In the previous post on Musicality in Tango, we looked at the mixed rhythmic/lyrical style of Osvaldo Pugliese. In this post we travel a bit further along the time line to look at Astor Piazolla and his music.
If you find early Piazolla from the 1940’s, then his orchestra will mainly be playing music composed by others, so the tunes although arranged by Piazolla, tend to stay faithful to the standard ABABC pattern and is predictable and danceable.
Take this example from 1947/48 ‘Todo Corazón’ writen by Julio De Caro, (lyrics by José María Ruffet, but no singer on this instrumental version)
Later on as Piazolla starts composing his own music, and Argentina comes under the rule of the military Junta in the 1950’s, by the 1980’s Piazzollas music begins to be less dance music and more concert style. Does this mean it’s not danceable?
Listen to this piece his famous instrumental, ‘Libertango’ first recorded in 1983.
There is drive and urgency in the tune pretty much all the way through, and it does follow a predictable dance pattern. Would you hear it in a traditional milonga? Probably not because this is ‘Nuevo’ tango not ‘Golden Age’. You may hear it at an Alternative/Nuevo milongas, and this tune has definitely been used in many modern tango show dances around the world.
There are other Piazzolla tangos from the 1980’s which do not follow the rhythmic pattern of traditional tangos at all. You would be unlikely to hear ‘Oblivion’, first recorded in 1984, in a traditional milonga. Take a listen now.
It is undoubtedly a hauntingly beautiful piece of music, one of Piazzollas finest works. However, it doesn’t have the rhythm needed to move a mass of dancers around a dance hall. Does that mean it’s not danceable. Well, no, but it probably requires a different approach.
No obvious rhythm does not mean there is not a musical beat. It’s just not emphasised in the music, but the musicians must be counting it in their heads at least.
For me, this tune is telling me to stay on the spot and express the hell out of it. So lots of circular movement, and with a large helping of ‘movement without moving’. For those of us lucky enough to have a partner in the pandemic ‘lock down’ (2020) to dance at home with, this could be an ideal tune to dance to, in a small lounge 🙂
So to finish up, Astor Piazolla undoubtedly kept tango music alive during the 1970’s- 1980’s, but it’s flavour had to change to the concert style and away from traditional dance style. He, and other nuevo musicians that followed him, was reviled by some in the dance community who thought he’d ‘appeased’ the ruling government instead of remaining faithful to traditional tango music. Other people may have thought he was just dealing with reality in order to keep himself and his orchestra in work.
Piazolla is quoted as saying
For me, tango was always for the ear rather than the feet.
so maybe this shift to concert style music was for him simply a natural evolution rather than being politically astute. You can decide…
In the previous post on Musicality in Tango, we looked at the rhythmical style of Juan D’Arienzo, and in this post we look at Osvaldo Pugliese. I finished off the previous post with the perhaps slightly unfair comment that Pugliese chucks in odd extra notes.
This is not quite accurate. He was of course a musician, composer, and arranger so his music was deliberate, but there is something about his style which sometimes confuses dancers. His music has both dramatic rhythm and also some lovely lyrical elements too, but the way he arranges some tunes seems to lead to the odd miss-step.
La Yumba – tango
Have a listen to this tune, the famous ‘La Yumba’ written by the man himself in 1946.
For the first 1 min 15 secs we have this driving rhythm which sticks to the first two sections of a standard ABABC pattern, and in each section we have 2 phrases. So far so good with an ‘AB’. Then the tune starts of with what sounds like a repeat of ‘A’ but which turns into an entirely different ‘new’ lyrical section and we don’t get back to section A until a minute later where we get back to a familiar refrain just before the finale.
However, even then, the last phrase is a mix of lyrical and rhythmical. The pattern is therefore more like A, B, A(phrase 1), C, A(phrase 1 ‘ish’). Why is this a problem? Well it isn’t too bad if you are already familiar with ‘La Yumba’, but if you remember what I said about predictability with the typical ABABC pattern, it means that if you never heard the tune before if would be difficult to dance through the whole tune first time out because of the unpredictability Pugliese throws in with the middle lyrical section where the rhythm disappears, reappears then disappears for a while.
Once you know the tune well enough it’s not a problem in the sense that you can chose to dance the rhythmic bits or the lyrical bit when they overlay, and by knowing the tune you can anticipate the ‘rhythm or lyrical’ sections when they do not overlay.
So Pugliese is not throwing odd note in to his tunes but he defiantly breaks the traditional tune pattern which makes it sound odd and ‘dance tricky’ the first time you hear it.
Ilusión Marina – Vals
So what about Vals? Well, Pugliese didn’t write many Vals so he arranged others for his orchestra such as this one, ‘Ilusión Marina’ written by Antonio Sureda in 1947, lyrics by Gerónimo Sureda, and sung by Alberto Morán.
It has the usual Pugliese drama, but it sticks to the traditional pattern for a tango vals. From the dance point of view it’s predictable if a little brisk.
There are one or two quirks if you listen hard, such as the lovely key change at 40 secs in, just before Alberto Morán begins to sing. Whether these were due to Puglieses arrangement or written into the original tune by the composer is unclear. Someone could find the composers music script and let me know?
Un Baile a Beneficio – Milonga
I love this tune. It’s just so jolly! Have a listen to ‘Un Baile a Beneficio’ written by Juan Carlos Caccaviello recorded in 1950, lyrics by José Alfredo Fernández, and sung by Jorge Vidal.
Typical pattern for a milonga tune so again, it’s predictable and danceable, phew! Not much more to say about the tune or structure other than every milonga should play it.
So my conclusion is that if a tune has been written by Osvaldo Pugliese then there may be a few quirks and he doesn’t always stick to the traditional pattern for tango composing, making it a little more tricky to dance to than usual.
For tunes not written by Pugliese but just arranged by him, he doesn’t seem to mess with the composers tune too much so you should be OK.
A final note: In the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, when the military took over the Argentine Government they cracked down on dancing in public. Osvaldo Pugliese bowed to the pressure and began to write and arrange concert tango which is not really written to dance to. He was joined by musicians like Astor Piazolla (the subject of my next post on musicality) in this ‘pivot’ towards concert music, as the tango dance became politicised. Both Pugliese and Piazolla were criticised by the dance community for ‘selling out’, but of course they wanted to continue earning a living so it was entirely understandable.
So in the next post on Musicality I look at both early Piazolla (danceable in the traditional sense) and later Piazolla (still danceable but missing a lot of typical tango cues, especially for beginners).
In the fifth part of this series I looked at a popular tune ‘Motivo Sentimental’ recorded by the Carlos Di Sarli Orchestra in 1944, and the lyrical style of Di Sarli in his hay day.
As I promised in Part 5 (a long time ago – thanks for the ‘nudge’ to get part 6 written, James 🙂 ), in this part I will look at a couple of tunes by the Juan D’Arienzo’s Orchestra and I will hopefully show you that you need to dance a little differently to the way you might dance to Di Sarli.
If you listen to ‘La Guardia Vieja’ (the Old Guard) style of tango tunes of the late 19th/early 20th Century, typified by orchestras such as Orchestra Tipica Victor, as well as early D’Arienzo, Enrique Rodriguez, and similar style orchestras, they all exhibit a rhythmical approach to their music. It would be difficult to imagine performing sweeping Lapiz, slow Secadas, or Giro movements to these type of tunes. In fact some of these tango movements hadn’t even been developed at that time.
Florida – Tango
Take a listen to this popular D’Arienzo instrumental version of ‘Florida‘ written by Raimundo Petillo. It has a strong beat giving the tune an urgency to ‘get on and walk’. Even when you hear the more lyrical sections indicating a chance for the followers to do something interesting, there is still a strong background beat which leaders often feel compelled to follow.
You have a strong piano sound as the pianist seemed to really plonk down hard on the keys, coupled with the choppy Bandonéon sound, all of which makes you want to walk (march even!). If you ever get chance to see ‘La Juan D’Arienzo Orchestra’ (the longest playing tango orchestra of all time and still touring), take a look at the orchestra make up. That big, strong sound is made up of four Bandonéons, four violins, plus the usual piano and bass. The orchestra has always been like this since the early days, and that is how Juan D’Arienzo got his unique sound. How do they get that strong choppy Bandonéon sound? They bounce the bellows of their instruments on their knees to create a stronger intake of air through the Bandonéon reeds, just at the beat. You have to hear it live to appreciate the power which that technique generates.
You should be able to hear the traditional ABABC pattern in the tune. It’s there and pretty clear, with repeating phrases in each section. Followers just about get something almost lyrical to work with at the end of the B sections and a little bit of a softer tinkly piano phrase in the C section, but otherwise we’re walking with rhythm pretty much the whole time. With D’Arienzo instrumentals you get little respite from this sense of urgency.
So how to dance this type of tune? Well if leaders are going to mostly walk, there is the obvious stepping beat, plus lots of opportunity for contra-beat reboté. Any decorations for followers will have to be swift and they should assume perhaps that their leader is going to walk at any time in the tune, and it is probably safer to limit decorations to foot/heel tapping without crossing the feet. As stated, there are just a couple of phrases at the end of sections B which might give the opportunity for movement on the spot, but they don’t last long.
Now compare that tune to the first part of the 1947 song ‘Lenguas de Fuego‘ with singer Armando Laborde, written by Juan D’Arienzo and Héctor Varela, lyrics by Carlos Waiss.
It starts off in a very ‘un-D’Arienzo’ way (the influence of Héctor Varela’s co-composition perhaps?) and during section A phrase 1 you might be fooled into thinking D’Arienzo had suddenly gone all soft and lyrical – Nope! By the start of section B the D’Arienzo sound makes it’s comeback. However you have a bit more to work with if you’re not too fond of purely rhythmic tunes. You also get chance to dance to Armando Labordes refrain when he starts to sing. That makes this D’Arienzo tune a little less taxing to dance to.
In both cases (and most other recordings) D’Arienzo stays faithful to the typical tango tune patterns and so there are no suprises for the dancers and it’s relatively easy to anticipate the phrase endings and section endings even when you’ve never hear a particular tune before.
On a final note about tangos, D’Arienzo arrangements tend to have very brisk and twiddly Bandonéon phrases stuck in them (especially in the finalé section). How on earth do you dance these? Well, if you are an excellent dancer with ‘fast muscle twitch’, the answer is any way you like. 🙂 For those of us who can’t quite keep up with those eighth/sixteenth notes, my advice is not to try match the rapid melodies. Stick closer to the main stepping beat and contra-beats. I have often seen people try to skip along with fast feet, and although you and your partner may find it fun trying (and often failing mainly due to a poor embrace) to stick to the super fast melody, it don’t look so great as you loose sync and timing. With friends it’s good for a laugh, but otherwise leave it to the show dancers 🙂
Bolada de Aficionado – Milonga
As you would expect given the rhythmical nature of his tangos, D’Arienza has recorded some of the most memorable and popular milonga tunes. A very typical example is the popular 1941 recording of ‘Bolada de Aficionado‘, written by Ángel Villoldo, which is more of a brisk canter than a fast walk.
Again D’Arienzo sticks faithfully to the ABABC pattern and you could use the same rhythmical walking patterns, box steps, change of weight, and reboté as you would with any of his tangos, with a little added traspié. Just need to be a little faster and have more ‘milonguero’ verve maybe… 🙂
Tan sólo tú – Vals
Juan D’Arienzo has a huge back catalogue of recordings over his long career and the vast majority are tango and milonga tunes, but he did record a few vals tunes. Does he stick to his choppy urgent style with a vals? Not really although you can always hear a strong ‘om pa pa’ rhythm supporting the tune. D’Arienzo vals tunes can be interpreted in dance as any other vals. Have a listen to the 1942 version of ‘Tan sólo tú‘ with singer Héctor Mauré, written by Servando Félix Domínguez, lyrics by Héctor Marcó.
Again the typical ABABC pattern is still there, along with the strong underlying beat and the Bandonéon twiddly bits making the tune definitely D’Arienzo. However there is the overlying lyrical feel, along with the singer Héctor Mauré, to base your musicality on as well as the rhythm.
In this part of the series we have introduced the rhythmical tunes of Juan D’Arienzo which need a different approach to dancing than the lyrical Di Sarli we looked at last time.
Next time we’ll examine Osvaldo Pugliese. This is an orchestral arranger and leader who definitely decided to play with the regular tango pattern and go a little ‘off piste’. Some dancers claim that Pugliese is hard to dance to, simply because he throws in extra notes (or misses them out) occasionally. Tricky…
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Coronavirus and Tango Elegante classes
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, a family bereavement, and the indeterminate nature of when ‘lock down’ may end, we are pushing our Spring Season back to ‘start’ at the end of May. I am not too hopeful that it will be possible to start then, so I will re-evaluate the situation mid-May and decide whether the Spring Season should be abandoned for a long Summer Season.
For now you can continue to review the proposed future schedule by looking at our events page.
In the meantime, with very little opportunity to dance at class or milonga venues, we can at least all improve our musicality by listening to lots more tango, vals, and milonga tunes.
You may be aware that I am writing a series of articles (with examples) on the structure of tango music and possible interpretation. I published one recently, have another coming out soon, and have a few more ideas to round off the series, so you may wish to study them while waiting for the tango world to start turning again.
All tango articles can be found by following the menu link above.
If you have the space and a decent floor, you may also want to avail yourself of the many online classes and dance ‘events’ which are popping up on the web. It’s not quite the same as ‘in person’, but good good enough to keep your tango going to some level or another. The tango community has to try stick together as much as possible until this crisis is over so a big thanks to all those teachers who have managed to move their activities online to keep the community alive.
This is definitely one situation where ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’, so try practise as much as you can, even if solo.
Please follow the Government advice and stay safe.
Recently my partner and I went on holiday to Austria, had a great time of course, but as is often the case, we picked up a virus on the way back. My partner had tummy problems the day before we flew back and by the time I was sat in the car at Stansted Airport the next day, ready to drive home, I wasn’t feeling too great either.
To cut a story short we both lost a Kg or so. Possibly walking in the Austrian mountains helped (but not the marvelous food 🙂 ), and also the careful eating and… ahem… other factors shall we say, after coming back.
So we were practicing at the weekend and my partner said ‘Something’s changed about your lead’. ‘Good change or bad change?’ I asked. ‘Not sure, but it could be good in the long run because I’m having to work harder with my core. You’re not driving me with your stomach like before’. Hmmm, well we finally figured it was because we’d both lost a bit of stomach volume because of our walking exercise/illness.
None of this was deliberate – neither of us had set out to lose weight, but of course it does make sense that elements such as your centre of gravity may shift slightly, your weight will have changed (obviously) and so leaders may have to work a little harder to drive their familiar dance partners around the floor, and as my partner found, followers who have been relying a little bit on their partners, may have to work a little harder.
What this means is that if you’re planning to lose weight (perhaps to get beach fit, or as a New Year resolution, or because of medical advice) your tango will have to be modified slightly and you may have to work a bit harder until you get used to the new you.
It shouldn’t be too big a deal but it’s worth being aware of it, just in case your tango seems a little more hard work. Keep practicing your tango and working with the new you, and your tango will be back to it’s normal level in a short time. 🙂