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Hidden Gems of the NLS Collection: Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, Op. 18 by Alberto Ginastera

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September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month. It is a time when we celebrate the generations of Hispanic and Latino Americans that have contributed to our society in positive and meaningful ways. On our journey through the treasures of the NLS Music collection, we recently came across a wonderful work written for organ by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983): the Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, Op. 18. While this work is performed by organists on a regular basis, the rest of us would benefit from learning more about both the composer and the composition.

Ginastera was born in Buenos Aires to second-generation Argentines from Italy and Spain. After beginning his musical studies on piano at age 7, he entered the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires at age 12. By the time he was 20 in 1936, he moved on to the National Conservatory, graduating in 1940 and joining the faculty shortly thereafter. He studied in New York and at the Tanglewood Festival in 1945, and began a long association with the musical and cultural life of the United States. He would go on to receive numerous commissions from various orchestras in the U.S., with premieres of his music at the Inter-American Music Festival in 1961 and his opera Beatrix Cenci at the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1971. Critics would often compare his music to Debussy, Bartók, and Stravinsky, and he served as a positive influence for young South American composers, including Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992).

This is a portrait of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) in the 1950s. September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic-Latino Hertiage Month. Ginastera was an inspiration to young South American composers, and he was an important musical voice in the United States in the 20th century.
Alberto Evaristo Ginastera, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right, 1950-1960.

The Toccata, Villancico y Fuga was composed in 1952, and won the prize “Mención” of the “Círculo de Críticos Musicales do Buenos Aires” that same year. Structured in three movements, the opening Toccata is inspired by the Baroque model and is very rhapsodic and virtuosic in nature. The middle section, “Villancico,” is a traditional South American Christmas carol, having evolved from Spain in the 15th century. Today, Villancicos are traditionally sung by children, but they were originally sung as popular chants by Spanish farmers and rural workers. The last section is a tribute to J. S. Bach, using the sequence of B-flat, A, C, and B in the German alphabet to spell out the name “B-A-C-H.”

Toccata, Villancio y Fuga is the perfect representation of Ginastera’s use of different compositional styles. While much of his music derived its content from folk idioms, he also was known to use serial techniques, Baroque dance forms, and even imitation. The outer sections of this work are inspired by Bach in style, and quite literally, by name! The final “B-A-C-H” fugue builds in intensity and color, resulting in a grand statement of the main theme played twice as slow as its first appearance. While other composers (including Franz Liszt and even Bach himself) have used the “B-A-C-H” motive as a basis for composition, it still reveals the high regard that Ginastera held for the Baroque master. The middle movement uses the folk-inspired Villancico as a contrast to the more robust and complex outer sections.

If you enjoyed learning about Alberto Ginastera and his wonderful composition Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, please peruse these works in the NLS Music collection that relate to this blog. You can borrow them through BARD, or you can receive hard copies in the mail of music or audio books on cartridge by calling 1-800-424-8567 (choose option 2) or by emailing us at [email protected].

For even more about Ginastera, please enjoy this blog post from our colleagues in the Music Division about his score to the ballet Estancia.

Braille Music

Ginastera, Alberto. Danzas Argentinas for piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM20534)

____ Rondo on Argentine Children’s Folk Tunes. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM28899)

____ Sonata no. 1, op. 22. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM29851)

____ Suite de Danzas Criollas for piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM33949)

____ Three Latin Pieces: Cuyana ; Norteña ; Criolla. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM35090)

____ Toccata, Villancico and Fuga: for organ. Bar over bar format. (BRM34843)

____ Twelve American Preludes. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM30931)

Liszt, Franz. Präludium und Fuge über den Namen BACH [Prelude and Fugue on the Name “BACH”]. Like Ginastera, Franz Liszt used the Bach name as a basis for composition. For organ in paragraph format. (BRM25882)

Piazzolla, Astor. Oblivion and Libertango. Arranged for flute, alto flute and piano in single line format. Piano part is not included. Piazzolla studied composition with Ginastera in Buenos Aires in the early 1940s. (BRM36740)

____ El Viaje [The Journey]. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRT37306)

Talking Books

Music of the Gauchos. Introduction to the legends and folk songs of the Argentine gauchos. (DBM00274)

Songs of the New World. Wide and varied look at the music and songs of the New World, including Thomas Paine’s “The Death of General Wolf,” songs and dances of the Argentine gauchos, and the country fiddle tune “The Arkansas Traveler.” (DBM00323)

Comments (4)

  1. I am a blind organist and I requested this work to be transcribed in Braille. I played it as an undergraduate organ student and it is challenging. At one point the organist is asked to play the highest note on the pedalboard. At another point the organist is asked to play double pedal. At least the left foot is playing a pedal point while the right foot plays B A C H. I may have the Braille score somewhere but I don’t always have time to memorize music.

    • Hi Dan–thank you so much for sharing your experience with this wonderful work by Ginastera! We would be happy to send you an embossed copy. Please let us know either in the comments here or by calling us at 1-800-424-8567 ext. 2. Have a great day!

  2. Fascinating story, Brian. Any thoughts as to how this “vault find” arrived at NLS? Donation?

    • Hi Carter–I believe this work was acquired between 2009-2011, and it was transcribed by the National Braille Association in 1985. We only have one copy, but since it is now digitized and on BARD, we are happy to emboss a copy and send it to any patron who requests it.

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