Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tango v. Milonga :: Interview with Sebastian Piana

I ran across this Tango-L post from Alberto Gesualdi back in 2003.

Bruno wrote:

Milonga is the precursor of Tango these were originally written in a 2 x 4 notation and changed to 4 x 8. The piano scores left from early tangos and milongas proved this point.

Alberto Gesualdi (myself) would like to say this:

It is not very clear the date of start for tango music in Argentina . Some tangos like El Entrerriano are supposed to be from 1896 .

There is sometimes a confusion when using the word milonga , because it is considered as belonging exclusively to tango and being born within the tango environment.

There was a milonga campera or milonga surenia, sung by the peasants whith their guitars. This milonga was usually the same base music, and the changes were made by the singers , with the content of what they say . More or less like bards telling the news or the folklore tradition.

Sebastian Piana [b. circa 1900? d. July 17, 1994] is generally considered as the first musician to write a milonga ciudadana or milonga portenia, in 1932, when he made Milonga Sentimental . I include below part of the last interview made to Piana while he was living. The complete interview is at www.todotango.com.ar

Regarding the milonga subject as well as many other things related to tango , the words "always" . "sure" "certainty" are a bit dangerous to use, since tango origins are still very misty.

Warm regards

Alberto Gesualdi

Buenos Aires

Interview with Sebastian Piana (fragment) [For entire interview click here.]

- Do you share the opinion, held by the Bates brothers, that tango (in its development as musical genre) takes elements from candombe, the habañera and the milonga?

- Certainly. The habañera was almost the mother of tango. The milonga, on the other hand, belonged to country music, what today is known as folklore. Later the milonga arrived in town, but it was not yet that milonga of which I was the forerunner: it was a rural milonga, sung by gauchos, by that country people that, sometimes, improvised....

- Was it the milonga that Gardel and Razzano sang?

- It was a country milonga, that the Gardel-Razzano duo sang as well. The Argentine and Uruguayan payadores (itinerant singers) that had the ability to improvise lyrics: they were naturally born-poets that, among them, they ad lib rivaled to the beat of a milonga. It would not be strange that the habañera, a Spanish air well-known in Cuba, blended with black music and took advantage of the candombe small drum. Later this spread all over America. All this produces the musical origin of tango in Argentina. But tango is a Spanish word. The tanguillo is a Spanish dance.

- Originally the milonga was a music for strings, was percussion added in Cuba?

- I guess so. The Negroes, that have a great intuition and a rhythmic sense, made "their" habañera. This seems to have spread throughout America. That would be the origin of the early tango beat.

- Can we talk of a " Piana's Revolution " as far as milonga is concerned?

- It is, simply, the change from a milonga -which was regarded as belonging to the south and the Pampas, without dance or danced in privacy, and dug by gauchos and payadores-, to the milonga porteña , owed to Maffia and to me. They were melodically quite alike.

The renewal, the porteña and suburban milonga, is owed to a request made by Rosita Quiroga to Homero Manzi. We had given to her a tango that she would sing. However, she asked for a milonga.

Astonished, Manzi told me; "Rosita asked me a milonga". I answered him: but if all milongas are nearly the same thing, very much alike, because of that people improvise on them...."Look, Sebastian, I don't understand anything about milongas", Manzi answered to me. Then I told Homero that he should call me in two days, to see if I was able to devise something. During that time I had in my head the idea of a new milonga. I knew its beat because I had written a previous one so that Josi Gonzalez Castillo (Catulo Castillo's father) would write lyrics to it.

I had the need to make different milongas; and these were: they kept the simplicity of the beat, but with a defined musical shape, as if they were tangos to be sung, but without losing the milonga's essence.

When Manzi called me, precisely in two days' time, I already have composed "Milonga Sentimental", whose music only took me half an hour (the one I had prepared for Gonzalez Castillo's milonga had taken me a whole day). It was not the everlasting milonga, the one improvised by the payadores...

As Manzi, a magnificent poet, confessed to me that he did not understand about milongas, I thought for myself: will he understand mine? He understood it. He arrived to my place on a Monday, he picked up the sheet music and, the next morning, he had the lyric already written. With the lyrics added I began to like the music more. Until then I was more satisfied with the one I had made for Gonzalez Castillo.
So "Milonga Sentimental" was born. It was my second milonga, which turned out to be the first milonga porteña known.

- Catulo's father, finally did he add lyrics to your first milonga?

- No, no. It seems he forgot about it (laughs). He was a great friend of mine and of my father's.

For the complete interview, click here.

No comments: