Official Release: 15 October 2021
Some musical genres have the power to evoke an entire world. And this almost regardless of the musical quality of the actual pieces. One has only to hear a waltz rhythm, a few notes from a military march, or the sombre tones of a funeral march, and a complete picture appears, as if by magic. Doubtlessly, the tango has the same power. Its very rhythm suffices to set up the stage for a scene full of characters, scents, sounds and movements. Undeniably, the tango’s most immediate association is with love, sensuousness and the intimacy of a dancing couple.
If music is the art of sounds in time, cinema is the art of pictures in time. The marriage between these two arts, therefore, was to be expected; indeed, as is well known, music accompanied the moving images well before spoken films could be realized.
Given all this, one could be forgiven for expecting the most obvious connection between tango music and movies to appear in love scenes. To be sure, the history of cinema abounds in moments of passion supported by tango music; however, this obvious choice is by no means the only one. And this is perfectly demonstrated by the works collected and recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album. The chosen pieces build up a fascinating itinerary connecting the tango music by Astor Piazzolla with the world of cinema; rather surprisingly, however, most of these films are actually political films, focusing on some of the most divisive, cruel and at times violent episodes of recent history.
There might be many reasons for this seemingly odd association. The first, and simplest, is that tango evokes a culture, beyond a sentiment such as love: whilst it is typically associated with Argentina, in the imprecise world of our imagination it can easily become a symbol for the entire South American continent, especially when it is seen in an exotic light by Europeans or Westerners in general. And, of course, the political games in Latin America in the last fifty years have been extremely complex, frequently violent, and intensely fought.
On a more sophisticated level, tango can be said to embody not merely love, but rather an intense passion, which can take the form of love’s opposite, hatred, or opposition, or violence. Its use as film music, therefore, can be both direct and paradoxical: direct, as it suggests drama, pathos, involvement – either positive or negative; paradoxical, as it employs a symbol of love for twisting it into its contrary. It is, once more, an embodiment of the intertwining between Eros and Thanatos as in ancient Greece.
The musical protagonist of this itinerary is Astor Piazzolla, whose unique and very recognizable language constitutes the musical subtext of all the narratives presented in the films and in the opera whose excerpts are included here.
The encounter between music and cinema, however, is not the only unexpected meeting represented in this recording. At least as important, in fact, is the meeting between the traditions of European classical music and Argentinian folklore. This meeting happens on two levels: first and foremost, in the language and education of Piazzolla himself; but, secondly, also in the artistic itineraries of the performing artists, Fabrizio Datteri and Filippo Rogai, both of whom are classical concert musicians and Conservatory teachers.
Indeed, it is impossible to trace a clear separation between “classical” and “folk” elements in Piazzolla’s style. And this inextricable interlacing reflects the multicultural component of Piazzolla’s life. He was the child of a family of Italian emigrants who had settled in Mar del Plata. In this city of fishermen, Piazzolla could hear the first songs and sounds of a lively musical atmosphere. When the child was only three, however, the family moved to the United States, and precisely to that heart of American culture which is the island of Manhattan. This happened in the roaring Twenties, when a plethora of new musical styles were emerging, building a varied soundscape of intense fascination. It is worth mentioning that – exactly in 1924, when the Piazzollas arrived in New York – the electric microphone had been patented. This fundamental technological innovation would revolutionize the world of music, enabling the faithful reproduction of sounds and music, and thus favouring also the combinations of sounds and images in filmmaking.
Astor Piazzolla’s youthful exposition to the musical idioms of North America did not become exclusive, however; his family kept moving between the US and Argentina, and the boy’s musical talent was nourished by a variety of musical influences, first and foremost that of tango. One of his most influential mentors was a representative of the classical European tradition: Béla Wilda, a Hungarian pianist, had been a pupil of Sergej Rachmaninov, and fostered his student’s assimilation of the Romantic (but also of the Baroque) idioms. As happens with most composers, Piazzolla became enthralled by Bach’s music, and attempted a daring hybridization: how would Bach’s music sound if played on the bandoneon, the typical Argentinian accordion? The results were impressive, and Piazzolla took the opportunity for improving his knowledge of instrumental and compositional technique. The following crucial influence undergone by the young musician was that of George Gershwin, the champion of the “classical” blues and swing. Similar to Gershwin, also Carlos Gardel and Alberto Ginastera were paving the way for a new concept of music, in which folklike rhythms and sounds fertilized the compositional doctrines of European music, and in which the principles of the classical tradition provided folk idioms with structured forms and genres. If Piazzolla’s expertise of the traditional Argentinian music was, by then, complete, his classical training could still be perfected: with typical humility, the musician sought the mentorship of Nadia Boulanger, the French organist, composer and orchestra conductor, under whose guidance he studied four-part counterpoint (one of the summits of compositional technique), but who also helped him to find his own, definitive voice. Listening to Piazzolla’s performance of one of his tangos, Boulanger exclaimed: “This is your own music. Never abandon this. Piazzolla is this”. Commenting on this episode, Piazzolla would state that it represented the great Damascus moment of his musical career.
Having found his own voice and style, Piazzolla employed it in a variety of genres, including that of film music. Out of the approximately 750 works he penned, almost 50 were composed expressly for the cinema, whilst many more of his other pieces would be selected by film directors as the soundtrack for their movies. Piazzolla wrote forty-four scores for as many films, between 1949 and 1987, and on both sides of the Atlantic.
Tangos, l’Exil de Gardel (1985) is a French-Argentinian production with a meta-cinematographic content. It portrays the lives of a group of exiled Argentinian intellectuals, victims of political persecution in their country. Their nostalgia for their homeland translates into an attempt to shake the Western indifference to the tragedy of the desaparecidos: they plan for a “tanghedia”, a tango-tragedy, which should represent their history in the eyes of the European elites. Their artistic project is doomed to failure, but it maintains a positive openness towards hope and the capacity to dream.
Cadaveri eccellenti (1976) is set in Italy; here the political and human drama is provided by the terroristic attacks realized by extremist political groups (of both the Left and the Right). Inspired by works by Leonardo Sciascia, it unveils the network of complicity, omertà and lawlessness which allowed terrorism to proliferate in Italy’s Seventies.
The political frailty of Latin America is depicted also in Il pleut sur Santiago, a French-Bulgarian production of 1975, describing the coup d’état which had happened just two years earlier in Chile. General Pinochet had seized the government from the hands of Salvador Allende; the Chilean dictatorship would last for fifteen years and cause many disappearances and deaths.
With Sur (1988) we are back to Argentina; in this film, the aftermath of the dictatorship is embodied by the experience of Floreal Echegoyen, a former political prisoner. Here the political and the human planes dovetail with each other: the repercussions of persecution are represented by Floreal’s feeling that his wife has cheated on him during his internment. However, “El Negro”, a friend of the protagonist, helps him to see the hardships faced also by those who did not formally lose their freedom, but still had to survive in a context of dictatorship.
Political themes are found also in Frantic (1988), a spy-story by Roman Polanski in which topics of international politics intertwine with the protagonist’s family life, unexpectedly involved in a story of drug smuggling, nuclear weapons and kidnapping.
Less directly, Maria de Buenos Aires recounts a story of victimhood, sexual exploitation and violence, set in the Argentinian capital city. In this operita (which is the only piece unrelated with cinema in this album), Piazzolla purposefully blurs the boundaries between sacred and secular: whilst the association of sacred themes such as the figures of Mary and Jesus with the sometimes lurid plot might scandalize some listeners, actually Piazzolla’s story and his music could be interpreted as a sacralization of even the most forsaken contexts.
Finally, Piazzolla’s music was chosen by the Italian director Marco Bellocchio for his transposition of Pirandello’s Enrico IV. Although here the only hint to politics refers to… Medieval politics, the connection with Piazzolla is rather evident. In Enrico IV, past and present, fiction and reality, truth and theatre continuously change into their contraries: just as, in Piazzolla’s music, what is folk becomes classical, and what is classical becomes folk.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Fabrizio Datteri: Graduated in 1991 at Musical Institute “Luigi Boccherini” in Lucca; Biennal Master in piano at the institute “Boccherini” in 2007 cum laude; Master in Chamber Music at Pianistic Academy of Imola (special award, 2002); Graduated in Harpsichords at Florence Conservatory in 2002. Specialized with A. Specchi, PierNarciso Masi, Sergio Fiorentino, Bruno Canino (Hochschule fur Musik "F. Liszt" in Weimar), J. Achucarro (Accademia Chigiana, Siena), K. Bogino (Accademia in Chioggia), B. Bloch and A. delle Vigne (Mozarteum Salzburg). Won several competitions, as a soloist and in chamber duo. Plays as a soloist and in chamber ensembles; collaborations with most important Italian musicians and non, like: C. Rossi, A. Nannoni, A. Farulli, P. Carlini, D. Dini Ciacci, B. Bloch, P. Vernikov, P. Cuper, M. Marasco, Trio della Scala, ecc. Played in Usa and Europe: Carnegie Hall, Istanbul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona, Hamburg, Warsaw, Cracow, London, Copenaghen, Amsterdam and many italian theatres. Played as soloist with Pomeriggi Musicali, Oradea Symphonic Orchestra, Mexico State Orchestra, Filarmonica Istanbul, and others.
Astor Piazzolla: (b Mar del Plata, 11 March 1921; d Buenos Aires, 5 July 1992). Argentine composer, bandleader and bandoneón player. A child prodigy on the bandoneón, Piazzolla and his family emigrated to New York in 1924; in his teens he became acquainted with Gardel, for whom he worked as a tour guide, translator and occasional performer. Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 where he gave concerts and made tango arrangements for Aníbal Troilo, a leading bandleader; he also studied classical music with Ginastera. In 1944 Piazzolla left Troilo’s band to form the Orquesta del 46 as a vehicle for his own compositions. A symphony composed in 1954 for the Buenos Aires PO won him a scholarship to study in Paris with Boulanger, who encouraged him in the composition of tangos; the following year he resettled in Argentina and formed the Octeto Buenos Aires and, later, the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, which performed at his own club, Jamaica. Piazzolla left Argentina in 1974, settling in Paris, where he composed a concerto for bandoneón and a cello sonata for Rostropovich, among other works.
Piazzolla’s distinctive brand of tango, later called ‘nuevo tango’, initially met with resistance. Including fugue, extreme chromaticism, dissonance, elements of jazz and, at times, expanded instrumentation, it was condemned by the old-guard, including not only most tango composers and bandleaders but also Borges, whose short story El hombre de la Esquina Rosada was the basis for Piazzolla’s El tango (1969); like tango itself, Piazzolla’s work first found general approval outside Argentina, principally in France and the USA. By the 1980s, however, Piazzolla’s music was widely accepted even in his native country, where he was now seen as the saviour of tango, which during the 1950s and 60s had declined in popularity and appeal. In the late 1980s Piazzolla’s works began to be taken up by classical performers, in particular the Kronos Quartet, who commissioned Five Tango Sensations (1989). In all he composed about 750 works, including film scores for Tangos: the Exile of Gardel (1985) and Sur (1987). Shortly before his death, he was commissioned to write an opera on the life of Gardel.