B major tonality of this section is allowed to evaporate somewhat, before the rondo is brought back to life with the descending five-note pattern that first appeared in bar 27. An easy and loose way to achieve the staccato in these runs at the required speed, is to fling the fingers forward with an hand-opening motion as the notes are played. The ascending, bi-tonal scale in bars 62 - 66 is awkward, but by using a fingering which causes one's thumbs to coincide, it is much easier. Place the right hand thumb on the 'C's' and 'F's' and the left hand thumb on the 'G's' and 'C's'. The "tenuto col Ped." marking in bar 63 can be carried through to the top of the scale with striking effect.
The first return of the main theme occurs in bar 66 and leads into a scurrying sixteenth note passage which maintains the character of childhood exuberance well. The use of the first four notes of the rondo's main theme gives this section the feel of a free, almost jazz-like variation. To keep this buoyant, be sure to play the left hand eighths with a pointed staccato touch, maintain clarity in the right hand sixteenths, and invest it with real dynamic and rhythmic vitality. Note that in the rallentando of this section, the final two low 'C's' do not have staccato dots, which helps the section to calm down. Bars 89 - 91 can all be under one pedal.
The more relaxed theme at bar 92 is the folk-song "Una linda mañana" (On a Beautiful Morning).
Una linda mañana
Marked "cantando", this theme can be pedaled liberally, which will prevent the accompanying chords from sounding dry and picky. (The term "appena" in bars 94 & 98 means 'scarcely' or 'hardly any'.)
Ginastera very cleverly exits this theme by using a partial quote of another folk-song "En Coche va una niña" (In a Carriage rides a Maiden), which has a rhythmic and inverted melodic similarity to "Una linda mañana". So well do these two folk-songs match, that they seem to be the same piece. The increase in tempo and the less legato articulation imparts a jaunty buoyancy to this snippet, which soon comes to a thoughtful, but inconclusive halt.
At this point, the last appearance of the main theme occurs, at first very softly, marked "lontano" (from afar) in the key of B major (the key of the "Palomita Ingrata" theme), and then modulating with a sweeping glissando into the home key of G major. By taking the final left hand G sharp of bar 114 with the right hand, it is easier to reach the start of this "mouse that roared" glissando on time. This final appearance of the theme contains a misprint. In bar 119, the first left hand chord should be a G major root position triad, not an A minor triad.
The last ten bars of the rondo are a high spirited romp where the time signature is constantly changing. In spite of the "fortissimo" marking, it is important to still give the music direction and maintain a focused tone. The last two tumultuous bars are hard to play in time, especially the final two chords. One must make sure that the pedal comes off on the penultimate chord to ensure it has the feeling of an upbeat to the final chord. Bar 132 can most easily be pedaled using direct pedaling on beats 1, 3 and 5, and releasing the pedal on beats 2, 4 and 7. It also helps to physically feel these two bars as one big slur, dropping the arms down on the first chord of bar 132, moving horizontally outward through the chords and pushing powerfully up and forward on the final chord in bar 133.
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