Carlos Guastavino – the Schubert of the Pampas
Composer portrait: Carlos Guastavino
The music of Carlos Guastavino, Argentinian composer born in 1912 and known as the “Schubert of the Pampas”, is known for its simple yet intense melodies, perfectly depicting the atmospheres and landscapes of his country.
His musical style was heavily influenced by Romanticism and, unlike Alberto Ginastera, he always stayed away from the avant-guarde movement: Guastavino built his own success by creating a form of national music filtered through the music language of the XIX century, becoming a model for the generation of folk and traditional music of the 1960s.
Feeling very strongly about a certain approach to music, he dismissed atonality as “nastiness” and “falsification”.
Guastavino studied music in Santa Fe with Esperanza Lothringer and Dominga Iaffei, and in Buenos Aires with Athos Palma. In Buenos Aires, he quickly became known as a composer, his works attracting the attention of Argentine and foreign performers.
A talented pianist as well, he performed his own piano works in London in 1947, 1948 and 1949, invited by the BBC, and as a recipient of a scholarship from the British Council. During these years, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed the orchestral version of his Tres Romances Argentinos, under the baton of Walter Goehs. In 1956, Guastavino toured the USSR and China, performing his pieces for voice and piano.
Introverted and shy, Guastavino led a modest private life: his personality didn’t help him in gaining any particular fame outside of Argentina – another major difference between him and Ginastera. Although he did write some large scale works, like the ballet Fue una vez premiered at Teatro Colon in 1942 and the orchestral suite Argentina, he was mainly a miniaturist, keen on chamber music works and songs especially.
Many of Guastavino’s best-known works date from the 1940s, compositions such as Gato (1940), for piano, Canciones argentinas (1949), as well as the immensely popular songs Se equivoco la paloma (1941) and La rosa y el sauce (1942).
Later on in, in the 1960s and 1970s, Guastavino devoted most of his time to composing and teaching. Working with Leon Benaros, a noted Argentine poet, Guastavino composed some 60 songs, which exemplify his fine lyricism and his research of capturing the musical essence of each inspiration into a very short span.
In 1975, however, possibly discouraged by his declining popularity, the composer stopped working, only to pick up the pen again in 1987, encouraged by Carlos Vilo, leader of a chamber ensemble, who was interested in performing Guastavino’s song and other works. The fruitful collaboration with Vilo’s group lasted until 1992, when he stopped composing for good.
Despite the many awards received in his lifetime – from the cities of Santa Fe and Buenos Aires, from the Justice Ministry, from the Inter-American music council – Guastavino never reached the popularity and recognition his music deserves. His final years were marked by illness and failing memory. He died in Santa Fe in 2000.