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.

The Evolving Worth of a Music Degree

education

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The Royal School of Music recently explored the value of a music degree through round table discussion. Topics included the cultural impacts and economic obstacles that surround the pursuit of a music degree. Now, I appreciated this article for a few reasons:

1) “The qualities one would aspire for in a work-force suitable to meet the challenges of today’s economy are all those found in a music graduate,” noted one commentator. “We need to disband this myth that musicians are self-perpetuating and just create more musicians,” added another – top city firms, accountancy organisations and computing companies as among those who favour music graduates as potential employees.

Woot woot. IT Professional by day, teacher and musician by night right here.

While it is a myth that musicians are self-perpetuating, I never understood why that myth exists. In cases where musicians have children who also become musicians, I don’t understand why its a bad thing. It was the same as someone saying “I come from a family of lawyers” or “I went into the family business”. My mother is a musician, and a teacher. My father was an IT Manager. I don’t see how self perpetuation is something to avoid in that they successfully passed along their occupational knowledge to me. I also like Sushi, Oysters, am becoming an avid and opinonated gamer, interests I cannot attribute to my parents. They believe raw food is gross and could care less about video games. Although we grew up a Toyota family, my first car was a Chevy. I made these choices. I don’t know if it’s a myth so much as its a stereotype. Like most steroypes, they’re wrong.

2) “Despite general consensus as to the inherent cultural-economic value of musical study, there was considerable discontent around the table about its accessibility. One speaker commented on the decreasing number of music students at top institutions coming from backgrounds other than “music specialist schools, private schools and a few enlightened ‘LEAs’.”

As mentioned in a previous post, becoming a successful musician, including even acceptance to a reputable school, increasingly requires resources not available to most.

What was also interesting, was the mentioning of music and its cultural value (to the UK):

3) “One speaker argued that the relationship between music education and cultural value was not necessarily a direct one. “Many of those who add cultural value to the country do so because there is value here already. Our cultural value is increased by a critical mass coming from all over the world that wants to be part of our scene. The role musical education plays in cultural value, or to put it crudely, what we are yielding in terms of the economy, is probably diminishing rather than increasing.”

This comment was contested by another member of the panel, who cited the increasing numbers of foreign students studying music at UK institutions, and anecdotal evidence from those who claimed that paying more to study in the UK was worth it for the extra value they gained from being educated there. Another pointed to the legally binding commitments made by the government to promote musical participation in 2011-12 and, more recently, the National Plan for Music.”

I would have loved to know exactly why the speakers believe the cultural value of music education is dimishing rather than increasing. Is it because orchestras are struggling? Funding for arts education programs are also diminishing? Are students staying the UK after they graduate? Sometimes beauracracy can be a roadblock just as much economics. In the US, international students must apply for an H1B visa after they graduate to stay in the country. It must be sponsored by the employer and tied to your degree’s field of study.

Ultimately, the conclusions with which they ended were those that could be acted upon and not abstract, which is promising:

“We need to reconnect music with the world of ideas… We can rein people into music through linking the ideas, science, film and literature that surround the context of musical creation. We must not regress into isolation, but rather communicate the obvious value of music.”

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