The Tango as an exercise in freedom
The cooperation between composers and instrumentalists originated, throughout history, some of the most memorable works in the chamber music and solo repertoire. In many cases, the composer’s acquaintance with a particular performer represented a true stimulus; but in an equal number of cases, it was the performer’s desire to broaden his or her repertoire that generated new expressive possibilities, while enriching the instrument’s sound resources.
The evolution of musical writing for the double bass had a turning point at a precise historical moment, when gestures grew broader, the sign’s tension augmented and extended itself, up to the proposal of a musical action which would erupt in an unbridled fin de siècle.
Berlioz had revolutionized the orchestra; within a short time, he would publish his Treatise on orchestration, later revised by Richard Strauss. In the meantime, Verdi was composing his Trilogy – Rigoletto, Trovatore and La Traviata. Wagner was beginning to write his own Tetralogy, to be followed by Tristan und Isolde. Liszt was composing his B-minor Sonata. Vincent Van Gogh was born, shortly after Renoir and Monet. Flaubert was issuing Madame Bovary, whilst Victor Hugo published The Punishments and, shortly afterwards, The Miserables. Charles Darwin issued in printing The Origin of Species.
The contribution given by Giovanni Bottesini was incommensurable. He gave an answer to the peremptory need to bring his instrument on a par, on the same level of other concert instruments, even though his essential role only seldom encouraged other composers to broaden the double bass’ repertoire.
When Enrico Fagone shared with me the idea of creating a version for double bass and strings of Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, I felt a great joy. Earlier on, I had written a version for cellist Enrico Dindo, but the possibility of realizing a work with a wide gesturalness for this instrument enthused me. The double bass’ sound territories and its expressive possibilities have been seldom trodden, in comparison with other regions of the musical universe.
Astor Piazzolla himself was attracted by that instrument, that had been confined, up to that time, to the rhythmic section. Kicho and Contrabajísimo delve into the heavenly abysses of secular memories embraced by an overwhelming and jaunty urbanity. The double bass acquired the leading role that had hitherto been precluded to it, together with a lyricism equal to that of the bandoneon and of the violin.
The composer who had been born in Mar del Plata reinvented the sound of the city, and Buenos Aires became the amphitheatre of a different expression.
The tango was created in Buenos Aires in the nineteenth century, as a typically urban and metropolitan experience. From its lines and poetics, a perennial nostalgia arose. The Latin-American metropolis underwent a dizzying transformation at the end of the nineteenth century. Buenos Aires was opening itself to the world, welcoming an important socio-cultural flow, a rich and dynamic one. The tango was therefore the witness of the feverish metamorphosis of a city in full evolution.
The Porteña music’s perennial nostalgia reveals itself almost as a symbol for the resistance to the laceration of a collective memory facing the capital city’s inevitable development. The exercise in memory happening in tango became a metaphor for the impossibility of detaining in the present what is flowing from one’s hands. Before Piazzolla, the tango used to sing the past, with images which lasted in time, and whose nature allowed one to experience them among the silences of their memory.
Piazzolla’s music is the aural transposition of time present. Buenos Aires Hora Cero represents his night, rather than a possible picture of a dusk in the city. Its ghosts, its obscurity. Tres Minutos con la Realidad is a slap, throwing us toward our own “day after day”. His epic is severe and rigid, pierced by a ferocious minimalism – Michelangelo 70, at Central Park, New York, in the year 1987.
A picture taken in 1935 is replenished with a posthumous irony. It portrays Piazzolla as a child and Carlos Gardel at the peak of his career. Those times are far away. The most important voice in the tango world went to the US to shoot a film, which would become the last in his life. An immense space separates El día que me quieras from Vuelvo al Sur:
Caress my dream
the gentle murmuring of your sighing.
How Life smiles
if your black eyes look at me!
(El día que me quieras)
Words surface, enclosed within one of the most beautiful melodies in the entire repertoire. A watchperson for symbols, geometries of the Word. A song of love, an archaic gesture bringing with it nothing new under the greeting of the Sun God, just as in the case of Mallarmé’s timeless blue.
Years later, the fellowship between Horacio Ferrer and Piazzolla would lead toward a new aesthetics, which will open up the fortresses of an overflowing urban metaphysics. Surrealism, symbolism and Parnassianism melt into an uncommon urban flow, coloured by a lunfardo language among those populating Buenos Aires’ night life. “Both Piazzolla and I created a new language within the aesthetics of the tango”, said once Ferrer to me. At the end, fifty years after photography, tango became a metaphor in the famous tango Vuelvo al Sur by Piazzolla and Pino Solanas. South is a symbol. South is always subjective. South is a metaphor. It is the representation of an idea, and as such it remains.
Piazzolla and Ferrer had deep roots within the music of Buenos Aires. Both grew up in the womb of the tango’s poetic ark. Both managed – in spite of the anxiety provoked by the vertigo of freedom – to express the radical changes surrounding them. Their past and their thirst for a time present generated such an implosion that their energy was projected, until it recreated and nourished the new and current image of the tango. Horizons widened. The opening of the tango’s boundaries extended itself so that its nature was transformed, while its identity was preserved. The tango used to be a purely national phenomenon, whereby a quintessentially Porteño drama was narrated in a naked and bare fashion. Their greatest and most fecund heritage was to have allowed the tango to become a fertile space for an encounter, where poetics of a varied nature could coincide and shape a vigorous aesthetic experience.
“Tango after tango” became an exercise in freedom!
The artists represented in this album, including the famous pianist Martha Argerich, the Oscar-winning musician Luis Bacalov, the violinist of Piazzolla’s legendary quintet, Fernando Suárez Paz, and bandoneonist Néstor Marconi, represent an example of how the tango has been crossed by the multiplicity of shared experiences. Enrico Fagone has been able to gather artists from diverse sound worlds, with the implicit wish to celebrate the living matter that the tango still is.
“The tango has a halo of mystery”, Horacio Ferrer once whispered to me. And the sprite of his María de Buenos Aires accompanies us in our pilgrimage, as an everlasting guardian, constantly able to give us a dream, and to remind us – once and a thousand times – that tango has the miraculous capability of seeming lifeless, later to be reborn, in order to mock those who thought it was extinct.
Jorge A. Bosso © 2021
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Enrico Fagone, Double-Bass
is appointed principal double bass in the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana (OSI) since 2004 and professor at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana since 2010. His artistic activity is divided between the performance and conducting. He is regularly invited by the most prestigious festivals worldwide, and regularly performs with Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkeanzy, Ivry Gitlis, Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Vadim Repin, Katia and Marielle Labèque. As conductor and soloist he has been invited by London Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, RAI National Symphony Orchestra of Turin, Cagliari Theatre Orchestra, Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, I Virtuosi Italiani, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, LaVerdi the Milan Symphony Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi, the Chamber Orchestra of Padova e del Veneto, the Munich Chamber Opera, FOI Filarmonica dell’Opera Italiana, Philharmonie Südwestfalen, to name but a few.
E.F. devotes much of his energy to making new compositions known, music written today for today's audience. Performing music of our present time, conducting pieces by living composers and proposing new sound gestures are a priority in his artistic career.
E.F. regularly holds master classes at The Juilliard School (New York), Royal College of Music (London), Mozarteum (Salzburg), Royal Danish Academy, Toho Gakuen (Tokyo) and Paris Conservatory CNSMDP.
E.F. studied in Piacenza with Leonardo Colonna and completed his studies in double bass with Franco Petracchi and Klaus Stoll. He studied conducting at the Abbado School, in Milano, later he completed his studies with Jorma Panula in Helsinki. E.F. studied composition with Jorge. A. Bosso.
E.F. is artistic director of the Bottesini Competition, Music Director of the Long Island Orchestra in New York and Ambassador of the Martha Argerich Project.
Luis Bacalo: Argentine-Italian film composer who learned music from Enrique Barenboim, father of Daniel Barenboim, and also Berta Sujovolsky. Bringing his talent into society he ventured into music for the cinema, and composed scores for Spaghetti Western films. In the early 1970s, he collaborated with Italian progressive rock bands. Bacalov was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, winning it in 1996 for Il Postino. Bacalov composed significant works for chorus and orchestra.
Martha Argerich: Argentine pianist. Her teachers were Ernestine de Kussrow, Vicente Scaramuzza, Gulda, Askenase, Michelangeli, Madeleine Lipatti and Magaloff. She made her début at the age of eight in Buenos Aires performing Mozart’s D minor Concerto k466, Beethoven’s First Concerto and Bach’s French Suite no.5. She also played the finale of Beethoven’s E flat Sonata op.31 no.3 for Gieseking, who expressed his unease at the possible dangers of such early precosity. Argerich achieved her first international recognition at the age of 16 when she won first prizes in the 1957 Busoni and Geneva international competitions. She made her London début in 1964, and in 1965 won first prize in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, where her playing was described as ‘volcanic’. Yet even before Warsaw she recorded, at the age of 19, an album for DG which included performances of the Prokofiev Toccata and Liszt’s Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody sufficiently fluent and imperious to arouse Horowitz’s wonder. Since that time Argerich’s appearances have been notoriously unpredictable; perhaps surprisingly, she has been most frequently heard in chamber music, notably in partnership with Nelson Freire, Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich, Gidon Kremer and Mischa Maisky. Her appearances in the concerto repertory are rare, and her solo recitals even rarer, although such absenteeism is less the result of caprice than an instinct for survival and a refusal to compromise. She has remained wary of a return to a brilliant but fraught career which saw her making as many as 150 appearances a year and which increasingly left her more exhausted than elated. Argerich’s recorded legacy is, however, surprisingly large and varied; and here her fiery virtuosity is invariably combined with an acutely poetic lyricism. Whether in her superbly disciplined Bach, her joyous, volatile early Beethoven concertos or her highly charged playing of the Romantic repertory – of Tchaikovsky, Skryabin and Rachmaninoff as well as Chopin, Schumann and Liszt – Argerich’s performances are as inward as they are vital, of a unique musical intuition and charisma.
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.
Jorge A. Bosso: During the last years J.B. composed music that has more to do with a conceptual idea. Result of his compositional path is Kohelet for violin, cello and mixed choir based on the Ecclesiastes; Duo I and Duo II for violin and cello; Piano Trio for violin, cello and piano, String Quartet N°1/Lachrymose; Requiem for mixed choir, soprano and cello; MOSHEE for cello and 17 strings; Bridges based on the Preludes and Fugues op. 87 by Shostakowitsch for female choir and ensemble; Je Suis Surikov Kazakh Russe for baritone, violin, cello, Russian folk group, orchestra, mixed choir and children choir commissioned by the Municipality of Krasnoyarsk. On 2018 J.B. was commissioned two major works – Der Dichter spricht Schumann/Bosso and Das Buchstabenhaus - by the Wiener Staatsoper.
On January 2014 Decca released his version of Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas for cello and strings, performed by Enrico Dindo and I Solisti di Pavia. During the same year J.B. premiered Tre Meditazioni for mixed choir a cappella and cello at the cathedral of Vicenza, commissioned by the Festival Biblico during the opening speech of the cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. J.B. had the privilege to make an offer of the composition to the Pope in October 2015 – published by Casa Musicale Sonzogno.
On the fall of 2014 J.B. conducted the premiere of VALENTINA! Un violoncello a fumetti at Teatro Fraschini with Enrico Dindo and I Solisti di Pavia. J.B. conducted Es Muss Sein!, commissioned by Mario Brunello, at Teatro La Fenice.
He also chose to propose works from the past, through a different perspective. Der Frühling der Minnesänger (Bach/Bosso) for violin and mixed choir, Debussy Cello Sonata (for cello and strings and for cello and symphonic orchestra), Strauss violin/piano Sonata op.18, Debussy Violin Sonata and Ravel Posthume Sonata for violin and symphonic orchestra. The premieres had been performed by Enrico Dindo/Gavriel Lipkind (cello) and Dora Schwarzberg (violin).