Term Paper: Alberto Williams and Nationalism

Pages: 10 (3129 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Mr. Gonzalez-Ortega specified three types of nationalism in the lines of the poem. The one most relevant here is the section dealing with "nationalistic manifestation directed against foreigners and Argentinean immigration laws." (9). The gaucho in this poem is against these two items. And this was reflected in real life since "the government had passed favorable laws toward European settlers." (9). Williams knew of this - literally grew up while it was happening - and so incorporated some of this nationalistic feeling in his work. And up to the present day, the mix of nationalities and languages has not hurt the society. Up to 85% of the population is actually European in origin. "Despite the mix of ancestries and languages, Argentines are fiercely nationalistic." (Argentine People).

Alberto Williams and His Music

Almost unanimously, critics consider Mr. Williams to be the leading composer of Argentina. Consider the praise:

Alberto Williams, the founder of the Buenos Aires Conservatory, was the best known of all Argentine composers (Basic Fact).

Williams... is regarded as Argentina's most influential composer (Sunier).

The founder of Argentine musical nationalism, Williams was a very prolific composer... (Canin).

The father of the Argentinean nationalist school (Music for Piano).

Apparently he composed over three hundred pieces of music during his career and they ranged in style from "Gaucho melodies and native dances into now-established forms such as the Milongas and Hueyas ["a traditional gaucho dance - based on Argentine melodic and rhythmic materials of folk origin" (Surif)]." (Sunier). But the early part of his career was more European influenced as he studied with individuals in Paris like Cesar Franck, Ernest Guiraud, and Benjamin Goddard during the 1880s (Surif). Thus Sunier claims that "His earlier works reveal European classical influences but later in life the Argentine folk elements preponderate." Even as late as Berceuses from 1906 one can see "an example of Williams's European style." (Music for Piano).

But clearly by 1917 with his Primera Sonata Argentina he has allowed his home country to come through. This particular piece has even been used in analogy to emphasize its Argentine qualities: "The Primera Sonata Argentina is to Argentina what Grieg's sonata is to Norway." What could be clearer as to the essence of Williams's nationalistic style than to make a comparison of his Sonata to Grieg's piece that evokes the land of Norway (except maybe to use Strauss' waltzes as evocative of Vienna)?

The specific breakdown of that Sonata gives further evidence of its nationalistic foundation. The First Argentine Sonata is described as:

four-movement survey of national styles: the first movement includes both toccata-like writing and winding lyricism of the sort that will be associated with Alberto Ginastera [good way to bring this guy into my discussion and waste some time], II a love lsong op popular stripe... III an Indian dance (the Malambo). IV is a gaucho finale of wild (is there another kind?) abandon - calling to mind other celebrations-of-the-folk in almost all musical exoticism and nationalism

Further into his career, in 1923 Williams releases the Argentinean Suite No. 3 for Strings. According to Music Web this particular piece is a combination of the grand European tradition (like Tchaikovsky and Dvorak) and certain Latin American parts and that the "orchestra is gracious and sensitive to the nostalgic spirit of this music. Stuart Canin speaking of this same piece says that it embodies "gaucho song, dance and spirit." Each movement of the piece "is a representation of an Argentine song-form: hueya (a fast folk dance), milonga (the predecessor to the tango)..."

Influence of Alberto Williams

There were several well-known composers who came after Williams. Two particular ones are actually a study in contrasts. On the one hand is Alberto Ginastera who can also lay claim to being a leader in the nationalistic movement in music. In fact, Fundaciono Ostinato claims that he, and not Williams, "is the foremost representative of musical nationalism" in Argentina. One reason is that during his earliest period of composing (called Objective Nationalism (1937-1947) he music "represents the culture of Argentine, ranging from the silent grandeur of the vast pampas to dynamic dances of gauchos." (Alberto Ginastera). But he did more than merely repeat or incorporate traditional sounds into his music. On the contrary, he was able to link the "nationalistic tradition of the Argentine 'gauchesco' culture with modern international music theories." (Van Drie).

Carlos Gustavino is another important Argentine composer. Gusatvino vigorously rejected what he saw as "the stylistic radicalism of Alberto Ginastera and his younger compatriot Mauricio Kagel...[and]... he followed in the footsteps of 19th century nationalist such as Julian Aguirre and Alberto Williams." Like Williams, Gustavino spent the early part of his career studying classical sonatas before he moved on to expressions of nationalism in his work - specifically, the "distillation of local folk elements into an avowedly romantic-nationalist idiom" (Rickards).

But Williams also had more subtle influences on individual musicians within Argentina. Ernesto Drangosch attended the Buenos Aires Conservatory and studies under Alberto Williams and his partner Julian Aguirre. Both of these individuals had a great degree of influence on Drangosch. In fact, he would return home to Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century and be offered a job as a teacher by Alberto Williams at the Conservatory from which he had graduated. But in the meantime, he traveled to Europe in the last decade of the 1800s to further his studies with various composers in Germany and elsewhere.


One of the more interesting facts uncovered in the research on Alberto Williams is a paradoxical contrast. On the one hand one finds that Mr. Williams is acknowledged by most to be the founder and leading composer of the nationalist movement in Argentina. The historical record also shows that he was highly prolific in his work. But on the other hand, modern listeners are severely limited in regard to how many pieces of music by this man are available for purchase. Apparently only a few select choices of this wide array of possibilities have actually been recorded (Canin). Moreover, while Williams is identified "certainly a good composer," one critic claims "until we hear more we must reserve judgment." (Alberto Williams Argentinean Suite No. 3 for strings).

But not all of William's critics are so nice to him. Sarcasm is the order of the day at Classical CD Review.com. Alberto Williams may be the father of Argentine music but this individual interjects: "Say it isn't so!" He continues:

can't decide which piece is worse. Each is like being force-fed a pound of Jujubes.... Williams studied in Paris where teachers included Cesar Franck. But no one succeeded in imparting even the basics of orchestration, much less taste, assuming these catch-all pieces are characteristic. They vacillate between programmatic Kitsch and postcard Kitsch

Fighting words, indeed. So where doe Alberto Williams fit in the world of classical music? Clearly somewhere in between. This is meant in two ways. First of all, his music cannot be as bad as this individual from Classical CD Review says. The rest of the available literature places its quality far above this (although all would admit that a larger variety of compositions from Mr. Williams is necessary to may a final judgment). In the second sense, Williams must be judged along a different baseline than just any group of composers. He is after all an Argentine composer drawing upon his experiences in his home country. True there may be less of an appeal for this nationalistic infused music once one is removed from the source of its strength. But this in no way diminishes both its beauty and also power to influence an entire nation and inspire them to greater deeds.


19th Century." Argentour.com Web Site. 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.argentour.com/historia/19th.htm

Alberto Ginastera." Fundacion Ostinato. 11 Apr. 2003. http://members.tripod.com/~ostinato/ginas.html

Alberto Williams (1862-1852): Music for Piano, Vol 1 - Primera Sonata Argentina, Op. 74."

11 Apr. 2003. http://www.recordsinternational.com/RICatalogFeb00.html

Alberto Williams Argentinian Suite No. 3 for strings." MW: Classical Music on the Web.

11 Apr. 2003. http://www.musicweb.uk.net/classrev/2000/july00/awilliams.htm

Alberto Williams: Symphony No 7 - Eternal Reposo." Classical CD Review.com. 11 Apr. 2003. http://classicalcdreview.com/alblsym.html.

Andermann, Jens. "Relics and Selves: an introduction." Birkbeck College Web Site. 11

Apr. 2003. http://www.bbk.ac.uk/ibamuseum/introduction.html

Argentine People and Culture: Introduction." Argentour.com Web Site. 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.argentour.com/gente/people1.htm

Argentina to 1890." Don Mabry's Historical Text Archive. 11 Apr. 2003. http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=357

Basic Fact: Art and Music." Winne.com Web Site. 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.winne.com/argetina/1-Basic%20Facts%20Argentina/106-


Canin, Stuart. "Alberto Williams - Romantic Argentine Suites." 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.recordsinternational.com/RICatalogNov98.html

Carlos Guastavino CD." Fundacion Ostinato. 11 Apr. 2003. http://ostinato.tripod.com/guas.html

Douglas, Heath S. "Agentina, A Brief History of the 19th Century." 11 Apr. 2003. http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=106..

Ernesto Drangosch - A Genius Rediscovered. OMPersonal.com Web Site. 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.ompersonal.com.ar/music/drangosch.htm.

Gauchos." Travelsur.net Web Site. 11 Apr. 2003. http://www.travelsur.net/gauchos.htm

Gonzales-Ortega, Nelson. "Literary Nationalism and Postcolonialism in Argentina: Martin… [END OF PREVIEW]

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