(b Santa Fe, Argentina, 5 April 1912; d Buenos Aires 29 October 2000). Argentine composer and pianist. In his early years, he studied the piano with Esperanza Lothringer and later with his cousin Dominga Iaffei Guastavino. He studied chemical engineering at the Universidad del Litoral, before going to Buenos Aires in 1938, having received a grant from the Santa Fe Ministry of Public Instruction to study music at the National Conservatory. But on arriving there, instead of entering the conservatory, he elected to take private lessons with Athos Palma (composition) and Rafael González (piano). His earliest published songs and piano pieces date from around this time, as does his only stage work, the ballet Fue una vez. Beginning in the mid–1940s, Guastavino’s music gained increasing local and international acclaim thanks to his own performances and those by other artists, such as the pianists Rudolf Firkušný and Inés Gómez Carrillo. In 1948 Guastavino went to London, where he stayed for two years on a grant from the British Council. He performed his songs and piano music throughout Great Britain and Ireland, and in 1949 Walter Goehr and the BBC SO played his Tres romances argentinos. Later tours included trips throughout Latin America and, in April 1956, to China and the former Soviet Union. Guastavino’s concert appearances declined during the 1960s as he focussed increasingly on composition and accepted various interim teaching positions in Buenos Aires, including spells at the National (1959–73) and Municipal (1966–73) Conservatories. Disillusioned by the neglect of critics and colleagues and possibly depressed over the death of his mother, Guastavino stopped composing abruptly in 1975. He began writing again in 1987 on the encouragement of Carlos Vilo, whose vocal chamber ensemble gave many performances of Guastavino’s songs. He wrote or arranged numerous works for Vilo’s group before retiring from composition for good in 1992.
Guastavino came of age artistically during the 1940s, an era of strong nationalist sentiment in Latin America, and even after the movement’s decline in the 1960s, most of his works show at least some nationalist influence. They also demonstrate a tender nostalgia for Argentina, its people, and especiaaly its wildlife in such works as Pajaros (1974) and Diez Cantilenas argentinas (1958). Guastavino also draws on gauchesco and Indian traditions, invoking Argentine folk idioms in the Cuatro canciones argentinas (1949), and in piano pieces such as Gato (1940), Bailecito (1940) and Pampeano (1952). He voiced strong objections to contemporary musical trends, and his own music never diverges from tonal harmony and traditional forms. As his output in large-scale genres is slight, Guastavino is best known for his piano pieces, chamber music and, above all, songs – art songs, songs for schoolchildren (‘canciones escolares’) and choral arrangements of his own songs. The early songs, especially Se equivocó la paloma (1941) and La rosa y el sauce (1942), are still among those most often performed and recorded. His longest and most fruitful collaboration began around 1963 with the Argentine poet León Benarós, whose poetry forms the basis of more than 60 songs. Of these some of the finest are found in Flores Argentinas (‘Argentine Flowers’, 1969), a cycle that displays Guastavino’s characteristic melodic lyricism and sensitive text-setting, as well as his strong inclination towards texts on themes of nature. The discography of his works has grown steadily since the early 1980s and features such artists as Ameling, Berganza, Carreras and Cura. Notable instrumental works include Diez cantilenas argentinas for piano, the series of Presencias (for various media) and the Clarinet Sonata (1971).