Outstanding Tango selection: Mi Buenos Aires Querido, Uno and Caminito (English Lyrics)
A selection of Outstanding Tangos
Tango music, Part 3.
The Tango is a universal art form, which can express passion, tenderness, tragedy, sensuality, strong gender roles, intricacies, excellent musicality, and poetical lyrics.
In this Third Part of my series on the Tango, I hope to continue reviewing some special characteristics of the music scores, which I started in Part 2. (See Tango masterpieces: La cumparsita and El Choclo)
The three chosen tunes will be presented in a similar form to the one used before, that is some history, a comment on the construction of the scores, and a free translation of the beautiful lyrics. A few recommendations as to famous interpreters will also be available.
The numerous composers of Tango music
Comments on the evolution of the music
A reference to the use of chromatics, chords, arpeggios, intervals and scales in general, has already been dealt with rather extensively in my previous article, always striving to be as non technical as possible. The technicalities cannot be totally omitted, due to the fact that this musical genre does have some complex features. It is these features that make the Tango so beautiful an art!
Tango, the word immediately conjures a strong rhythmic beat. This contributes to making any tune of the genre, instantly recognizable for what it is. The rich musical texture of the Tango is what contributes to make the tunes unforgettable.
There are three categories of musical textures:
- Monophonic music: there is a single line of melody, like in the Gregorian chants. It is easy to understand and interpret.
- Homophonic music: it consists of a principal line of melody, accompanied by harmonizing chords. Pop music has a homophonic texture.
- Polyphonic music: in this case, several melodic lines, or “voices” are present, and harmonize in such a way as to enrich the overall perception that the listener has of the music. The Tango is essentially polyphonic, and the various “voices” are often represented by the different instruments, such as the piano, the violin, the bandoneon, or the guitar, as the case may be.
The result of this rich composition is evident to anybody who listens to Tango music with some feeling for this art.
The development of a truly polyphonic style was a slow process that evolved over several years. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there was an increase in the number of orchestra members with classical studies in music, and they created a more elegant and complex structure for the Tango. The composers used a slower and less noticeable beat, and were focused more on a “listening” audience than a “dancing” one. This was ideal for the development of the Tango cancion, which also flourished in those same years.
The influence of film making and radio broadcasts
Tango also became a popular theme for films, and several interpreters achieved even more fame by acting in these films, where the Tango was integrated more in the style of the famous Broadway “musicals” of a later period. The focus was placed on the singer, the melody, the lyrics and the polyphony, while the dancing became a secondary feature, or even disappeared completely. Carlos Gardel was one of these actors, appearing in both Argentine and US movies. Many were not actually filmed in Argentine, as the technology that supported the film was not available there at that time.
The radio broadcasts that featured the Tango also increased in number, and orchestras were very much in demand for these programs.
In the mid-1930s, an orchestra director by the name of Juan d’Arienzo more or less inaugurated the Golden Age of Argentine Tango. He brought back the driving beat of the older forms, and accentuated rhythm over melody. But the listeners wanted to hear their favorite singers also, so a happy integration was achieved between all the elements that had been evolving through the years, so that the singers and their melodies were gracefully incorporated with the polyphony contrived by the orchestra, while at the same time providing the rhythmic beat that was necessary for dancing.
Traditionally, it is accepted that the Golden Age extends from 1935 to 1955.
A selection of Outstanding Tangos
Audio and Spanish lyrics for Mi Buenos Aires Querido
Todotango.com.ar is a specialized web page that serves as an archive for the Tango as an art form. By special permision from the Director, I am using pages from their collection.
The only requirement is to attribute the material to Todotango.com.ar, which I am happy to do.
The audio version of this Tango, sung by Carlos Gardel, can be found at this special page together with the original lyrics.
It is certainly an experience to hear this interpretation, I strongly recommend it!
1.- Mi Buenos Aires Querido
This is an extremely well known Tango, almost a hymn dedicated to the port-city of Buenos Aires. The music was composed by Carlos Gardel, and the words were written by his lyricist, Alfredo Lepera. It was included in the film Cuesta Abajo, first shown in September, 1934. This Paramount production was directed by Luis Gasnier, and it was the first American film starring Gardel, and was shown in Harlem, New York, in a theater called Campoamor. The public went wild, and Gardel had to be escorted from the place by the police and the fire brigade.
The music shows the lyrical mode of the period, where the beat is there, but taking a second place to the melody. The polyphony is also very noticeable, in that the violin and the bandoneon alternate with the voice, to produce an echo of the main tune.
Gardel was the master of the melodious chromatic scale, an element that is abundantly present in this composition. All the main features are there, as presented in Part 2 of this series: the descending scale with various repeating notes as the melody goes down the keyboard, the wide intervals that introduce variety, the use of multiple white and black notes, the arpeggio forms, they are all blended into the nostalgia that is usually present in the Tango, but this time, it is not melancholy, but rather quietly joyous at the idea of finally going home. All in all, a beautiful Tango!
My free translation of the lyrics for this Tango.
-My beloved Buenos Aires, when I see you again, sorrow and indifference will be no more. /
-The lamp on the street where I was born, stood sentinel to my promises of love, / under its flickering light I saw her, my young maiden iridescent like the sun./
-Today fate wills that I see you again, my beloved city port, / as I hear the lament of a bandoneon, within my breast my heart cries to be set free. /
-My Buenos Aires, a flowering land where I will spend my last days. / Under your mantle there can be no disappointments, the years will fly by, and all pain will be forgotten. / A procession of memories passes by, like a shaft of sweet emotion. / I want to tell you that when I call to you, sorrow flees from my heart. /
-The narrow windows of my tenement streets, where a luscious young maiden ventures a smile; / I want to gaze at those eyes, that caress with a look. / In the rough, tough alley, a song cries a plea of courage and passion; / with a promise and a sigh, that song has erased my heartbroken tears./
-My beloved Buenos Aires, when I see you again, sorrow and indifference will be no more…../
Tangos of the Golden Age show passion
Audio and Spanish lyrics for UNO.
Again from Todotango.com.ar, there are two superb renditions of this well known Tango. Both have good orchestration, and the Spanish lyrics.
The first one is by a female singer Libertad Lamarque. She was the queen of Tango interpretation, with a beautiful voice and a great performer. Women do not often sing Tango, she was an exception!
The second one presents a male singer with a resonant voice, Edmundo Rivero.
It is hard to choose between these two versions, both are outstanding!
You can listen to them here
Another very well known Tango, this one belongs in the heart of the Golden Age, as it was composed in 1943 by Mariano Mores. The lyrics were written by Enrique Santos Discepolo.
It is considered one of the best songs created by Mores, and it is a dream to play on the piano, very forceful and melodious. This is probably because the composer was himself a brilliant piano player, having studied this instrument since he was a young boy. After listening to Carlos Gardel, he was captivated by the Tango, and he then started on his musical career as a pianist, composer, orchestrator and director of successful Tango orchestras. He worked as a team with Enrique Santos Discepolo for several productive years, creating many classics of this genre. Uno is probably the most famous of these compositions.
The music combines a dramatic introduction, with a very melodious second part. The initial bars of the music are very surprising, as they consist of a few notes repeated insistently and which move up the keyboard in half tones, by the use of the ever present chromatics. The monotonous beat, beat, is broken by the sudden leaping intervals. When the accompaniment is added, the rhythm is very marked and positively carries the interpreters and the listeners along on the wave of the extraordinary energy locked into the melody. All things considered, a masterpiece of the genre!
My free translation of the lyrics.
-One searches hopefully for the path that in one’s dreams promises respite from unfulfilled longings. /
-One knows the struggle can be powerful and cruel, but one fights and bleeds guided by a stubborn faith. /
-One crawls over thorns, and struggles to freely give one’s love, one suffers and breaks down, until one understands that one no longer has a heart. /
-This is the price to pay for a kiss that never comes, or for a deceiving love. / An emptiness from loving and crying over so much betrayal. /
-If I had kept my heart, the one I gave away…/
-If I could trustingly love, like I did yesterday…/
--Then possibly I would close your eyes with my kisses, those eyes that are crying out your love for me…/ while forgetting those other eyes, the cruel ones, the ones that ruined my life… /
-If I still owned my heart, the one I lost…/ If I could forget the one who destroyed it, and loved you instead, I would embrace your illusions and acclaim your love… /
-But God destined you to me after it was too late, and I can no longer love you…/ Let me cry like one who, while yet alive, suffers the tortures of weeping over his own death. /
-You are so pure, you could have saved my hopes through your love…/
-One is so alone with one’s pain, one is so blind in one’s grief…/
-But a cruel cold, that is worse than hate, that is the death of all souls and a horrendous grave for my love, has cursed and stolen my illusions for ever! /
The ever present piano
Audio and Spanish lyrics for Caminito.
Todotango.com.ar provides us with a very early rendition of Caminito, sung by Carlos Gardel, accompanied by two guitarists. As yet there is no orchestra incorporated to this composition, the date is 1927, but the polyphony is present in the way the guitars pick up the tune and echo it. as a counterpoint.
The third famous tango presented in this article, has a very interesting history. The music was written by Juan de Dios Filiberto in 1926, which means that it precedes the Golden Age of Tango, and is therefore very melodious and with a soft rhythm. The lyrics belong to Gabino Coria Peñaloza, and refer to a country path in a provincial area outside of Buenos Aires.
The musical composition does refer to a narrow street in the capital city, a short cut that workmen often took, down near the port installations, in the vicinity of La Boca.
When the musician and the poet were introduced, they hit upon the happy solution of using the words written by Peñaloza and that refer to a rural area, to be the lyrics of the melody that was based on a very urban setting, and from this happy association the famous Tango Caminito was born.
In later years, and due to the fame this Tango achieved, the city authorities decided to give the short cut the official name of “Caminito”, and as such it exists today, an important tourist attraction where many artists show their work.
The buildings that face this street, preserve the original architecture of the tenements, and are painted in bright multicolor. Couples dance Tango on the cobbled street, and there is always some exhibition of handcrafts and paintings. The photo that is at the head of this article, shows a partial image of this special place.
The music of this Tango is very melodious, of a plain and simple beauty, and shows the use of chromatics and repeating notes. The second part has a very lyrical melody that signals a change of key, with an abundant use of the black keys of the piano keyboard. The rhythm is there, but not ostentatiously so.
My free translation of the lyrics.
-Time has erased you, country path that we walked along together in days gone by. / I have come here for the last time, I have come to tell you my woes. /
-Little path, in the past you were covered in clover and embroidered with flowers, but you will soon be a shadow of yourself, and so will I. /
-Since she left me, my life is sad, little path, my friend, I will also leave you. / Since she left me, she has never returned; I will follow in her footsteps, little path, goodbye. /
-Little path, I roamed along you every afternoon, happily singing my love. / If she passes by again, don’t tell her you were watered by my tears. /
-Little path, now covered with thistles, the hand of time has erased your tracks… / I would like to lie down beside you, and let time do away with us both… /
Caminito sung by Carlos Gardel
Tango can be many things to many people. It is a musical art, a way to interpret the world, a philosophy, a dance, a rhythm, an emotion, a feeling of nostalgia, the pain of lost love, the poetry of the working classes…
There is one universal conclusion: the Tango can never be boring!
I am already organizing the Fourth Part of this series on the Tango, and I hope you will enjoy the new compositions that it will include, as I also hope you have enjoyed the above.