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Eloquent Tango: Volver and Nada (Lyrics in English)

Updated on May 10, 2014

Evocative Tango

Caminito Street, where couples dance Tango.
Caminito Street, where couples dance Tango. | Source

My Tango Series. Introduction to Part 5,

The previous articles in this series have covered numerous historical and technical features of this century old genre. Now I hope to take a more personal view of the two chosen compositions, as they each have some meaningful aspect in the story of my appreciation of the Tango. (Through Part 4 it is possible to link back to the rest of the series).

For a better understanding of the specific features of each one, I will continue to associate the music with the period that it belongs to.

Nada was composed by Jose Dames, and dates from the Golden Age of Tango (1935 – 1955).

Volverwas composed by Carlos Gardel, therefore it belongs principally to the Guardia Nueva period (1925 – 1935).

Pictorial art associated to the Tango.

The Tango as a genre has also produced some fine examples of what could be called a type of street art, that depicts famous names in the history of Tango, and which uses a technique called “fileteado”, (filleted) with frames or borders that show curvilinear shapes. They are very colorful, and can be seen in strategic locations around Buenos Aires, highlighting street corners, plazas, and buildings that are related to significant aspects in the evolution of this musical art. Some of these colorful works of art are masterpieces in their own right. I will be using some of them as illustrations.

Eloquent Tango: Nada and Volver.

A good example of "fileteado" art showing Carlos Gardel with his eternal smile.
A good example of "fileteado" art showing Carlos Gardel with his eternal smile. | Source

A padlock of pain stopped my heart

A tear has rolled down and formed a flower
A tear has rolled down and formed a flower | Source

Audio and Spanish lyrics for NADA.

The specialized page Todotango.com.ar offers a very good audio version of the Tango Nada.

The orchestration is more modern than that of the period in which this Tango was written, but the overall effect is good as it allows the beautiful tune to shine through.

This version is reproduced here, by kind permision of the Director, who requested attribution. The singer is Julio Sosa, and the Orchestra is Leopoldo Federico's. It was recorded in 1963.

The Spanish lyrics accompany the audio version.


Nothing but sadness and stillness

Nothing can be seen at the house where you were born
Nothing can be seen at the house where you were born | Source

1.- NADA.

This composition dates from the Golden Age (1935 - 1955), but shows distinctive characteristics, due to the purity and richness of melody that was always present in the works of the composer, Jose Dames. He started composing at a young age, but it was in the 1940s that he began to partner with several well known lyricists, and to produce some of his most famous masterpieces. In the case of Nada, the words were written by Horacio Sanguinetti, and the composer contrived to match the sadness of the poetry, with the musical phrasing of his song. The result is a really outstanding and enduring work of art. (1944).

My personal connection with this tango began when I first heard it by accident on a radio program. This was a really long time ago, in the 1960s. After hearing it once or twice, the melody, which is memorable, stuck in my mind, but the tune disappeared from the broadcasts and I gave it up for lost. Sometime in the 1990s, I bought a whole collection of Tango CDs, which I still have. One of the CDs included Nada! I tried to find the score on Internet, but had no luck. This Tango was still elusive!

Later on in time, in the 2000s, I bought my electronic keyboard and started taking classes for non classical music, including the Tango. I kept pestering my teacher to find the scores for Nada, to no avail. Eventually, he went to Buenos Aires for a meeting with other music teachers, with strict instructions from me to find Nada! Again, he didn’t find the scores. He did get an explanation about the mystery: during the last military dictatorship, the Tango went underground, as the rulers did not like to hear it interpreted due to its nationalistic feel, it was too much “of the people” and had been indirectly supported by the previous democratic government, also most of the more famous interpreters and composers belonged to the opposition, and were publicly blacklisted by the defacto regime. A lot of the scores disappeared from the public view and after the military were pushed out of power, the Tango gradually began to recover and to recreate historical archives and such. Different orchestra were now interpreting many of the classics, but they used their own scores, either hand copied or written out by listening to old recordings that were being re-edited with the use of modern sound and image technology.

I finally got my teacher to sit down and produce a handwritten fake book version for me, which is what I have been using to play this particular Tango. This was about six or seven years ago. Since then, the process of compiling the historical records of the Tango has continued with outstanding success. One of the most important sites is Todotango.com.ar, and I have been using a lot of the material on this site, while writing my present series. Now the really extraordinary thing is that when I started this series on Hubpages, I looked up the collections, and the score and the lyrics of Nada are now available in lots of places for free download! I am really happy about this, because it means that Tango is once again here to stay! Maybe it will get to be 200 years old or more!

My entire long odyssey over this particular Tango is basically due to the fact that the melody is really something special. It contains some features of the classic Tango, as it shows a great variety in the use of intervals, some of which are really long leaps on the keyboard. There are also repeating notes and plenty of short scales. The one big difference is the minimal use of the black keys, and the scarcity of chromatics. There are one or two chromatics present, but they are the exception, which is most unusual for a Tango melody of this particular period. The result is a really important composition, so much so that it is said that it was recorded over 300 times by different interpreters, which is an outstanding production for a period in which technology was scarce.

Unfortunately, up to date there do not seem to be any of the authentic recordings around, as Todotango has one dated 1963, which is relatively true in the rhythm and polyphony, but the sound of the orchestra is not the classic one, there are more instruments and a richer sound, and also unfortunately the male singer is not Carlos Gardel! This particular interpretation is good, but this Tango would have been so enriched by the voice of the Maestro!

There is also a recording dated 2006, with a female singer, but here the Tango is turned into a sort of bolero, and the main characteristics are distorted. I would not consider listening to this version, so will only include the 1963 one.

I still love this Tango!

My very free translation of the lyrics.

Nothing.

Verse 1.

-I’ve come to your house, I don’t know how. / I’ve been told that you’re not in, that you will never return. /

-I’ve been told that you have gone away!

-A lot of snow is on my soul! There is a great silence at your door!

-Standing at the threshold, a padlock of pain has stopped my heart.

-Nothing, nothing can be seen at the house where you were born,

only weeds threaded with cobwebs.

-The rosebush is no more,

it surely died when you went away…

-Such a cross to bear!

-Nothing, nothing but sadness and stillness.

-Nobody can tell me if you still live…

-Where are you? I want to tell you that repentant,

I’ve come in search of your love!

-I’ve moved away from your house,

without knowing where to go…

-Unwillingly I say farewell,

and the echo of your voice

answers me out of nowhere.

-At the crosspiece of your padlock,

I have prayed for your sorrow,

and at your gate, a tear has rolled down

and formed a flower.

The lights that signal my return.

Returning to my first love.
Returning to my first love. | Source

Audio and lyrics for VOLVER.

Todotango.com.ar has a recording of the original version of the Tango Volver, dating from March, 1935, sung by Carlos Gardel and accompanied by the Orchestra of Terig Tucci, which I include here by kind permision of the Director of that page, whom I attribute.

The Spanish lyrics are also included at this link, together with the scores.

The sound has been technically improved and is well worth the listening.

Flowers - Art of Fileteado.

Fileteado represents the soul of Buenos Aires, a city beloved by Carlos Gardel.
Fileteado represents the soul of Buenos Aires, a city beloved by Carlos Gardel. | Source

2.- VOLVER.


This famous tango is ever present today, as it was at the time of its debut. The first recording was produced in New York, at “Victor” studios, on the 19th of March, 1935, almost exactly three months before both the composer and the lyricist met their tragic deaths.

The composer of this masterpiece was Carlos Gardel, and the creator of the beautiful lyrics was his collaborator, Alfredo LePera. Together, this team enjoyed a very successful, if brief, productive period. Over a three year span, they produced some of the most everlasting Tangos that are still interpreted and recorded today.

My discovery of this Tango was quite accidental. In 1961, I entered the University of West Virginia (Morgantown, WV), as an undergraduate. I had just turned 21, and although I spoke English fluently, I felt very much of a misfit, both on campus and in my dorm. My family group was as always, living in Chile, and to provide myself with something from home, I had taken a collection of records with me, some vinyl long-plays and a couple of the smaller 45rpms. The recordings were all my favorite Chilean folklore music, but there was one stranger: on one side of a 45rpm, was this Tango, Volver. Well, to be brief, I spent most of my solitary moments in the dorm, listening to the Tango. It wormed its way into my very bones, and ever since, I have recognized it for the masterpiece it undoubtedly is.

Moving forwards in time, after I bought my piano keyboard, I searched the Internet for sheet music, and found a very good website,Sheetmusicplus.com, where I was able to buy a whole volume with compositions by Carlos Gardel, including Volver. And of course, through the dedicated work of websites like Todotango.com.ar, we can find the scores easily. It was a happy day when I was able to play my own version of this Tango that I had listened to so frequently while at WVU. I have even played it publicly, to great acclaim.

The style of the melody is very much Guardia Nueva (1925 – 1935), in that it is more for “listening” than for “dancing”. (See Part 4). It could be described as a Tango-canciónwith a muted rhythmic beat that takes second place to the melody and the lyrics.

The score shows some extraordinary characteristics. The structure is incredibly simple, based principally on short scales with very few notes, no more than three or four at a time. These scales move along the keyboard, repeating the same combination either higher up or lower down. Occasionally there is a larger interval that breaks the phrases. Chromatics as such are used very sparingly, I think they would have been too dramatic for the sensitivity of this lament. There are also many repeating notes, especially in the verse. This changes in the refrain, which conforms to no pattern and again is formed by short groups of consecutive notes, with a few more black notes and half-tones than in the main verse. There is also a more dramatic change of tone. Then the melody goes back to the minor key used in the initial verse, to accompany the second verse.

The lyrics are world famous, especially those of the refrain, which include the expression: “Que veinte años no es nada…”. The literal translation is “twenty years are nothing..”. The meaning depends on the context; while in the Tango it meant that the feelings of love were still fresh, in modern Spanish, it could mean “in the blink of an eye”, or “nothing has changed”, or anything else that is suited to the moment. This Tango became so famous, that this particular expression is now common to Spanish speakers the world over. Many use it, without really knowing where it came from.

My very free translation of the lyrics.


-I can see the lights flickering in the distance, they are signaling my return.

-They are the same lights that shone, with a pale glimmering, on hours of deep pain.

-Although it’s not possible to go back in time, one always returns to one’s first love!

-The quiet street where the echo said her life is your, her love is your,

under the mocking eyes of the stars, that today watch my return with indifference.

-To return,

with a wrinkled forehead, the snows of time have silvered my temples.

-To feel….

that life is like a wind breath,

that twenty years are as nothing,

desperately looking for you,

wandering in shadows,

searching for you, calling you.

-To live…

With my soul clinging to a sweet memory

that I cry for once again…

-I fear the encounter with my past

that returns and confronts my life…

-I fear the nights that, filled with memories,

chain my dreams…

-But the wanderer who flees

Sooner or later arrests his flight.

-Although neglect, which destroys everything,

has killed my past illusions,

I harbor a humble hope,

that is my heart’s entire wealth.

-To live…

With my soul clinging to a sweet memory

that I cry for once again…

Volver sung by Carlos Gardel, 1935.

Some conclusions for this Fifth Part of my Tango Series.

I have spent several pleasurable hours while researching the information for this article. The chosen tunes have some personal significance for me, and brought back various memories, most of them happy ones, but also some that were very nostalgic. The Tango is like that, it breads on nostalgia, and sentiments flow easily from its music and its lyrics. I hope you will enjoy this contribution and feel enriched by this extraordinary genre.

The best part, perhaps, is that there is still a lot more to write about, and to enjoy!

© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)

Fileteado - a product of the "porteño" people

Many of these examples of popular art were painted in memory of Carlos Gardel.
Many of these examples of popular art were painted in memory of Carlos Gardel. | Source

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    • profile image

      Singhi 4 years ago

      Hi Joan

      Volver, La cumparsita and Por una cabeza are my favourites!

      Before reading your articles I only knew about Gardel's singing skills but didn't know that he was so talented in writing lyric.

      I like this article very much

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Singhi, it's nice to hear from you again, yes, the tangos are beautiful! Did you like Nada! That one is not so very well known, but has a beautiful melody

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You did a great job translating the lyrics!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Pavlo, thanks for the visit and the comment! The lyrics are so beautiful, but difficult to translate. I am never satisfied with the ones I read, so I decided to do my own, and to try to be true to the spirit of the Tango.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 3 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Joan,

      Thanks for publishing this well-researched article about the tango. I learned a lot from reading...and listening...to it.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Daisy, many thanks for the visit and the comment! These two tangos are really amongst my top favorites! If you are at all interested in this type of music, I have eight Hubs published on the Tango, they form a series. Thanks again!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      I am enriched by your hub! What a beautiful interpretation of the music and it's history. You are certainly a devotee and it shows in your writing. So much research and trying to track down originals.

      I have a feeling your piano keyboard sings with the beautiful music that has wormed its way into your bones. Well done my friend.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. I have pinned this to my music board on Pinterest as well.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Mary, so happy for your visit and comment! It's an honor indeed, coming from you. I will never get tired of listening to these two masterpieces of the genre. I really think they go further than just a specific genre from a very far away city, they are at international status! Very glad you liked the Hub! See you!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      The tango has inspired me since I first heard tango music as a child and saw the dancers on a television special. I have never had the opportunity to dance in this style, but have always enjoyed watching. Onne hot afternoon several summers ago, a local art theater showed an afternoon of tango documentaries and I was spellbound as I watched.

      I am touched by your transliteration of Nada. It is splendid.

      Thank you for this Hub, which I have rated Up and shared.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Patty, it was wonderful to receive your comment! I'm so glad to find another person who has been "spellbound" by the Tango, it is such a wonderful genre! Thank you too for your comment on "Nada" the music and the lyrics have always fascinated me, they are so beautiful.

      Thanks also for the vote and share, I'm really happy about that! See you!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      The Tango is such a beautiful dance to watch. I learned some new facts on this article.

      I always wished I could dance the Tango!

      Voted UP and shared.

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Mary, many thanks for your visit and comment. I have never danced the Tango with all its intricate movements, I have just done a very simple version, but the music and the lyrics fascinate me! There are some beautiful Tangos out there! So thanks again, and I'll see you soon!

    • profile image

      wendy 3 years ago

      A beautiful song ,and sung with such feeling by Carlos Gardfel ,and this young lady,thankyou for the upload

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi WEndy, so happy for your visit and comment! I'm glad you liked the singing, Carlos Gardel is really exceptional!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi WEndy, so happy for your visit and comment! I'm glad you liked the singing, Carlos Gardel is really exceptional!

    • profile image

      Johnd169 2 years ago

      Im not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. All the best aefddadgeegd

    • Enrique Feinstein profile image

      Enrique Feinstein 2 years ago

      Hi Joan, Have you heard Nada by Lito Vitale and Juan Carlos Baglietto? Wonderful version!

    • joanveronica profile image
      Author

      Joan Veronica Robertson 2 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi Enrique Feinstein many thanks for your visit and comment! And no, I don't think I' ve heard the version you mention, the Tango Nada went through a period when it almost disappeared completely, and I'm so glad it was not lost and that now it's becoming popular again. It's one of the beautiful ones, I think. I must look up the version you are refering to. See you!

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