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On Latin American Piano Music


The current state of Latin American concert music is one of tragic neglect. Despite the best intentions of many wonderful artists, pedagogues and publishers, this repertoire exists as the ugly stepsister to the canon of so-called “serious” music. Even with works such as Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No. 1 or Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas, this music is generally unknown. And works such as these two are usually known more in name than in fact. Yet, despite this neglect, Latin America boasts a rich catalogue of music informed by a colorful mix of indigenous, folkloric and classical traditions.


To work on this music for performance, pedagogic or scholarly goals, has been among the most rewarding aspects of a career in music. Every piece is fresh. Every piece is a cultural find. Every piece shows tradition and exoticism coexisting. And it is this paradox that imparts a sense of discovery and rediscovery to our cultural home through the lens of the New World.


For pedagogy alone, there is a wealth of material available for students of all levels to satisfy all needs. The works of Gianneo and Cosme could easily substitute for Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, Schumann’s Album for the Young, or any of Kabalevsky’s children pieces. In the music of Ponce one hears Romanticism with a Mexican bent. Guarnieri treats the listener to landscapes Debussy or Messiæn might have created had either been Brazilian. Lecuona’s tunes are as if written by a Cuban Gershwin, while Gonzalez's music views Cuban folk music through a modernist lens. Finally, the Argentine Piazzolla, whose works have finally received worldwide notoriety, presents us with his own cosmopolitan melting pot of the Old World, New York City and Buenos Aires.


Whenever I teach a piano pedagogy class, I constantly refer back to this music, both for assignments and for in-class demonstration work. Inevitably, this piques students’ interest and curiosity, stimulating fresh looks at ideas we would normally take for granted on traditional repertoire.


Had it not been for a chance remark by my Doctoral Advisor, I doubt I would have encountered any of this music in the first place. Thankfully, the reverse occurred, which unleashed my passion for it. Since then, I have committed to include it in my programs and in my teaching as I would any other music. And as there is so much first-rate music from parts South, its discovery is a profound source of artistic, intellectual and scholarly fulfillment.


For the curious, my Doctoral Thesis, “Tradition and Innovation: Balances within the Piano Sonatas of Alberto Ginastera,” is catalogued at GoogleBooks.

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