In Part I of this article, we looked at the basic structure of tango which consists of 5 distinct parts: A (verse) -- B (chorus) -- A (verse) -- B (chorus) -- A (versue. It was mentioned that not all tangos, fit neatly into this structure, but that this simple structure is usually present.
Let's start with an older tango "Caminito" performed by Francisco Canaro from 1926. This song has several variations to the basic structure, but as you will see, that basic structure is still there. This song structure goes:
"Caminito" has a cute little 8 second introduction, before the first verse begins. This is very common and happens often in tangos. Dancer's Note: This introduction actually does have a strong beat, but usually they will not, so we rarely dance to an introduction. In fact, we usually don't start dancing until the first beat of the second phrase of a typical tango song, so if the song has an introduction, we might begin dancing on the first beat of the first verse.
After before each chorus in "Caminito," there is a pre-chorus that lasts for about 8 seconds which consists of a bandoneón solo and then a piano solo. Sometimes you can also have pre-versus which work the same way, but before the each verse. Dancer's note: This is a good time to execute a corté (break) or parada (stop) and for women to embellish. It might also be a good time for a calesita. Basically, something which keeps us from progressing.
Humming and Whistling
One other interesting note about this song, is that during the first chorus you can hear the band members humming or moaning the chorus and during the second chorus someone is whistling the chorus. This song was recorded in 1926 and singers were not added to dance orchestras until 1927, when Canaro recorded "Así es el Mundo," featuring Roberto Díaz, as a chorus singer. See my article on "The Role of the Orchestra Singer" for more information on this subject.
"Poema" is a very popular tango which was recorded in 1935 by Francisco Canaro with Roberto Maida singing. It has a very distinct variation on the basic structure, while still keeping the verse -- chorus -- verse -- chorus -- verse structure. Listen to the song and then see if you can hear what it is.
Poema (The Whole Song)
Poema (Verse 1)
Poema (Chorus 1)
Poema (Verse 2)
Poema (Chorus 2)
Poema (Verse 3)
The first verse is 32 single-time beats, as we would expect, but then the chorus is only 16. Then the second verse is a whole 64, instead of the usual 32. Then the chorus is only 16 again and the final verse is 64.
Also, listen to verse 1 and then verse 2, there is no better example of a singer performing as an instrument of the orchestra. In the 2nd verse, notice that Maida imitates the violin of the 1st verse. The singer and the violin accent almost the same notes.
Dancer's note: "Poema" is also a great example of the choruses being more rhythmic than the verses. The tempo is the same, but notice how the energy goes up. There is actually a strong beat during the verses, but the melodic rhythm is equal if not dominant. During the verses, you have an option to dance to the beat or to the melody or switch between phrases. There is less option during the chorus, there is little melody and the beat is very dominant. Below is a performance of "Poema" by Murat and Michelle Erdemsel. It includes a painting of his which visually represents the different sections of "Poema." You will see the melodic sections represented as blue circles and the more ryhtmic sections represented by a rectangle with sharper lines and deeper colors.
Below are two great performances to "Poema" by Pablo Rodriguez and Noelia Hurtado and Javier Rodriguez and Geraldine Rojas. See you can see how they shift in energy between the choruses and verses. Also, notice that they both begin with a step on the fist beat of the 2nd phrase, this is not at all necessary, but is very common.
The rhythm of a song is the basic beat, "pulse," or steady flow of the music. The rhythm is what you would clap your hands to or change weight to as you listen to a piece of music.
The melody or melodic rhythm is the "wave" of the music or what you would hum. Melody would consist of the shape, movement and intensity of the notes to one another.
Usually, the rythm is played by the accompaniment consisting of piano, double base and one bandoneonwhile the rest of the instruments play the melody or solos.You might have two melodies playing at the same time, overlapping each other, such as two bandoneons playing different melodies.Also, melodies will often repeat, with variations, throughout the song.
The rhythm would be each individual sound, while the melody is the wave-form of those sounds. If you just listen to a single measure, you will not hear the melody. If you listen to a phrase then you will hear the melody. The melody might last from anywhere from one phrase (see below) to a whole section of the song. Melody is not just about the notes played, but HOW they are played and where the accents are placed.
Dancer's Note: Imagine the rhythm as being a steady base that lies underneath with the melody floating on top.
As dancers, we want to be aware of both the rhythm and the melody. We can dance to either one, but the mark of an advanced dancer is being able to hear which is dominant and be able to adapt their dance accordingly. If both are equal, then it is up to the leader.
Also, you want to hear the flow of the melody, so that you can hear the melodic accents and climaxes in the music. These accents will often correspond to a beat of the rhythm. If we are dancing to the melody, this when we want to step or perform a boleo or gancho. The accents can be placed on any beat, but almost always on the first beat of a measure. You don't necessarily have to "know" the song by heart to hear these accents coming. Since tangos often repeat themselves, if we pay attention to the first verse and to the first chorus then we should have a good idea of where the accents are going to be for the rest of the song. I say a good idea, because often accents do change from section to section.
Tango music is in 4/4 time (4 beats per measure), two upbeats and two downbeats (strong). In the graphic below, 1 is a downbeat, 2 is an upbeat, 3 is a downbeat and 4 is an upbeat. Dancer's Note: As tango dancer's we first learn to step in "single-time," which means to walk on the downbeats, so we step on the 1 and the 3. Then we learn double-time, half-time and syncopation. To dance just in single-time would be very boring. We will look at these other times the article Musicality 101.
One measure in 4/4 time:
Each of the 5 sections of a tango are made up of 4 phrases. A phrase consists of 4 measures or 8 single-time beats, so each section has 32 sing-time beats.
One phrase in 4/4 time:
One Section (Four Phrases):
Exercise: Let's listen to "Que Nunca Me Falte" by Ricardo Tanturi. In this song, you can clearly hear the ending of each phrase. You will notice that each phrase ends on the seventh walking (strong) beat and that the eight is silent. Then the next phrase begins with a strong 1.
Deeper into Phrases
The understanding of phrasing is one of the most important aspects to good musicality. I like to think of a tango as a story, each section as a paragraph, each phrase as a sentence and each beat as a word. While words (beats) do convey meaning, the sentence (phrase) is really the most important thing to express.
These sentences can convey a simple statement, exclaim strong emotion or can even ask a question. My favorite way of thinking of a section of tango music is that there is a question and then an answer (call and response). This can take many forms. The first phrase might be a question which then gets answered by phrase 2.
Let's listen to the first two phrases of "Bahía Blanca:"
Phrase 1 & 2 of "Bahía Blanca:"
Phrase 3 & 4 of "Bahía Blanca:"
I like to think that the first two phrases are a statement or question and that the last two phrases are a sharp response. You can even hear Di Sarli putting a period or exclamation mark at the end of the last phrase with the piano "ping." The last phrase of a section usually ends more dramatically with some sort of strong punctuation to let you know that the section is over and that a new section is beginning.
Dancer's Note: In my opinion, being able to hear the ebb and flow of the phrases and the resolution of phrases is one of the most important concepts to understand about the music. Notice if the phrases are flowing together or if each phrase is ending in a strong period or comma (pause) and exploit that knowledge in your dance. It is especially important to be able to hear the end of the final phrase of any section, as those mark crucial transitions within the song.
The end of sections, is where we want to pause or end an idea such as a turn or sequence. It is SUPER important not to "blur" the end of a section, if there is a pause in the music. Imagine that at the end of a section is a red light, which you need to acknowledge. The first beat of the next section is your "green light" to move again.
The Outro or Coda (tail)
The outro is usually the final verse of the song. It is usually very similar to the first two verses, but will often include an instrumental solo or some slightly different instrumentation. Often the outro will gain in energy leading up to the final chum-chum. Listen to the Outro (Verse 3) of "Pensalo Bien" and notice the bandoneón solo runs.
"Pensalo Bien" Verse 3
The final two notes of a tango are often referred to as chum-chum. Many orchestras put their own unique stamp on the chum-chum.
End of "Al Compas del Corazon" by Miguel Caló
Strong first chum -- pause -- soft piano notes for second chum
End of "Llorar Por Una Mujer" by Enrique Rodriguez
Rodriguez probably has the most famous ends, because he would only do the first chum and then skip the second chum.
End of "La Yumba" by Osvaldo Pugliese
Strong first chum -- pause -- Soft second chum
End of "La Vide Es Corta" by Ricardo Tanturi
Strong first chum -- pause -- piano note for second chum
In this article we will learn about the basic structure of Argentine Tango. In very simple terms, most tangos consist of the following elements:
A typical tango consists of 5 sections
Each section consists of 4 phrases
Each phrase consists of 4 measures
Each measure (in 4/4 time) consists of 4 beats (2 "strong" downbeats and 2 "weak" beats).
The Basic Structure
The basic structure of a simple Argentine Tango consists of 5 sections. Some people like to describe this structure as ABAB and others say that it is ABABC, meaning that often the last section often has a little different structure than the previous A sections. Often, in this final section there will be some sort of instrumental solo. But there is nothing guaranteed. Sometimes sections are longer or shorter or have little intros to the sections. This is just a general structure to listen for and the really important thing for dancers is to hear wihen these sections are coming to an end and when a new one begins.
A Sections (or Verses)
I like to think of the A sections as verses. In popular music, this would correspond to the lyric of the song and a singer would sing all three verses. In tango, the first verse is almost always an instrumental. The second verse, is either an instrumental or sung depending on the orchestras use of a singer. The third verse, is often an instrumental with a solo, but it is occasionally sung.
In tango, the verses are usually musically similar. So, if you pay attention to the first verse, it is likely that the next verses will follow a similar pattern. Also, verses are usually more melodic in nature.
B Sections (or Chorus / Refrain)
The B section is usually repeated twice and will be the same both musically and lyrically. Once again, the first chorus is not sung in most tangos, for dancing. If the song is not an instrumental, the second chorus is almost always sung, but of course there are variations. The chorus usually has a more upbeat and more rhythmic feel than verse, but not always.
Dancer's Note: This structure helps us as dancers, if we pay attention to the first verse and the first chorus, then we will know, within reason, what to expect for the rest of the song.
Exercise: Let's listen to Carlos Di Sarli's "El Jagüel" from 1956. If you listen closely, you will clearly hear the end of each section. Di Sarli ends each section with a single ping of the piano. If you listen a few times, you will hear the music build up to the end of each section.
Now let's listen to two famous tangos, "Bahía Blanca" by Carlos Di Sarli from 1957 and "Pensalo Bien" by Juan D'Arienzo with Alberto Echagüe singing from 1938, and see if we can hear this structure.
"Bahía Blanca" is an homage to Carlos Di Sarli's hometown, which is located in the south-west province of Buenos Aires. It is a great example of an elegant, sophisticated tango.
First, let's listen to the whole song:
Bahía Blanca (The Whole Song)
Next, let's listen to the 5 sections independently of each other.
Bahía Blanca (A 1)
Bahía Blanca (B 1)
Bahia Blanca: B 1
Bahía Blanca (A 2)
Bahía Blanca (B 2)
Bahía Blanca (A 3)
Now, go back and listen to A 1, A 2 and A 3 and notice the similarity. You will notice small differences in the instrumentation, but the overall structure is very similar. Then go back and listen to B 1 and B 2. You should find them very similar as well.
Pensalo Bien Now let's examine "Pensalo Bien" in the same fashion. First, let's listen to the whole song:
Pensalo Bien (The Whole Song)
Next, let's listen to the 5 sections independently of each other:
Pensalo Bien (A 1)
Pensalo Bien: Verse 1
Pensalo Bien (B 1)
Pensalo Bien: Chorus 1
Pensalo Bien (A 2)
Pensalo Bien: A 2
Pensalo Bien (B 2)
Pensalo Bien: B 2
Pensalo Bien (A 3)
Pensalo Bien: A 3
The first difference that we might notice is small, but each verse begins with a slight 2 second intro played only by the bandoneon. Another noticeable difference here is that Alberto Echagüe sings the second chorus. Echagüe is playing the common role of the tango singer as an "estribillista" or chorus singer.
In the vast majority of tango songs, played for dancing, the singer will only sing a small portion of the lyric. Usually they will only begin singing during the second verse and/or the second chorus. This helps us as dancer's, because we get to hear a whole verse and chorus without singing, so that we can hear the musical structure before the singing starts. For more on the singer's role in the tango orchestra read my article: The Role of the Tango Orchestra Singer.
One difference to notice between these two songs is the tempo. Tempo is the overall pace (beats per minute) of a piece of music. Both songs have the same amount of beats, but "Bahía Blanca" is 2:52 while "Pensalo Bien" is 2:18. What is different is the beats per minute. "Bahía Blanca" is played at approximately 56 bpm and "Pensalo Bien" is played at approximately 67 bpm. When I say beat, I am referring to the "walking beat" (aka downbeat or strong beat), which I will explain more in a moment.
Dancer's Notes: Tempo has a lot to do with our style of dancing. Below are some examples of how we might modify our dance depending on tempo. Notice that I keep using the word "might" as these are general ideas and not absolutes. We might do exactly the same steps in both, but the quality that we give to those steps might be very different.
We might dance in a closer embrace. The embrace might be slightly firmer so that we stay connected while moving faster. BUT should not be too firm where the woman might not be free to move.
We might feel like opening the embrace periodically for more challenging steps. The embrace might be less firm, giving her plenty of room to pivot and take larger steps.
We might walk more staccato, meaning that we might walk with shorter steps and we might begin and/or end our steps more sharply.
We might walk more legato, meaning that we might feel like taking larger, longer steps and to walk more smoothly through our steps.
We might be more playful with our steps and embrace.
We might be more serious and dramatic.
We might move more linearly.
We might curve our steps and movements more. We might allow for more fluidity in our embrace. We might do more turning walks and more turns in general.
We might maintain a more constant flow and pause less or we might pause quickly and then begin again quickly.
We might use long dramatic pauses and then begin moving again very slowly.
We might try to step on most every beat, rarely skipping beats.
We might skip beats and really stretch out our steps.
We might work in quick embellishments with little flurries of their feet or quick toe taps.
We might work in more long, stretched out embellishments, which the men should wait and give the women time to complete.
We might use more rebound steps with lots of quick changes of direction.
We might use the quick, quick, slow rhythm more. We also might use the quick, quick, quick, quick, slow rhythm.
We will always dance with rhythm, but that rhythm might be more sub-dued and a the "slow" of the quick, quick, slow might be stretched out a bit more.
This week's tanda is one of my favorite tandas to dance to by Osvaldo Pugliese. It has everything that makes Pugliese great. These songs are bold but tender, calm and then energetic. To enjoy dancing to his music, you have to be able to enjoy the silence. It is about the moments between the steps. Many believe that you have to have a large vocabulary to dance to Pugliese, but actually I probably do less when dancing to his music. It is about patience, balance and the connection to your partner.
Frank Zappa used to ask, "Does humor belong in music?" They are asking "Does humor belong in Tango?" I think the answer is yes. There are many ways of expressing Tango: elegant, sensual, playful, sexy, fluid, etc.
What they are doing here is very difficult and takes a very high degree of skill to do well.. and they are doing it very very well.
There are many differences between beginner, intermediate and advanced dancers, but one is musicality.
Beginner's step on the beat and maybe throw in some double times here and there.
Intermediate dancers change their rhythm, cadence, tiempo, energy, etc tanda to tanda depending on the orchestra being played. For example, you would not dance the same way to D'Arienzo that you would dance to Fresedo or Di Sarli. Very few dancers get to this level. I see so many people dancing exactly the same regardless of which orchestra is playing.
Advanced dancers change their rhythm, cadence, tiempo, energy, etc within the same song. There are clear shifts in most Tango songs and to be able to hear them coming and adapt your dance to them is what makes a dancer great to me.
Watch this video of Chicho and watch where he changes in energy... 22sec with the violins he goes from very energetic to much more calm and his steps get smaller and more controlled. You might even see some changes before this, but a big change again at 1.16 his energy really picks up again and he starts doing bigger and bolder moves. Around 1.57 he shifts again. Last major shift at 2.08.
BTW... To me there are two Pure Genius moments in this dance as far as musicality are concerned: The short runs at 1.10 and the foot stomps at 1.43.
The first generation of tango musicians are commonly referred to as "La Guardia Vieja" (The Old Guard). The first Period of "La Guardia Vieja" lasted from approximately 1895 to 1910. These songs are a type of habanera blended with African and European music and are sometimes referred to as "tango-habanera," "tango criollo" or "tango-milonga."
This period saw:
Tango being born from local, habanera, African and European influences
Formations of musical trios
The introduction of the bandoneon
A formal structure for Tango emerging
Academias y Cabarets and other public dance spaces opening
Men learning with other men
Tango travelling to Europe
The introduction of recorded tango.
The music originated in the "Rioplatenese" or Río de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay. Some of the origins of the music would be candombe, vals criollo, habanera, flamenco, polka, milonga (different from the milonga we know today and was a type of "battle" poetry), mazurka and contradanse. In essence, you had European immigrants with their instruments being influenced heavily by Latin American and African music.
It is true that only about 8,000 black argentines existed out of a population of over 400,000 in 1887, but all it took was a few to have a great impact on tango. The best example of this was Leopoldo Ruperto Thompson. Get this, he was a bass player who played with Firpo, Canaro, Arolas, de Caro and Cobián. Many of the first bandoneon players and guitarists were black. Also, some of the earliest composers of tango including Mendizábal and Carlos Posadas, as well as many of the earliest dancers and teachers.
At this time Tango was played by solo guitar or piano, small ensembles (conjuntos) and municipal marching bands. The ensembles were usually trios and would often consist of some combination of flute, clarinet, guitar and/or violin. The guitar would often play the habanera rhythm while the flute, clarinet and/or vilolin played the melody. Sometimes, these groups would be accompanied by male or female singers. They would play in cafés, beer houses, courtyards of conventillos (poor apartment houses) and also in brothels. The music would also have been played around the city by organitos or organ-grinders who went around the city playing portable player-organs.
Towards the end of this period we also saw the signature instrument of tango, the bandoneon, introduced to the ensembles. The bandoneon was a concertina type of instrument created in Germany for churches that could not afford an expensive organ. It made its way over to Argentina and Uruguay with the huge influx of immigrants.
During this time, tango begins to take on structure. In 1897, Anselmo Rosendo Menizábal composed, "El entrerriano (The Man from Between the Rivers)" which was the first tango structured in three distinct sections. The 1st and 3rd sections had 16 measures and the 2nd measure had thirty-two measures.
In the early 1900s, many academias and cabarets began to open around the city. Academias were places were people could learn the choreography of tango and other dances. Cabarets were public places where people could dance and play tango. Armenonville, at the corner of Avenida Alvear y Table, was one of the first of these places. Other establishments were also opening and promoting tango like Hansens which was a restaurant/café on Avenida Sarmientos. The picture on the left was taken in March of 1905 at a carnival at the Pabellón de las Rosas (Rose Pavillion), a popular dance venue in Buenos Aires.
This period also saw men dancing with other men. The primary reasons for this was that men greatly outnumbered women and so the women had their pick of the men to dance with. So, the men would get together and practice and learn from one another in order to improve so that the could attract the few women dancers. This was a time when women and men could not associate as easily as today.
Many early pioneers of rioplatense tango travelled to Europe including Angel Villoldo, Alfredo Gobbi, and his wife, Flora Hortensia Rodriguez to record ind France and Germany. Below are some of the earliest recordings of tango. These recordings are from vinyl LPs and 78s. I am working on getting them all recorded and posting as much historical information about them as possible.
Between 1906 and 1910, 850,000 immigrants arrived in Buenos Aires and the population grew to 1,500,000, setting the stage for the next period of tango's growth.
“La Morocha” (?) Composer: Enrique Saborido
Performed by: Recording of an orginal Barrel Organ (Organito)
The original sheet music describes the song as "tango criollo." There is some debate about whether or not this or "el choclo" was the first tango to be exported to Europe. Saborido travelled to Paris and was there in 1911 teaching people how to play and dance tango. Of course, this version is an instrumental, but Angel Villoldo did add lyrics to the song.
"El Sargento Cabral" (1907)
Composer: Manuel O. Campoamor
Performed by: Banda de la Guardia Republicana de Paris
The pianist and composer Manuel O. Campoamor numbered all his tangos and "El Sargento Cabral", dating from 1898 or 1899 is number 1.
Campoamor was born on November 7, 1877 in Montevideo, Uruguay, but he grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He learned to play the piano by ear and never learned to write music. He composed tangos from 1898 to 1905 and kept playing piano publicly until 1922, but according to his wife he would still play at home every day until his death in 1941 of Lung Cancer. He is quoted as saying, "I didn't compose any more and don't even think of doing it; I neither have the enthusiasm nor the time to devote to that. Today the output is overwhelming and the number of composers is great. The present generation has adopted a different beat for tango, which is warmly welcome by the public; we, those who feel tango in quite a different way, have to withdraw to allow the new trends to express this new sensitivity."
"El Sargento Cabral" was published in 1899 by Gath & Chaves house where Campoamor worked for 25 years, eventually becoming manager.
It was edited by J. A. Medina e Hijo and it as dedicated to the composer Leopoldo Corretjer. According to the author, this work owes its title to a common occurrence in local dance spots of the time. Following a competition someone from the winning side would exclaim, "We have beat the enemy!" in parody of what Sargent Cabral said shortly before his own death in the battle of San Lorenzo.
The recording of Paris' Republican Band belongs to a series of recordings made specifically for the recording house, Gath & Chaves. They sent several pioneers of rioplatense tango to Europe including Angel Villoldo, Alfredo Gobbi, and his wife, Flora Hortensia Rodriguez to record because there was no recording studio in Buenos Aires.
Campoamor also worked as a pianist in the famous house of Maria "La Vasca" which can still be found at the corner of Carlos Calvo Street and Jujuy Street.
"Mordeme la oreja izquierda" (Bite my left ear) (1908)
Composer: Eugenio M. de Alarcon
Performed by Banda Española
This edition of the tango dates from 1906 and belongs to the composer himself, who dedicated it "Al amigo Cesar H. Colombo" (To the friend Cesar H. Colombo). It has the odd subtitle "Canto de dos ruiseñores" (A song of two nightingales) and the classification of "tango criollo." A footnote on the cover warns that any sample that does not have the author's signature should be considered a falsification.
Alarcon, director of the national theater orchestra, enjoyed using many italianisms when indicating how to express the music; on this piece one can see words such as "expressivo", "legatissmo", "scelti", "ben ritmato", etc.
"El Club Z" (1908)
Composer: Anselmo Rosendo Mendizabal
Performed by: Orquesta del Teatro Apolo Dir: Enrique Cheli
The "Z Club" was composed of a group of revelers headed by Esteban Banza and J. Guidobono. This was an exclusive group formed by forty individuals with the sole purpose of organizing a monthly dance for its members. This group existed from the end of the nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century. The dances were generally held in the house of Maria La Vasca, and it was rented for the entire night for 3 pesos per hour per person. The Afro-Argentine pianist and composer Mendizabal was the usual musician, both as a soloist as well as when he played with his band, which was composed of two violins, a flute, a piano and two guitars. Mendizabal composed many tangos including "El Club Z" where an instrumental call and response surmounts a habanera accompaniment.
Due to prejudices of the time, Mendizabal signed his tangos with the pseudonym "A. Rosendo". The original score included in this anthology is edited by the author by the musical press Ortelli Hnos. Has the dedication, "A los distinguidos socios del Z Club" (To the distinguished members of the Z Club).
“El Pechador” (1909) Composed by: Angel Gregorio Villoldo
Performed by: Linda Thelma (canto) y Arturo de Siano (piano)
Edited by the house David Poggi e Hijo, it was dedicated by Villoldo “Al celebrado autor nacional don Nemesio Trejo” (to the celebrated national author Mr. Nemesio Trejo), who was the singer and author of comic sketches (1862-1916); it was a popular tango in its time and it was also recorded by Alfredo Gobbi.
Like most, if not all, of Villoldo’s lyrics they are written in the first person and exalt the virtues of the compadrito. Although it may seem inappropriate this title is sung by a woman, the singer Linda Thelma, who has deep roots in Spanish tiples [I have no idea what this is]. She was accompanied on many an occasion by Villoldo himself while recording. Arturo de Siano, a musician who plays with Linda Thelma in this version, was a prominent musician in the theater.
“El Purrete (The Kid)” (1909) Composed by: Jose Luis Roncallo
Performed by: Banda de la Policía de Beunos Aires Dir: Mtro. A Rivara
Basically, all bands incorporated tangos into their repertoires during the first two decades of the century. You can hear the habanera being heavily dramatized as the cymbals clash during the song. These types of bands reached their peak during these years as is demonstrated by the elevated number of recordings made. Some of the most well-known ones include: the 1st Infantry Regiment, the 5th Infantry regiment, the Atlanta, and the Buenos Aires Police.
“El Purrete”, edited by Breyer Hnos. and dedicated to “El Senor Eduardo Oliveri” (Mr. Eduardo Oliveri) was the first tango written by this author. His style was methodical and consistent with a musician trained in a conservatory. According to unverified claims, the song dates from 1901 and the score dates from some time after, 1903 to 1904.
“La Bicicleta” (1909) Composer: Angel Gregorio Villoldo
Performed by: Angel Villoldo (canto y castañuelas) y Manuel O. Campoamor (piano)
The primitive form of singable rioplatense tango suffered great influences from Spanish zarzuela tango. This is very clearly detectable in the version of “La bicicleta” by Angel G. Villoldo. It has a piano accompaniment by Manuel O. Campoamor purely for melodic purposes as well as castanets played by Villoldo.
Cycling and pelota vasca were the favorite sports during 1895 and 1910, where one could find extensive bicycle caravans traveling to be exhibited in the forests of Palmero after first riding in the city center.
According to Robert Farris Thompson, "Villoldo's 'La bicicleta' (The Bicycle) of 1909 began, nobly, to mix cultures. From the famus black payador Gabino Ezeiza, Villoldo borrows jump-cuts from singing to speech. He hits certain words, like damas and ramas, with flamencolike trills, Arabized melismas that add savor to rhyme. And while he's singing, Villoldo plays castanets!"
The second part of the Guardia Vieja period lasted from approximately 1910 to 1935. I say approximately because the styles and changes of this period blended very smoothly with the preceding and following periods. It is not as if on January 1, 1910 people started composing and playing differently.
This period saw:
Tangomania sweep Europe and the US
Greater acceptance by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires
The formation of the Orquesta Tîpica
Tango-canción take off with Carlos Gardel
The advent of the women's orquestas.
Up until the early 1910s, tango had largely been a past time of the lower classes. It had been played and danced in cafés, bordellos, restaurants, conventillos but not in the salons of the elite. After Tangomania swept Europe and the US, this all changed and tango began to be embraced by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires. It is impossible to understate the popularity of Tango in Europe. It was the rage of the salons and made headlines in newspapers.
Enrique Saborido, the composer of many tangos including "La Morocha," also travelled to Europe to teach people how to properly play tango and ended up also teaching people to dance:
"The marquise Reské, widow of the famous tenor Jean Reské, was willing to popularize Argentine tango among the French. It was around 1911 and I accepted such formal invitation; when in Paris, at the beginning I devoted to teaching tango playing, so that it would be correctly performed. As I had spare time and I had noticed that the high society people were really interested in it, I taught them how to dance it.
One night at the marquise palace where a reception was held I organized, with the approval of the attendance, a pericón (traditional Argentine dance) whose steps proved to be very attractive for everybody and were warmly applauded.
On another occasion I was appointed referee to demonstrate that the forlana was not more decent than tango; the dissent was even reflected in the chronicles at the papers and the Catholic paper "Le Gaulois" finally regarded tango as a beautiful graceful dance.
Thereafter the outbreak of war forced me to come back to Buenos Aires."
It is also impossible to understate the influence that Europe's acceptance, particularly France's, had on Buenos Aires. It is joked that, porteños were Italians that spoke Spanish, thought they were British and wished they were French. Anyone who visits Buenos Aires cannot deny the influence of French architecture.
In 1911, Vincente Greco was asked to record some tangos by Columbia and he created the first Orquesta Típica Criolla. Over time the "criolla" was dropped from the name. The original Orquesta Tîpicas were sextets which consisted of two bandoneons, two violins, a double bass and a piano (sometimes a guitar or flute were substituted). Eventually they grew to include a string section (with violins, viola, and cello), a bandoneón section (with 3 or more bandoneons), and a rhythmic section (with piano and double bass). The piano was first added by Roberto Firpo in 1913 and the double bass by Francisco Canaro in 1917.
Around 1916, Firpo re-wrote a march by Gerardo Mattos Rodriguez as a tango. It would become the most famous of all tangos, "La Cumparsita."
"La Cumparsita" (1916) by Roberto Firpo
Carnivals were huge events where massive amounts of people would come to hear the most popular orquestas of the day. Orquestas would save their best new pieces to debut them at the carnivals. Carnivals were very popular with dancers. Many dance academias would advertise to dancers, "Come and learn the best new figures for the carnival."
Up to this point, tango lyrics had been dark, but humorous. In 1917, Carlos Gardel recorded Pascual Contursi's "Mi Noche Triste." Now Contursi could have meant the lyrics to be ironic but Gardel sang the song with melodramatic longing and sadness. This song struck a cord with the newly arrived immigrants, who were missing their countries, families and wives and was hugely successful, launching a new genre "tango-canción." Tango-canción was full of drama, sentimentality, sadness and nostalgia.
"Mi Noche Triste" (1917) by Carlos Gardel
In 1920, the first tango written as a song, "Milonguita." Up until that time, tangos had been written as music first and then lyrics added later. This was the first time that a song was written as lyrics first. It was turned into a movie in 1922 and was the first to feature the theme of the poor, country girl who leaves home to go to the big city of Buenos Aires and becomes a prostitute.
Paquita Bernardo was the first professional female bandoneon player and Carlos Gardel said she was, "the only woman who has mastered the macho character of the bandoneon." The debuted her sextet in 1921. There were many women's orquestas and they were popular between 1920 and into the early 1930s. They often played in confiterías, cafés, bars, for weddings and parties. To the best of my knowledge, no women's Orquesta was ever recorded, but there is some film footage of one from the 1933 film, "Tango!"
“Cara Sucia” (1917) Composer: Francisco Canaro y 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta
Performed by: Francisco Canaro
Some song titles and lyrics were changed because the originals were so vulgar. "Concha Sucia" was a traditional song believed to have been composed by 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta, a black violin player from the earliest days of tango. The title literally translates to "Dirty Shell," but concha (shell) was a common, obscene term for vagina. Canaro registered this tango, under his own name, and changed the song title to "Cara Sucia" in 1916. Canaro is believed to have done this with several of the old tangos. The name change was probably to conform to the changing audience of tango, which was including more women and the middle class.
"The secret of tango is in this moment of improvisation that happens between step and step. It is to make the impossible thing possible: to dance silence. This is essential to learn in tango dance, the real dance, that of the silence, of following the melody." Carlos Gavito
One of the great things about Tango is that you don't have to move all the time. In Tango, it is perfectly fine to take a side step and pause... standing completely still for as long as you like. You can gently rock back and forth or rotate your body back and forth slightly... or just be completely still and quiet.
The quote is not just talking about this stillness.. but also about the connection with our dance partner. Our connection exists during the whole dance and goes far beyond the steps that we do.
At the end of a milonga, the women will not remember what steps you executed with them but rather how you connected with her, how your embrace felt and how you stepped rather than the pattern you stepped in.