A Series on Piazzolla: Histore 1930

FabianPerez-TANGO

The first time I heard Piazzolla, I was a freshman in college. It had everything I require for catharsis: rich, lush harmonies driven by a purposeful, powerful bass and interesting, poly-rhythmic motif.  I don’t remember which piece of his I heard first, but his music immediately grabbed, held my attention and it would not it go

Tango, and other related or derivative styles such as flamenco, charanga, and milonga, are the result of the melting pot that was Spain dating back to the Moor invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, colonization of the Americas, and the mixing and mingling of these cultures. Astor Piazolla, an Argentinian of Italian immigrant parents, was born March 11, 1921 and died July 4, 1992. The more I learned about Piazzolla and his music, the more I appreciated. Nadia Boulanger, whose footprint can be counted at my alma mater, Longy, was very important to his development, and encouraged him to use what he learned as a student at the Paris Conservatoire in his exploration of Tango. Internationally recognized as a revolutionary of Nuevo Tango, this and the influence of jazz is very apparent in his music.

And Histore du Tango: Cafe 1930, as is his style, delivers. Though it is a slower movement, the second of the four movements in the whole work, the left hand of the piano gives it steady drive, providing a groove under which the flute gets to float. Moods change quickly and suddenly in this movement – another reason he is one of my favorite composers. Histore was written as an homage to the evolution of Tango. Piazzolla paints a picture of Tango at different points in history: a bordel in 1900, a cafe in 1930, a night club in 1960, and a fourth movement of his own interpretation of tango today.

Though I was captivated by Piazzolla as a college freshman, I did not have the opportunity to perform his music for a public audience until this year. (That’s over 10 years ago). I’m still studying and learning about Nuevo Tango and don’t know that I’ll ever feel like I can do it justice, as the best recordings on record are of Piazzolla himself on bandoneon playing his works. But, starting with Cafe 1930, I want to share my interpretation of Piazzolla’s music and what it means to me.

Also included are interpretations of Cafe 1930 on other instruments. It was intended for flute or violin, but Piazzolla’s music is loved by all instrumental disciplines and is transcribed frequently. Usually played with guitar, my arrangement on flute is with piano. Arrangements for trumpet, and the alternative with guitar on violin are below:

 

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Perfection or Artistry?

Most musicians can probably relate to Sébastian Jacot who, as posted by Slipped Disc yesterday, was eliminated from the Concours de Genève, one of the world’s leading international classical music competitions. Jacot, when asked how he played, said “The only problem was that in this competition they are looking for technical perfection with a bit a music and I played music with a bit of perfection”.

In all the competitions, auditions, and juried recitals I’ve ever taken, I don’t think as the adjudicated I was ever privy to how I was judged. Is technical skill worth 30%, 40% of my score? How important is musicality? Intonation? Are judges open to my interpretation if it is not what they have heard before, or do they want to hear it the way they have heard it in other performances/on other recordings? Or do they expect to only hear the rendition agreed by musicologists who have studied every measure, compares multiple scores and decided that in measure 50 that moment should absolutely be played sforzando at a tempo of quarter note equals 116?

Picking repertoire by historical period is also its own conundrum. Some of the most opinionated, frank advice I was ever given was to avoid playing baroque, particularly Bach, if it can be avoided in a competition – especially the Partita in a minor. The spectrum of opinions on how to the play this piece is wide and vast. Not knowing what the judges will expect to hear and playing one’s own interpretation is like gambling at the slots.

What I took away from this is that Sebastian is a baller musician. He played subjectively interpretative music, under pressure, on a wood flute whose functionality is subject to the whim of the environment, under pressure, from memory. Not only that, he played his heart out, and was unapologetic about it.