Sunday, December 12, 2010

When The Tango Became Music [by Alberto Paz]

Once again, National Tango Day (Argentina, and globally), December 11, has come and gone without fanfare, at least with regard to this humble blogger. Not just yesterday, but last year as well - not a peep. I just couldn't pull anything out of my proverbial fedora, couldn't come up with anything of any value myself. I Googled around, feebly, looking for an official website, announcement, press release, something, anything to post to mark the day.

But nothing. Nothing came. I pondered this day for a week or so, my computer calendar popping up with a reminder each day, but still nothing.

There is the "Global Milonga" event that uses December 11 - ostensibly in celebration of the National Tango Day or Day of Tango or Dia del Tango - but their mission appears to be more globally oriented, calling attention to the environment, "celebrating Tango's ability to unite and transform" - with this year's theme being to planting trees in the ravaged and struggling country of Haiti.

A good and noble cause, but not what I was looking for.

We had planned to go to a milonga last night, after a very small dinner party with a close friend. I figgered that would be my own little celebration, my own private acknowledgment of the day, to dance a little tango with my love in my arms in honor of this love my tango. But it was not meant to be. Chopin played on a grand piano, with a glass of vino tinto trumps tango. Every time.

So, this morning, booting myself up on Facebook, I was pleased when I read Alberto Paz' piece honoring the day. I couldn't have even come close to anything like this, and Alberto was gracious enough to allow me to re-post it here in its entirety.

I love the natural and innate flow of the Universe, of tango, of this blog, of my life. Everything always seems to come together, falling into place as it was meant to, as it wants to, as it has to. Natural and without force, guided by love and friends and friendship and good, well intentioned energy. The world is as it should be. Mostly. But that, my friends, is the subject of another post, and as usual, I am digressing.

Based out of my childhood home of New Orleans, Louisiana, Alberto is well known for his Planet Tango website and greatly appreciated for his tango lyrics translations, now at Letras de Tango. He's also coming back strong after a serious health scare. We were all worried about him, and the word is he's feeling much better and feeling strong enough to dance again. I'll speak for all of us and extend well wishes to him (and to Valorie) in his continued recovery. They have both been to hell and back - a big Texas hug from me.

So, without further ado, and thanks again Alberto, and take good care of that ticker...

When The Tango Became Music
Posted by Alberto Paz on Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 12:21am

Nearing the end of the first thirty years of the twentieth century, every orchestra sounded more or less the same way as if the original sound born out of many sounds had become a long road to musical boredom. Along the way had traveled the heroic itinerant trios that perched on the corners of tough neighborhoods, the artistic innovation that brought the incorporation of the bandoneon, and the legendary quartets.

To be fair, every ensemble had a leader and everyone attempted to add a bit of his own personal touch, but in general, the styles of the orchestras were so similar that it was hard to tell apart the works of Vicente Greco, Juan Maglio Pacho, Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro or Augusto Berto.

Julio De Caro, whose birthday on December 11 contributed to the designation of the date as National Day of Tango in Buenos Aires, broke ranks with the traditional style and led a genuine opening into renovation, a revolution that saved the tango from oblivion. Yet, De Caro did not discard what others had done before. His typical sextet gave new life to some of the greatest creations of Eduardo Arolas and Agustin Bardi.

They amalgamated into a genial coexistence with the new found beauty of the romantic melodies emanating from the creative muse of Juan Carlos Cobian, Osvaldo Fresedo, and Enrique Delfino.

During the early days of the twentieth century very few people stayed in school beyond the third grade and illiteracy in Buenos Aires was very high. Thus the music of the tangos of that period suited very well the simply minds of the audiences. When mandatory public school was established, the popular culture grew up and the music of the tanguitos of Arolas began to be insufficient for the larger intellectual capacity of the new audiences.

This generational change of guard led the Argentine Tango to a musical evolution that paralleled the cultural evolution of the porteño. The sounds of a changing Tango continued to be Tango, much in the same way that an educated porteño continued being a porteño.

History has appointed Julio De Caro, the supreme priest of the major renovation vanguard that took place in the mid 1920’s. The word vanguard had been used mostly in military lingo to identify what is up front, at the leading edge of the battlefield. With the stellar appearance of Julio De Caro, the history of the Tango was divided in two major hemispheres, the pre and post De Caro era. At the helm of the renovation, the sexteto tipico lead by Julio De Caro paved the way for the vanguardistas who continued to advance, faithful to their commitment to always be ahead of the rest.

The concepts and style which have become known as integral parts of the Decarean school, have constituted a standard by which all instrumental renovation of the Tango has been measured, both in terms of authenticity and naturalness. In very simple terms, the Decarean concept was to embellish the melody of the Tango.

In his memoirs, Julio De Caro remembers the time when, as a third violin for one of Cobian’s recording sessions, he found a section of one of the Tangos to be very poor. With no time to write a new arrangement, De Caro decided to add a counterpoint with the intention of embellishing the melody. This addition had very good acceptance but as Cobian found out about the daring modification that De Caro had done, he admonished him reminding him about who was the boss.

This reprimand in lieu of a praise was enough for 24 year-old De Caro to leave the Cobian sextet. He took with him bandoneon players Pedro Maffia and Luis Petrucelli, called upon his brother Francisco to play the piano, drafted Leopoldo Thompson (the inventor of the canyengue sound effect) to play the bass and brought yet another brother, Emilio as a second violin.

Historian Luis Adolfo Sierra has written perhaps one of the most celebrated hyperbole about the De Caro tendencies, “the harmonic accompaniment of the piano, the phrasing and variations of the bandoneons, the counterpoint of the violin knitting melodies of pleasant contrast with the central theme, plus the piano and bandoneon solos expressed with a harmonic and sonorous richness never heard before then, are some of the most valuable contributions that those real innovators introduced in the execution of the Tango.”

Jose Gobello says that what it is most recognizable of the De Caro sextet, is the intention to synthesize the insolence with the romanticism, the rusticity of the outskirts with the refinement from the conservatories. While Julio was best represented by the cheeky twist in (listen to Mala Junta), his brother Francisco embodied the romantic flair of (listen to Flores Negras).

Thanks to Julio De Caro the destiny of the Tango was also in the music, not just in the dance or the singing.

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