Alberto Ginastera is regarded (along with his pupil Astor Piazzolla) as Argentina's most important 20th-century composer. His roots were multinational; although born in Buenos Aires, his father was Spanish and his mother was Italian. He heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1930, while still at the Williams Conservatoire in Buenos Aires, and was immediately struck by its dynamism and novelty. Bartók was another powerful influence, and Ginastera began writing his own modernist ballet Panambí (1937) while still at college.
His best-known score, the ballet Estancia, followed in 1941 – a bold, highly melodic evocation of life among the gauchos (cowboys) of the Argentinean pampas, in the manner of Aaron Copland's ballet scores. He went on to study with Copland in the late 1940s, inspiring a period of what Ginastera called "subjective nationalism" – music that evoked the spirit and colour of Argentina without relying on folk melodies. From 1958 he adopted what he called "neo-expressionism", a style that combined twelve-tone modernism and the spirit of pre-Columbian South America – producing works such as the Cantata para América Mágica (1960), the opera Bomarzo (1967) (temporarily banned by the Argentinian government) and the symphonic poem Popol Vuh (1983), based on a Mayan creation myth. Ginastera's Harp Concerto (1965) has become a staple of the modern harp repertoire.