Habaneras Milongas Tangos
There is no consensus about the origins of the word tango. Some studies suggest that it is derived from the name of the African Yoruba god of thunder, Shango. However, most specialists agree that the tango is a descendent from the Cuban habanera dance that became very popular in the salons of the second half of the 19th century. From it, came the Andalusian tango, the Brazilian maxixe and tango, as well as the Argentine milonga & tango.
The American Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was the first international musician to incorporate the habanera rhythm into his own music. Gottschalk visited Cuba several times and was highly successful there. One of his Cuban pupils was Ignacio Cervantes (1847-1905), who later worked with Alkan and Marmontel in Paris. Cervantes wrote “Cuban dances” that are beautiful, jewel-like, concise structures.
Chabrier Bizet, Debussy, and Ravel wrote habaneras. Emmanuel Chabrier (1841- 189 4)wrote his “Habanera” in 1885 as a souvenir from his voyage to Spain. Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), who had a tempestuous early life and ran away from home, embarked as a stowaway for South America. Between 1872 and 1873, he survived in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, ending his trip in the UnitedStates.It is interesting to note the motivic similarity between Chabrier’s “Habanera” and Albeniz’s “Tango”.
In Brazil, Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) wrote a different kind of tango, usually jocular, sometimes sad, closer to the Cuban habanera. Nazareth’s music was seminal to the development of Villa-Lobos and Darius Milhaud (1892-1974,) whose “Tango des Fratellini”, extracted from “Boeuf sur le Toit”, emulates the Brazilian style and mood.
However, it was the Argentine tango that conquered Paris,in the beginning of the 20th century and became internationally known. Composers took notice of the dance’s success and began composing tangos in their own styles.
As expected, the “Perpetual Tango” by Erik Satie (1866-1925) is deliberately modest and inconsequential. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) wrote his first “Tango” as a movement to “L’ Histoire du Soldat” in 1918. He also wrote two piano tangos. The earlier, titled originally “Pesante”, as tl1e last movement from the “Five Fingers” (1921), was named “Tempo di Tango” when he orchestrated the material as “Eight Instrumental Miniature for 15 Players”(1962).
These brief compositions by Satie and Stravinsky recall the concise structures of Cervantes and, although unintended, pair off beautifully. Stravinsky’s later, more substantial “Tango” in the Argentine style, was the first piece he composed in the United States in 1940. He orchestrated it in 1953. Kurt Weill (1900-195) probably wrote his tango habanera “Youkali”, in 1935, before moving to New York. “Youkali” was published as a song, but since the vocal line is virtually repeated in the piano part, it can be safely performed as a piano piece. The only work commissioned especially for the present recording project is by Raimundo Penaforte (1961-), a young Brazilian composer with a rapidly growinginternational reputation. Penaforte’s “Ephigenia” (1993) is a humorous, irreverent tango.” Many consider the milonga the most characteristic Argentine dance. Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) did not write tangos but wrote a “Milonga”. Like the habanera, the milonga is in duple meter (2/4) whereas the tango is usually in 4/ 4. The Argentine tango flourished in the Rio de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay. The best-known tangos were written by composers of both countries. Apart from the popular tango, there are more “cultivated” compositions of the kind, like those of the Uruguayan Roberto Lagarmilla (I 913- 1992), and the Argentineans Pedro Saenz (1915-1995) and Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Piazzolla’s works, innovative as they are, conform to the description of Jorge Luis Borges, who saw the tango as “a vast expression of the incoherent comedie humaine of the life of Buenos Aires”.