A Debate on Ginastera’s American Preludes Numbers 1 and 2 – which came first?

My new edition of Ginastera's American Preludes
My new edition of Ginastera’s American Preludes

In 2016 I had the privilege of preparing a new edition of Alberto Ginastera’s Doce Preludios Americanos Op. 12 (Twelve American Preludes) for piano, at the invitation of Carl Fischer Publishing, the US publishing house that first published this work in 1946. This edition includes my own recording of the whole piece. In order to prepare this new edition I consulted many sources, including the correspondence between Ginastera and the people at Carl Fischer in 1945 and 1946, and the original manuscripts of the work in the Paul Sacher Archives in Switzerland.

Ginastera’s American Preludes were written and premiered in 1944 in Buenos Aires. Raul Spivak, a pianist and friend of Ginastera’s, was in charge of giving the first performance during one of Asociación Wagneriana’s concerts.  The composer later sent the manuscript to Fischer in New York at the publisher’s request, for consideration. The editor at Fischer quickly accepted the manuscript for publication. The work was published in early 1946, during the composer’s first visit to the US.

The American Preludes are amazing pieces not only because of their experimental yet effective style, but also because they span a large range of difficulty, from mid intermediate to advanced. Therefore they have been used frequently by teachers to introduce 20th century idioms in a user-friendly and effective manner. Among the most often performed are numbers 3 and 6, “Danza Criolla” (Creole Dance) and “Homenaje a Roberto García Morillo” (Tribute to Roberto García Morillo). I will write about these and other movements  in a later post.

Today I want to introduce the first two preludes: “Triste” (originally wrongly translated as “Sadness”) and “Para los Acentos” (Accents). If you know these pieces you might be thinking “wait a minute… you have the incorrect order — Accents is supposed to be first, and Triste second!). Well, you are partially right. The 1946 edition did feature Accents first and Triste second, but not the original manuscript. In fact when the work was premiered in 1944, Triste was the first piece. And later on, even after the publication of the piece, this order (with Triste first) was presented in a performance at Tanglewood in the summer if 1946, with Ginastera in attendance. To me, this is evidence that the composer preferred this order.

Why, oh why, you may ask, did the 1946 edition reverse the order of these two pieces, and was this new order approved by the composer? I haven’t found any evidence that the composer approved this order. What I did find in Fischer’s archives is an internal memo that seems to indicate that the order was reversed… wait for it… to avoid a bad page turn!!!

Music has a life of its own, and the history of a piece would often determine the way a piece is played, even if the historically-accepted way  contradicts the composer’s intentions. True. So, if you preferred to adhere to the modified order with Triste second, fine by me. The piece has a history of being played this way. However, I truly enjoy playing it in the original order; I really think it works better! Ginastera had been experimenting with slow introductions — you can see this in his 1941 Malambo for piano, and his Suite of Creole Dances Op. 15 and some other examples. Triste may very well act as one of those slow openings.

Here’s my performance of the opening movements. You judge for yourself. In the meantime, feel free to order your copy of my new edition, which includes a substantial preface with a history of the piece and pedagogical suggestions.


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12 American Preludes -‘Doce Preludios Americanos’
Composed by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). 20th Century. Collection. With standard notation, fingerings and introductory text. 23 pages. Carl Fischer #O005471. Published by Carl Fischer (CF.O5471).


Catherine Rollin’s Dancing on the Keys series: world rhythms that motivate

19760336I’ve personally witnessed the desire of some teen students to learn “Spanish” pieces (“Spanish” in their lingo meaning from Spain OR Latin America), or pieces that sound exotic. While there are many “authentic” pieces by Latin American composers that may be appropriate, I believe, however, that those of us who teach in the US shouldn’t neglect compositions by so-called “pedagogical” composers from the US. After all, these composers teach American kids, and they know what they like! The three volumes of Rollin’s Dancing on the Keys contain pieces from early to late intermediate that utilize dance rhythms from different cultural traditions, including some pieces that resemble tangos, sambas, rhumbas and cha-chas.

A purist might say that many (or most) of these pieces are stereotypical rendition “alla Hollywood” and not authentic enough. Granted, this is partly true with Rollin’s pieces and many other composers (even some of those “sacred” composers like Mozart or Liszt often wrote stereotypical pieces, after all!) I tend to be a bit more pragmatic, especially after teaching American teens for many years. You adapt to the culture you are teaching in, or you “disappear”! These pieces ARE well written, they ARE colorful, and they ARE motivating to the kind of students we encounter often. So, why not?

It’s late and I don’t have the time to sit down and video record some of the pieces. I promise to do a posting with 3 or 4 examples later this week. In the meantime you may enjoy Gail Kowalchyk’s introduction to two of the pieces in volume 3:

These books are published by Alfred. Click the link below to browse through some of the pages.

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Dancing on the Keys, Book 1
(10 Early Intermediate Piano Solos in Dance Styles). Composed by Catherine Rollin. For Piano. Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Early Intermediate. Book. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.28287).
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Dancing on the Keys, Book 2
(7 Intermediate Piano Solos in Dance Styles). Composed by Catherine Rollin. For Piano. Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Intermediate. Book. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.28288).
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Dancing on the Keys, Book 3
(5 Late Intermediate Piano Solos in Dance Styles). Composed by Catherine Rollin. For Piano. Book; Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Late Intermediate. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.39360).

“Musica Latina” vol. 1 by Wynn-Anne Rossi. Latin-flavor pieces for elementary and intermediate students

Musica Latina, album cover
Musica Latina

Wynn-Anne Rossi is an experienced pedagogical composer with a large catalog of well-written, colorful teaching pieces. In 2012 Alfred printed her 3-volume anthology “Música Latina,” each of them containing about 8 original pieces with different Latin flavors, at different levels.

Rossi knows how to write effective and attractive pieces, even at the elementary level. Volume 1, which is the one I purchased at an MTNA convention last year, contains 8 pieces in different styles: cha-cha, tango, calipso, etc., and a couple of slower lyrical pieces. Not all the pieces sound completely “authentic” – while rhythms and chord progressions often feel pretty true to the original folk genres, some of them (“Alma de Tango” for example) denote more of a search for “flavor” rather than an effort to be authentic.

I particularly like the faster pieces. They are exciting and feature useful rhythmic challenges for the students. The rhythm is at times the most challenging aspect of these pieces. It must be felt by the measure (at a fairly brisk tempo) – if the student gets too caught up with “counting and playing” the pieces lose their momentum and energy.

Here’s a rough video I just recorded of “Ritmos de la noche,” which feature extensive Salsa-like use of syncopation.

“La reina del calipso” also features syncopation and a major-modal feel. Like “Ritmos…” above, its notated in 4/4 but it MUST be felt in 2/2. Students can START learning the piece by counting in 4, but the counting must stop if the piece is to have the needed energy and direction. I often find it more effective to create lyrics and have students sing the lyrics (and involve the students in creating them too). In a way, you may say they are learning it “by ear” or by rote. Exactly! They must FEEL the rhythm, not count it. Of course, it’s important they understand how to count the subdivisions, but students will RARELY be able to play exciting and rhythmic versions of this music if they get caught up in subdividing and counting. You use a different part of the brain when you count, and it slows you and bogs you down.

Finally, another favorite:  Café cha-cha.  The rhythm in this one is more straight-forward (almost no syncopation here), but it’s still very important for it to be steady and solid. The challenges of this piece include touch (must be played with a crisp and light staccato) and the harmonic writing, which is more complex than in the other two.

In sum, a fun set of pieces, some better than others, that will the the rhythm in your student’s bones from early on. I look forward to taking a look at volumes 2 and 3.

You can purchase the first volume here:

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Musica Latina, Book 1
(8 Late Elementary Piano Solos That Celebrate Latin American Styles). Composed by Wynn-Anne Rossi. For Piano. Book; Graded Standard Repertoire; Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Musica Latina. Latin. Late Elementary. 24 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.39391).

Pieces with Latin “flavor” by American pedagogical composers

file000128922933In upcoming posts I plan to write specifically about some of these pieces. In the meantime, here is a list worth exploring. They are all in the early to late intermediate range. They will help you bring Latin and Spanish moods to your studio!

Fuego de la Pasión. Wynn-Anne Rossi
Summer Latin. Melody Bober
Sassy Samba. Mary Rejino
Tangy Tango. Wendy Stevens
El Zapateado. Dennis Alexander
Danza Española. Bruce Berr
The Matador. Catherine Rollin
La Serenata. Dennis Alexander
Alma del Tango. Wynn-Anne Rossi
Fandango. Jeno Takacs
Fiesta Cha Cha. Christopher Goldston
Fuego de la Pasión. Wynne-Anne Rossi
Noche del Gitano. Ted Cooper
Bee Cha Cha. Fred Kern
Tantalizing Tango. Catherine Rollin
Cafe cha-cha. Wynn-Anne Rossi
Spanish Gypsies. William Gillock
Danza Cubana. Catherine Rollin
Tango in C Minor. Martin Kutnowski
Tango Romántico. Timothy Brown


Carlos Guastavino: Argentina’s best-kept secret

Carlos Guastavino: composer of gorgeous music
Carlos Guastavino: composer of gorgeous music

I have been hesitant to post articles about Carlos Guastavino, mainly because the goal of this blog is to introduce pieces and composers whose music you can get in the US. Guastavino’s music is difficult to find outside Argentina. But this is changing now. Elkin Music, at ElkinMusic.com, now shows many of his beautiful piano pieces in their catalog.

Carlos Guastavino was born in the province of Santa Fe, in Argentina, in 1912, and died there in 2000. He is buried in his natal San Jose de Rincon, a small town near the  city of Santa Fe, an area of Argentina criss-crossed by rivers. Guastavino’s music is imbued with nostalgia for his childhood and his hometown.

A great pianist, Guastavino knew how to write effectively for this instrument. His style is extremely user friendly – very warm and romantic, firmly rooted in tonality, and always with a strong Argentine folk flavor. While some of his music demands a lot from performers, he also wrote many wonderfully attractive pieces at the intermediate level. I will be publishing a few more articles about his music in the near future. For now, enjoy my performance of Santa Fe para Llorar, the first and easiest of his Diez Cantilenas Argentinas (Ten Argentine Cantilenas). Santa Fe para Llorar can be translated as “To cry for Santa Fe”, a wistfully nostalgic piece. It has also been transcribed for guitar.

(Note: more than a year has past since this post. I have to admit that I now like a slower tempo for this piece!)


Ginastera’s Milonga: a rare, beautiful piece, now available in the US

Ginastera's Milonga. Published by Melos, Argentina
First page of Ginastera's Milonga. Published by Melos, Argentina

I bet you don’t know this piece by this major Latin American composer. Milonga is an arrangement, made by Ginstera himself, of his song Canción al Arbol del Olvido (Song to the Tree of Forgetfulness). Ginastera wrote this original song, with verses of Silva Valdes, in 1938, as his Opus 3. I’m not sure when he arranged it for piano solo – but we pianists are surely thankful that he did! It is a delicate, enchanting short piece based on the slow Milonga genre, a type of song attributed to the gaucho (Argentine cowboy), who used to sing it while accompanying himself on the guitar. The original song became a quick hit in Argentina, and several folk singers adopted it – see for instance this version by the Chilean activist/singer Victor Jara.

The charming lyrics of the original song describe the story of a gaucho who wanted to forget an unrequited love. He hears about a magical tree – those who fall asleep under it forget their troubles when they wake up. He goes there, falls asleep, but when he wakes up he realizes with bittersweet disappointment that he still remembers her. What happened? Instead of forgetting her, he “forgot to forget her.”

The piano arrangement follows the song almost verbatim. From a pedagogical point of view it is a great piece to work out cross-rhythms: the left hand keeps a constant rhythm based on 16th notes, while the right hand uses 8th note triplets pervasively. Quite a challenge for an intermediate student!

Listen to my version of Milonga:

Until recently it was very difficult to obtain this piece, as it was only available in Argentina. I recently found out that Elkin Music has it in their catalog, along with a few other pieces by Ginastera (Malambo and Tres Piezas) that were also published by Melos/Ricordi Argentina. You can order these pieces here.

Happy playing!


Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes

Avignon Bridge. From http://www.poreuropa.com

Alberto Ginastera wrote his “Rondó sobre temas infantiles argentinos” (Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes) in 1947. It is his opus 19, and his last “non-Sonata” piano solo piece. It has become one of his most often-taught  pieces at the intermediate level in the US, along with some of his American Preludes op. 12 and the Danza de la Moza Donosa op. 2. The Rondo is dedicated to his two children, Georgina and Alex. I believe Ginastera had in mind a young performer. While  his strong stylistic trademarks can still be found  in this piece, the Rondo is far removed from the relentless and often taxing energy of his fast toccata-like pieces (e.g. Danza del Gaucho Matrero, or the Coda of his Creole Dances). This charming and mischievous 3-minute  piece has a lot of humor and lightness to it  (almost alla Poulenc), a trait not often found in Ginastera’s music, which tends to be intense and concentrated.

As far as I can tell Ginastera used four children tunes in this Rondo: Sobre el puente de avignon (On the bridge of Avignon – see picture of this French bridge to the left) for the refrain, Palomita ingrata (Ungrateful dove), Yo no soy buenamoza (I’m not a good-looking girl) and a snippet of En coche va una niña (A girl is riding a carriage) for the episodes. On the bridge of Avignon is a well-known tune not only in Argentina, but in the rest of Latin America. You can see and hear performances of Palomita ingrata and En coche va un niña by the Argentine children author and musician Luis Pescetti, who currently lives in Mexico.

To find out exactly where these tunes start in the piece, watch my YouTube performance of the Rondo:

(Apologies for the LH misreading in 0:15)

From a pedagogical point of view, the Rondo is a great teaching piece. Many hispanic students in the US will recognize these tunes. The piece contains many contrasting moods. With its beautifully modal harmony, brilliant scalar passage work and the exciting bi-tonal closing, it works very well for recitals and competitions.

The Rondo is published by Boosey and Hawkes. Purchase this piece with a discount at SheetMusicPlus.com:

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Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes
Composed by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). For Piano (Piano). BH Piano. 8 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M051281244. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48002613).

Passion, color, charm: recent piano works by Luis Jorge Gonzalez

Luis Jorge GonzalezLuis Jorge Gonzalez is a compatriot of mine. He was born in San Juan, Argentina, in 1936. Coincidentally, Luis Jorge studied piano and composition at the same university where I got my first undergraduate degree in piano – the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, in Mendoza, Argentina. Luis Jorge came to the US in the 1970s to study composition at the Peabody Conservatory. He taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder from the 1980s until 2003, when he retired. You can read about his distinguished career on wikipedia (in Spanish for now): http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Jorge_González.

I met Mr. Gonzalez in person in 2004 when I was hired to teach piano and pedagogy at CU Boulder. We had much in common – expatriates born in the same region of Argentina, educated in the same music school there, and a passion for everything Argentine. I had heard about his illustrious career when I was in Ohio at my previous teaching job. So it was a pleasure to finally meet him. For my first recital at CU, I asked Luis Jorge if he had any music Continue reading Passion, color, charm: recent piano works by Luis Jorge Gonzalez


“Seven Pieces for Children” and “Music for Children” by Luis Gianneo

luisgianneo.jpgLuis Gianneo is one of the “best kept secrets” of Argentine music. His piano music is original and solid, and the overall quality of his creations is high. He wrote well for the piano – his pieces are comfortable for the most part and fun to play. He published mostly at the defunct Editorial Argentina de Musica. Some of his works have been republished by Peer Music International.

In a previous article in this blog, I focused on Juan José Castro and his 1941 Tangos for piano. Gianneo belonged to the same generation of composers – he was born in 1897 and died the same year as Castro, 1968. Like Castro, Gianneo was also interested in writing nationalistic music using a more modern, dissonant and universal style that avoided the cliches and “postcard” approach of some of the earlier Romantic composers in Latin America. This modern nationalistic movement sprouted throughout Latin America from the late 1920s until the end of the 1940s or mid 1950s. Often, these Latin American composers knew and respected each other’s music. Throughout these years there was some sort of “continental awareness” and synergy that produced, from my point of view, some of the most interesting classical music in the history of Latin America.

Gianneo, like many of his colleagues, was attracted to some of the tenets of neoclacissism: use of a “spikier” tonality with plenty of 4ths and major 7ths, politonality, non-functional harmony, bimodality, 2-voice counterpoint, etc. But at the same time he made use of vital and driving rhythmic energy and ostinatos based on folk dances that remind me of Ginastera, 19 years younger than Gianneo. In fact I truly believe that Ginastera’s exciting and driving style owes a lot to the style developed by Gianneo.

Gianneo’s piano output is pretty large. You can find a catalog at http://ostinato.tripod.com/giaworks.html . My favorite pieces include his “Sonata No. 2,” “Suite,” “Tres Danzas Argentinas” and the children pieces that are the subject of this article. Marco Polo released his complete piano works in 2002, recorded by myself and other Argentine pianists, members of the now extinct Ostinato Foundation. These CDs are available through amazon.com and other vendors.

“Seven Children Pieces” (1946) are at the late elementary difficulty level, and “Music for Children” (1941, with a total of 10 pieces) is at the early and mid intermediate levels. These sets have great pedagogical value, and are, at the same time, very charming and effective. They don’t sound like “teaching pieces”, but are sophisticated little gems.

The “Seven Children Pieces” are written in a very tonal language, with only a few dissonances, so as to make them more accessible to younger ears. Children (or adults!) should be able to play the easier ones during their second or third year of piano studies. Among the pieces is “Tango,” which uses a limited range of notes. It introduces sound pedagogical features such as dotted rhythms and melody in the left hand in the middle section, which allows students to work on balance and projection of both hands. It is evident that Gianneo knew how to compose excellent teaching pieces! You can listen to an excerpt of this Tango here (recording by Dora DeMarinis, from the Marco Polo release).


Another piece in the “Seven Pieces” set is “Danza Campesina” (“Rustic Dance”). This piece features a hemiola typical of Latin American folk music: the rhythm of the right hand sounds in 6/8, while the left hand sounds in 3/4. Another rhythmic challenge of this piece is the use of syncopation in the right hand in the second system. The piece is great for working on an energetic non-legato articulation produced from the forearm with fingers close to the keys. This articulation, sometimes called “martellato” (“hammered”) is necessary in many other compositions by Gianneo, and also Bartok and Ginastera. You can listen to an excerpt of Danza Campesina here (recording by Dora DeMarinis from the Marco Polo release).

Rustic Dance

The first two pieces in “Music for Children,” Prelude and Fugue, are the most difficult and dissonant of the set. The Prelude is loosely based on the broken chords of Bach’s popular Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier book 1, but written “upside-down.” The fugue uses a folk theme. The rest of the set includes easier gems such as “Indian Lullaby,” “The juggler” and “Little Dance Song.”

Indian Lullaby (excerpt from the Marco Polo release, Pervez Mody, piano)

Indian Lullaby

“Seven Pieces for Children” and “Music for Children” are printed by Peer Music International and are available at a discounted price here:

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7 Piezas Infantiles
(Easy Piano Solo). By Luis Gianneo (1897-1968). For Piano. Peermusic Classical. Easy. Softcover. 16 pages. Peermusic #61110-501. Published by Peermusic (HL.228109).

“Tangos” by Juan José Castro: Neoclassical tangos with a touch of Stravinsky

Juan José Castro’s “Tangos” for piano are effective and fun pieces at the early advanced level. The set comprises five miniatures: an introduction and four tangos totaling about 12 minutes. Not many people know of the music and style of this composer. These tangos sound definitely different than, say, Piazzolla’s tangos. Castro’s pieces were composed in the 1941 — earlier than most of Piazzolla’s works– but are definitely more modern, dissonant and bolder than Piazzolla’s. They reflect Castro’s interest in composing a national music that went beyond the picturesque and tonal nationalism of earlier composers.

castro.jpgJuan José Castro belonged to a family of musicians. Two of his younger brothers — José María and Washington Castro– also became composers of fame in Argentina. Juan José was born in Avellaneda in 1895, one of the working-class suburbs of Buenos Aires that spawn the urban tango genre at the end of the 19th century. Undoubtedly Castro was in touch with this popular genre; he composed some light tangos in the early 1910s, when he was in his late teens. Among these were the charming “Qué titéo!” which was published, and a couple of other tangos that were recorded by a well-known popular band of the time. This first-hand knowledge of the genre is evident in his more sophisticated 1941 “Tangos” – they possess that unmistakable freshness and authenticity of the original genre.

Castro went on to classical music studies in Buenos Aires. He became a very good pianist and violinist, and was particularly interested in conducting. He went to France between 1920 and 1925, and studied at the Schola Cantorum. While in Paris he must have witnessed the revolutionary changes in music of the time, with the music of “Les six” and the first neoclassical Stravinsky. At his return to Argentina he connected with other Argentine composers of his generation interested in modern techniques. Together with his brother José María, and like-minded composers Juan Carlos Paz and Gilardo Gilardi among others he founded the Grupo Renovación (Renovation Group) in 1929, whose goal was the exploration of modern techniques and the dissemination of new works by its members through concerts and publications. Luis Gianneo, another important composer, joined the group a little later.

Castro’s “Tangos” are small vignettes that depict typical urban characters of Buenos Aires.
“Evocación” is a nostalgic introduction that quotes two passages from La Cumparsita, a widely known popular tango composed in the 1910s by the Uruguayan Matos Rodriguez (Click here: Evocacion (excerpt) to listen to an excerpt of my live performance).


“Llorón,” the whiner, portrays a character that complains loudly and bluntly about his love tribulations. This piece includes fast melodic ornamentation typical of the tango genre. (Click here: Lloron (excerpt) to listen to my live performance).


“Compadrón,” partly based on an octatonic scale, portrays a self-assured, dangerous gangster who is not afraid of fighting with his knife. “Milonguero,” written in two-voice counterpoint, is the archetypal elegant yet tacky tango dancer who frequents the tango gatherings or milongas. “Nostálgico” is a somber and nostalgic tanguero who evokes the “good old times.”

“Tangos” is published by Southern-Peer International, and is available at a discounted price here:

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(Piano Solo). By Juan Jose Castro (1895-1968). For Piano Solo. Peermusic Classical. Softcover. 20 pages. Peermusic #61400-501. Published by Peermusic (HL.228401).