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Sentimental Tangos by Carlos Gardel: Cuesta Abajo and Lejana Tierra Mia (English Lyrics)
The Art of Fileteado, a reminder of the Tango era.
My Tango series. Introduction to Part 6,
This article will be dedicated to Carlos Gardel, the composer, the singer, and the actor. We should also remember his partner, Alfredo LePera, the lyricist and play writer, without whom many of Gardel’s most remembered songs would not exist today.
I will continue to describe some characteristics of the structures of the musical scores, and to translate the lyrics. These Tangos also hold some personal meanings for me, which I will share, and my researching will probably allow me to find some first class audio transcripts, as well as videos.
The visual aspect becomes more important, due to the fact that both these Tangos were significant elements in the last movies in which both Gardel and LePera participated.
Another visual aspect of some importance, is the famous fileteado art, now typical of Buenos Aires, which can be seen on the streets, at the subway stations, on the store fronts, on buses and all sorts of vehicles. Many of these paintings are done in remembrance of Carlos Gardel, or relate to famous Tangos. I find it fascinating to observe the way the European traditions brought by the many immigrants, blended with the local culture to create these fine and colorful paintings. I will include some examples in this article.
Finally, Part 5 will lead you through to the first articles in this series.
Sentimental Tangos: Cuesta Abajo and Lejana Tierra Mia
Carlos Gardel and his leading lady, Mona Maris
Audio and Spanish lyrics for CUESTA ABAJO.
Todotango.com.ar, the specialized web page that serves as an archive for all important aspects of the Tango, has a good collection of compositions and interpretations by Carlos Gardel.
I have obtained kind permision from the Director for the use of these recordings, which I freely attribute to this particular page.
(New York, Victor recordings, 1934).
The art of Fileteado is inseparable from the Tango culture
1.- CUESTA ABAJO (Guardia Nueva)
Another composition by Carlos Gardel, with lyrics by Alfredo LePera. This is an important element in the film by the same name that was produced in New York, in 1934, at the Astoria-Paramount studios. In this movie, Gardel took the leading male role, and the leading female was Mona Maris, a well known actress with some experience in Hollywood.
When I learnt to play this particular Tango, I realized for the first time that there was a certain common structure to many tangos, and it has been the model for all my comment on the use of short scales, chromatics, arpeggios, intervals, repeating notes and such. This particular composition uses all of these abundantly, with the sole exception of large intervals. The notes do not take flying leaps, they remain bunched closely together and go up and down both white and black notes with an insistent pulsing. All the rest of the structures are there. It really is an incredible creation, as at a first glance at the score it looks very monotonous, but strangely, it is not.
Experts who write about music, and who know a lot more than I do, state that many forms of popular songs, including the Neapolitan canzonetta and the Tango-canción, have been influenced by the baroque aria da capo in two parts. The association of the Neapolitan music with the Tango is not surprising, as so many of the immigrants who contributed to shaping the Tango, came from Naples. It is also interesting to remark that by the time Gardel composed Cuesta Abajo, he had already had a lot of contacts with European Opera, in fact he received recommendations about his voice from several famous singers, including Tito Schipa and Enrico Caruso.
This information is very pertinent in the case of Cuesta Abajo: there are two very clear cut parts to this composition: the first is in a very “recitative” style, and the second part is very melodious and “cantabile”.
This then, is a Tango classic. It is also one of the last compositions produced by the Gardel-LePera partnership, before their tragic death. The movie by the same name is one of the best Spanish speaking movies of that period, and the recordings show that Gardel’s voice had reached maturity both of sound and of breathing technique.
My very free translation of the lyrics.
-If through this world I have trailed the shame of having been and the pain of being no longer,
-Hidden by the brim of my hat, I have not been able to contain a secret tear.
-If I roamed along roads like an outcast that destiny seemed compelled to destroy;
-If I was lazy, if I was blind, still I beg compassion for the cost of the bravery of loving.
-She was all my life to me, like a sun in spring, my hope and my passion,
-I knew that the entire world could not contain all the humble joy of my needy heart..
-Now, in my downhill trend, I can no longer erase my past illusions.
-I dream with the former times I yearn for, the old times I weep for, and which will never return….
-As I followed her traces, I drank continuously from my cup of pain;
but nobody understood that as I gave my all, in each twist and turn I left fragments of my heart…
-Now, sorrowful in my descent, solitary and defeated, I wish to confess;
-If her mouth told lies about the love she offered me, for those bewitching eyes I would have always given more….
A scene from the movie CUESTA ABAJO
On a flowered balcony, the murmur of a pledge.
Audio and Spanish lyrics for LEJANA TIERRA MIA
Again from Todotango.com.ar, with kind permision from the Director and my freely given attribution, we can listen to a recording of Lejana Tierra Mia, sung by Carlos Gardel, with the accompaniment of the Orchestra of Terig Tucci. The recording is dated 1935, shortly before Gardel's death.
A beautiful melody, it is a Tango-Vals, adapted from the European traditions that still persisted in Buenos Aires at that time.
I hope you will take the time to listen to it, it is well worth it.
A devotion to nature, a remembered homeland.
2.- LEJANA TIERRA MIA (Guardia Nueva)
This beautiful melody, with music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo LePera, was included in the movie Tango Bar, the last of Carlos Gardel’s films, produced in February 1935 in Long Island, New York, for Paramount Pictures. It was released to the public view a few months after their tragic death.
To understand the structures of this composition, it is necessary to remember some parts of this movie. The scene takes place on board a ship full of immigrants, which include a number of Spaniards. In a sequence in which Gardel, dressed in a tuxedo, goes down to the third class deck, and speaks to some of these people, there is a musical interchange, and Gardel launches into Lejana Tierra Mia, provoking much sentiment amongst his listeners. The lyrics are beautiful, and the music is a happy combination of the tango structures, and a distinct flavor of Spanish traditional songs.
It is a Tango-canción at its best, in fact it is a Tango-Vals, although it is not in the slightest like a Viennese Waltz, as the accents on the rhythm are different. It does have a beat of 3 over 4, which is different to the normal tango beat.
The short scales formed by three or four notes are used extensively, but there are hardly any chromatics, and the intervals are generally moderate in size. The combinations of scales climb up and down the keyboard in the usual way, including several changes of tone in different segments of the verses. All in all a sentimental melody with some very sentimental lyrics.
This particular composition by Gardel – LePera holds a special significance for me: it was the first of Gardel’s repertoire that I played in public. It evoked a lot of sentiment in the listeners, as it did in me.
My very free translation of the lyrics.
-Distant land of mine, under your sky, under your sky,
-I want to die some day with your solace, with your solace.
-And hear the golden song of your bells that I yearn for.
-If I return to gaze at you, I don’t know if I will laugh or I will cry.
-The silence of my village, broken solely by an ardent Romeo’s serenade,
-Under a sweet silver moon.
-On a flowered balcony, the murmur of a pledge can be heard,
-Carried on the breeze with other throes of love.
-The balcony remains,
-With its flowers and its sun,
-You're not there, I miss you…
-Oh my love!
-Distant land of mine, and of my love,
-How I name you in my sleepless nights
-With eyes full of wonder…
-Tell, little star of mine, that my hopes are not in vain;
-You know well….that I must soon return….
-To my bygone love.
Lejana Tierra Mia with Scenes from Buenos Aires at the Turn of the Century
Tango as a genre, is vast and full of surprises. Even though I have been in contact with this art practically all my life, I have discovered many new aspects while researching for this series that I am writing.
The fileteado decorations were new to me, in that I had not realized their significance and the many symbols they include.
I had not taken the time to actually watch Carlos Gardel sing, I had been involved mostly with listening to his voice, divorced from his physical presence. This experience of watching him perform, for which I must thank Hubpages, has given a new dimension to my delight in the Tango. I have tried to share this experience by including two videos in this article, in the hopes that anybody who reads this and also watches him, will experience the same wonder as I have.
It is no wonder to me that his legend still lives, so many years after his death. Fortunately for his admirers, his music is all in the public domain, and can be listened to and shared freely. Please enjoy!