Official release: 16 April 2021
In the history of languages, it may happen that a particular dialect, which used to be one among many others, at a given moment becomes the standard form of a “language”; consequently, it acquires an importance greater than that of its neighbours, which are and remain confined to the status of dialects. This happened, for example, in the history of the Italian language, which ultimately is the Tuscan dialect, and which has imposed itself as a language.
A similar fate happened in the history of Western Classical music. Due to the increasing importance of the Austrian-German tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, elements coming from the local traditions of folk music were absorbed within the language of “cultivated” music. Thus, the presence of popular elements taken from Austrian or German folk music in the works by Schubert or Brahms is not felt as something “exotic”. The relationship between other nations’ folk music and the “cultivated” repertoire is however more complex: tunes, rhythms and sounds from the Eastern European traditions, or from Spain, frequently entered the “classical” repertoire but maintaining a distinctly exotic flavour, which was frequently remarked by critics and musicologists writing from the cultural centres of “classical” music.
On the other hand, musicians from “peripheral” zones were justly proud of their original musical heritage, and anxious to propose it to a larger and international audience. In conjunction with the nationalist movements (which frequently had quite simply a strong patriotic feeling), this aspiration produced beautiful musical works representing cultural bridges between a popular tradition and an international, standardized language.
These phenomena become even more pronounced as the geographical space between one’s country and Central Europe increases. Argentina is an exemplary case of a musical culture which embodies, even in its “folk” repertoire, many elements coming from the traditions of the European colonizers, and thus is not entirely estranged from the mainstream Western musical language. On the other hand, Argentina’s musical language is made of numerous suggestions coming from the various cultures of its population.
Colonized by the Spanish conquerors in 1516, the Argentine territory had been populated by approximately twenty Amerindian ethnic groups; today, however, a large majority of its inhabitants have European origins. In spite of this, on the musical plane the permanence of Native elements is clearly felt, and constitutes one of the elements of fascination of the Argentine folk music.
Just as the ethnicities began to merge with each other, so their musical repertoires influenced and hybridized each other; the religious music of the Jesuit missionaries encountered the local traditions, and the result was Argentina’s unique heritage. In the long nineteenth century, as travels and journeys became increasingly common and safe, the dialogue between the European traditions and the local ones increased in frequency and intensity. In particular, some distinctly European habits, typical of the bourgeoisie, became attractive also for their Latin-American counterparts; this included a marked interest in operatic music and in the practices bound to salon music.
In parallel with what was happening in some countries of Eastern, Northern and Southern Europe, with musicians such as Smetana, Dvořák, or the Russian “Mighty Handful”, or Spaniards such as De Falla or Granados, or Scandinavians such as Grieg or Sibelius, the musical elite of Argentine started to feel the desire to express a musical language of its own. That language had to represent an encounter between the local traditions and the forms, sounds and structures of European “cultivated” music. This need was clearly coloured with nationalistic shades, but embodied also a deeper wish: to “translate” one’s culture into a kind of music which could be appreciated beyond its natural boundaries.
In Argentina, one of the first musicians who successfully realized this dialogue of cultures was Carlos López Buchardo. Born in 1881, and a native of Buenos Aires, López Buchardo was classically trained in music, studying piano with Héctor Belucci and Alfonso Thibaud, and harmony with Luis Forino and Constantino Gaito. As happened to many other musicians from “peripheral” countries, López Buchardo completed his education in Paris, where he was a student of one of the most interesting and sensitive composers of the era, i.e. Albert Roussel. Back in Argentina, López Buchardo established his standing as a major figure of the local music scene, directing the Teatro Colón and later founding the Conservatory of Buenos Aires (which was named after him following his death).
His compositional output is characterized by a noteworthy fluency of inspiration in the vocal domain, which expressed itself both in the operatic repertoire (his youthful Il sogno di Alma), and, particularly, in cycles of art songs. They represent possibly the first successful attempt to join the Argentine folklore with the language of the European art song. Similar tendencies are observed also in his instrumental output (for example in the Escenas argentinas for symphonic orchestra), and fascinated many of the most important European musicians of the era (including legendary conductor Felix Weingartner).
The two cycles of songs recorded here are both marked by a significant subtitle: “Al estilo popular”, in the folk style. As maintained by Matthew B. Pauls, these songs “are clearly intended to be art songs since they are notated” (different from the orally transmitted “folk” repertoire) “and the intended instrumentation is voice and piano” (in contrast with the use of popular instruments). “However, many of them are almost a hybrid of folk and art music”. The specification that this repertoire is in the “folk style” was also a clear statement about an artistic stance: again in Pauls’ words, “the fact that composers thought it important to specify that songs were written in the popular style is a clear indication that they were hoping to attract a greater audience than just those who enjoyed the formal atmosphere of an art song recital”. In other words, a classically trained composer who wished to employ traditional tunes and musical gestures in his art songs was willing to expressly show this intention: this could inform the potential critics from the world of “cultivated” music about the presence of folk elements, but also the potential listeners who could be perplexed by the language of “purely” classical music.
Among the songs by López Buchardo recorded here, the Carretero is possibly one of the most famous and typical. It was composed at roughly the same time when its composer was founding the Conservatory (1924); the reception of this piece is very significant inasmuch as it journeyed from the world of the tango, to that of the school songs, and to that of folklore, as maintained by Silvina Luz Mansilla.
The heritage of López Buchardo was continued throughout the twentieth century by Carlos Guastavino. This composer, born in Santa Fé, had been destined for a career in chemistry, but his precocious and noteworthy talent manifested itself in such an unequivocal fashion that he obtained the possibility of studying at the Conservatory of Buenos Aires (the same which had been founded by López Buchardo). However, upon his arrival in the capital, Guastavino opted for private education, and completed his musical training in London.
His musical style was decidedly and purposefully far from that of the European avantgardes of his time: he explicitly stated that was not interested in writing a music which could only be understood by future generations. In fact, his music did speak to the heart of his contemporaries and of his compatriots, and it quickly entered the cultural world of his nation. This linguistic choice, which favoured the tonal tradition over atonality and other twentieth-century languages, was not an obvious one: other Argentine composers of the same period (such as Alberto Ginastera and Mauricio Kagel) took different stances. However, Guastavino was able to create a musical and poetic world of his own, by entering into dialogue with some of the greatest poets of his era (including two Nobel prize-winners). His large output of art songs earned him the title of “Schubert of the pampa”; indeed, and although this kind of comparisons is always risky, it is true that Guastavino, similar to Schubert, was able to infuse his music with popular elements without renouncing a refined artistic language. Similar to Schubert, moreover, Guastavino was at ease in a large palette of emotional situations, encompassing deep melancholy, profound tenderness, high poetry and irony. Among the songs recorded here, the cycle of Flores Argentinas, on lyrics by one of his favourite poets, León Benarós, is an exquisite collection of pieces singing the beauty of his homeland through the praise of its nature and its flowers, which acquire a marked symbolic dimension.
Together, the songs recorded in this album contribute to the dissemination and depiction of a rich repertoire which is sadly ignored by many music lovers, but which offers a beautiful and touching panorama on a rich tradition, a magnificent heritage, and a language worth discovering.
Album notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Matteo Corio: Born in Italy he started studying concert piano at the Donizetti Conservatory of Bergamo, where he studied with Marco Giovanetti. After obtaining his diploma he moved to Paris in 1997 to study, first, with Emile Naoumoff and, afterwards, with Bernard Job. He obtained a scholarship to continue studying with Emile Naoumoff at the Indiana University School of Music at Bloomington. While conducting his studies in the United States, he worked for two years as Assistant Piano Instructor at the Indiana University School of Music. In 2005, he returned to Italy, where he was appointed piano professor at S. Cecilia Music Academy in Bergamo. In 2009, he was elected Vice Dean of the Liceo Musicale S. Alessandro and in 2012 he started to teach piano at the Donizetti Conservatory of Bergamo. As a concert pianist, Matteo Corio has staged solo performances in renowned concert halls in Italy, France, Spain, England and the United States, interpreting both contemporary and classical compositions for piano. In 2001, he published his first solo recording performing Nicolay Mednter’s Sonata Tragica, Op. 39 from “Forgotten Melodies” along with Sonata Op. 5 by Johannes Brahms. His interest in contemporary music has given him the opportunity to premier works by talented young composers. In 2002, he staged the first interpretation of Twin for two pianos by Justin Messina and About laughing and forgetting by John Supko for piano and brass orchestra at the Paul Recital Hall in New York. In 2011 and 2012, he premiered the two concerts for piano and orchestra by Ludovico Pelis with the Valcea Symphonic Orchestra (Romania) and with the National Symphonic Orchestra of Ukraine, respectively. In 2018, he joined the Blumine Ensemble of Bologna, performing at the Festival Nuova Musica of Macerata (Italy), among others. In 2014 he founded, along with Marco Cortinovis, the ensemble Affinità Divergenti, and in 2015 they recorded the first album dedicated to the repertoire for organ and piano.
Piermarco Viñas: Born in Chile he began his studies at the National Music Conservatory in La Paz, Bolivia, where he also graduated in Theology at the S. Pablo Catholic University. Once he moved to Italy, he graduated at the Donizetti Music Conservatory in Bergamo where he studied with Sonia Corsini. He continued his studies at the Civic Music School C. Abbado of Milan with Vincenzo Manno. His repertoire ranges from Gregorian Chant to contemporary music with a special predilection for Sacred Music: as a soloist, he has performed works by F. Cavalli, M. Cazzati, H. Purcell, A. Scarlatti, J.S. Bach, G. Bassani, F.J. Haydn, W.A. Mozart, J.S. Mayr, L.V. Beethoven, G. Rossini, F. Listz, C. Saint Saëns, G. Fauré, M. Duruflé, A. Pärt among others. With the Italian Philarmonic Orchestra, he performed Mozart’s Requiem at the S. Mark church in Milan. With the Chamber Orchestra of Mantova, he performed the Coronation Mass by W.A. Mozart and the Theresienmesse by F.J. Haydn in the Cathedral of Pisa. Under M° Filippo Maria Bressan he performed the Petite Messe Solennelle by G. Rossini. Piermarco Viñas is also the founder of the ensemble I Solisti della Cattedrale of Bergamo. In addition, he holds the position of vocal coach of the Schola Gregoriana of the same cathedral. Furthermore, he is one of the cantors of the Musical Chapel of S. Maria Maggiore church in Bergamo. In the opera repertoire, he performed as a soloist in the Monteverdi’s trilogy, Dido and Æneas by H. Purcell, Die Zauberflöte by W.A. Mozart, Carmen by G. Bizet, Bohème by G. Puccini. In 2020, he was involved in the reopening of the restored Donizetti’s Theatre with two works by the Italian composer from Bergamo: Marin Faliero and Belisario, both directed by R. Frizza. From 2008 he is a member of the Donizetti Theatre’s choir of Bergamo and he worked with the choir of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
In 2002 he was named singing professor at the S. Cecilia Music Academy of Bergamo.
Carlos Guastavino: (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).