Carlos Guastavino: the lonely Argentine composer who was a prophet in his land and beyond the borders too

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Modern and traditional; cultured and popular; their songs were sung by Mercedes Sosa and Serrat to José Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa and he wrote a choral arrangement for the Rice pudding.

The one of Carlos Guastavino It is possibly one of the most unusual cases on the map of Argentine music history. Thus, the dry Argentine music, without labels. Because the composer born on April 5, 1912 in Santa Fe, and who died in the same city exactly 20 years ago, at the age of 88, he went through different aesthetic universes without making any distinction and leaving his mark on all.

Bridge building specialist between modernism and tradition the between the cultured and the popular, surely without encouragement other than his own freedom, Guastavino was, at the same time as one of the very few Argentine creators whose work transcended the borders of our country, the emblem of the so-called “Argentine romantic nationalism”, to the point of having been singled out as a composers “closed to the world”.

“I don’t like twelve-tone. For me music is made with a good melody well surrounded. At the Conservatory, the other professors called me old. But my songs are all over the world, everyone in the lyric world ever heard of Guastavino ”, says the Buenos Aires saxophonist and flutist Fernando Lerman that Guastavino told him in 1990.

And it must be admitted that the man could have been accused of other issues, but not presumptuous. After all, from the Catalan Joan Manuel Serrat to the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, from the unforgettable Mercedes Sosa to the Spanish tenors Alfredo Kraus and Jose Carreras, and the notable guitarist from Salta Eduardo Falú to the duo formed by the tucuman guitarist Pablo González Jazey with the Danish singer Annelise Skovmand, and the New Zealand soprano Kiri Te KanawaCountless artists have put their skills at the service of the composer’s work.

They are more than 200 songs for singing, accompanied by piano, which make up a substantial part of the corpus of his work. Many of them based on texts by poets like Spanish Rafael AlbertiThe dove was wrong-, the Buenos Aires Hamlet Lima QuintanaBrother– and the mercedino Leon Benarós, with whom he shared the authorship of the series Argentinian flowers, Birds Y School songs.

It is precisely on this last point that part of the popularization of Guastavino’s work is based, who was responsible for a good part of the repertoire that sounded in the schools of the national territory for several decades, starting from the Student song, which he composed in 1939 in collaboration with Ernesto Galeano for a contest of the Ministry of Justice and Public Instruction, passing through I teacher, It’s raining at my school Y Sarmiento founded schools, among other pieces.

But it was just one part of the artist’s vast production, whom all those who had the opportunity to know him personally agree to define as an essentially austere being. Although the decision of the composer to create the perfumes he used should not be attributed to his austerity, but to his vocation for Chemistry, a university degree that he attended until the fourth year.

“There was only what was necessary to live and compose music: the piano, three solid wooden benches, a very small square table, shelves with books, flasks with chemical elements, a metronome and a comfortable individual armchair”, describes the small department of Belgrano in which the musician lived the musicologist Silvina Luz Mansilla, perhaps the one who analyzed his work in greater depth in the book Carlos Guastavino’s musical work – Circulation, mediation reception. (Gourmet Musical 2011)

In line with that profile drawn by Mansilla and reinforced by Leman, who recalls the “amber” bottles, a publication of several years ago in this newspaper points to his characteristics as “character extremely lonely and reserved, away from the tributes and celebrations and as encapsulated in his own time and without inconvenience in admitting his most complete lack of interest in the music of his contemporaries. “

Once again, Guastavino’s own words confirm what could be perceived with the naked eye: “I have always been told that I write in a style from the past, romantic or tonal. I wrote and I write the music that I like and I think that the time and the diffusion that it has had gave the reason to what it was doing. “

A chronological review of the 1940s, which ended with a trip to the United Kingdom after accepting a scholarship from the British Council, which allowed him to play at Wigmore Hall around the same time that the BBC Orchestra premiered its Three Argentine romances, even though he had taken it upon himself to make public that orchestral language was not something he felt was his own, and he himself recorded several piano works for the BBC; and the ’50s, a decade during which traveled through the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and China, among other countries, gives an account of the reason that the composer spoke about.

Meanwhile, the ’60s would be marked by the diffusion of its production in the field of folk song and choral music. By the way, it is extremely striking that Guastavino has dedicated part of his talent to endowing the musical form of the fugue with a work like the Rice pudding, a melody that evoked his childhood memories, when he learned it by listening to his mother sing.

At the same time, a paragraph published by this same newspaper years ago stands out in which the compositional level of the artist was evident, safe from any attempt to disparage as to which he was subjected during the modernist flood of the ’50s.

“Do justice to Guastavino, and this is not the fault of Mansilla’s admirable work,” he published Clarion– is to understand her music for what she is. Jeromita Linares, the exquisite three-part piece that Eduardo Falú recorded with the Camerata Bariloche, is one of the best examples of a perfect fit. It is located between two genres, due to its only instrumental form: on the one hand the guitar (Falú’s guitar, it should be added) and, on the other, the most classic of the chamber ensembles: the quartet of two violins, viola and cello . But no one should condemn it to a midterm for that: it is a unique piece, both in the orchestral and idiomatic sense. An original genre, created from start to finish by Guastavino, beyond the folkloric turns used. As an ‘entity’, there is nothing quite like it in the entire Argentine repertoire. “

In short, a unique creator who, already entered the ’90s, enjoyed, not without astonishment and with a certain grace, the dimension that had reached what he had composed throughout his life. Mansilla tells in his book that Guastavino died in his native city of Santa Fe on October 29, 2000, in the morning. And that he was buried in the small cemetery of San José del Rincón, the town to which he had dedicated his composition Little town, my town.

Meanwhile, his music continues to find someone who explores it, takes it up again and relives it over and over again. “He told me that he liked doing different versions of the works, arrangements, adaptations. Surely this project has to do with that encounter”, Lerman recalls of his encounters with the musician at the same time that he anchors in Guastavino now, the work that he published last April and that also has the participation of Laura Albarracin, Nacho Abad, Máximo Rodríguez and Tomás Babjaczuk.


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