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Tango Highlights: Adios Muchachos, Madreselva and Nostalgias (English Lyrics).
The Tango, depicted in the popular Fileteado art of Buenos Aires
My Tango series. Introduction to Part 4.
The Tango is a musical art form that has been shaped over a lengthy period of time, by the intermingling of innumerable contributions from different sources and cultures. Its geographical center is without doubt, the city-port of Buenos Aires.
In my first article on the Tango, I have written about some elements of the history of this evolving art and of my personal connection to it. In Part 2, I described some technical aspects, through the description of the piano scores and the use of the keyboard that define the basic characteristics of the melodies.
While striving to be as nontechnical as possible, I analyzed the use of chromatic scales, the insistent repetition of certain notes, the presence of chords in arpeggio form, the use of intervals, both large and small, and of partial scales of all kinds that run up and down the keyboard, liberally interspersing the white and black notes.
I also showed the offbeat rhythm in graphic form, with the “hop” (half notes) in the counting of the beat, that makes of the Tango a sound that is always easy to recognize.
I have referred to the richness of the melodies, provided by the natural polyphonic flow of sound that is created by the way the different instruments twine in and around the basic melody, and the way that this richness is upheld by the very beautiful lyrics that are another important feature of this genre.
The beat, beat rhythm of the Tango, which is so energizing that it makes most of us instinctively keep time with our bodies, and on occasion even jump up and dance to it, and which is undoubtedly inherited from the African candombe, has been highlighted in all my articles.
In Part 3, prior to the present article, I talked of the influence of some specific periods in the development of the more famous compositions. In this present article, I will go over the most important of these periods. (Part 3. will take you back to the previous articles)
Tango and piano go together
Periods that shaped the Tango.
1.- Guardia Vieja I, from the very vague origins up to 1910. These are the formative years, in which the genre is not too clearly defined as such. It is very much a production “of the people”, with a rather dark humor.
2.- Guardia Vieja II, from 1910 to 1925. Here the Tango has taken shape as something we can recognize today, but is still very much a beat-and-dance form. Orchestration is incipient, with a small number of instruments, usually two bandoneons, two violins, a double bass and a piano.
An important event in this period was a recording of a composition called “Mi Noche Triste”, sung by Carlos Gardel. His interpretation projected such strong emotions of longing and sadness, that it not only was a hit, but it marked a change in the evolution of the Tango as such. The beat slowed down, and the compositions became more melodious. In fact, the Tango.Cancion was born!
3.- Guardia Nueva, from 1925 to 1935. The influence of musicians with classical training gave rise to a new evolution in this art: melodiousness and polyphony, with an increase in orchestration. The Tango cancion continued to flourish, the beat slowed down even more, and the emphasis changed from “dancing” to “listening”. The film industry contributed strongly to the genre, as did radio programs where larger orchestras participated with great success.
4.- The Golden Age of Tango, from 1935 to 1955. The Tango is mature at last! Still evolving, but showing a happy integration of all the various elements: beat, melody, orchestration, polyphony, poetical lyrics, and development of both the Tango Cancion, with the melody to the fore and meant for listening, and the rhythmic, traditional Tango, meant for dancing.
In my previous articles, I referred to several famous Tangos, five in all. Here I will be talking about three more, two of them from the Guardia Nueva period and one that dates from the very start of the Golden Age.
Tango Highlights: Adios Muchachos, Madreselva and Nostalgias
Audio for "Adios Muchachos".
Todotango.com.ar is a specialized web page that compiles all and everything about the Tango. By special permission from the Director, I am using some of the wonderful information provided here.
The only requirement is to attribute the material to Todotango.com.ar, which I freely do.
The version of Adios Muchachos, sung by Carlos Gardel, and accompanied by two guitarists, is well worth the visit to this site. I hope you will take the time to do so!
The Spanish lyrics are also included.
1.- Adios Muchachos. Guardia Nueva.
The melody shows most of the characteristics of Tango structure, that is there are scales, arpeggios, generally modest intervals and the chromatics are very soft and more melodious than most compositions of this genre. It is, after all, a lament of a person who is saying his last goodbyes.
The date of this composition is 1927, the music was written by Julio Cesar Sanders, and the words correspond to Cesar Vedani. It is a good example of the production that is prior to the Golden Age, where the tune and the singing are the most important elements.
My very free translation of the lyrics.
-Farewell my comrades, dear lifelong companions: / it’s my turn to withdraw, so I’ll be leaving your company. /
-Farewell, my comrades, I’ll be leaving, and I’m resigned to it. / Nobody can fight Destiny: my carousing days are over, I can no longer live with my ill health. /
-My mind fills with memories of past times, and the beautiful moments I delighted in, near my saintly old mother, and my little love whom I adored. /
-You recall she was so beautiful, lovelier than a goddess, / and intoxicated with love I gave her my heart. / But the Lord above , jealously guarding her charms, took her from me, and left me to weep. /
-God is the Supreme Judge, nobody can gainsay him / I’ve always respected His laws. / Nevertheless, he has destroyed my life through his decrees, he took my mother from me, and my bride too. /
-At this leavetaking, two sincere tears run down, remembering my faithfull gang., they have never forsaken me. So this is my last goodbye to all my comrades, I bless them with all my heart.
Adios Muchachos sung by Carlos Gardel
Libertad Lamarque, famous Tango singer
Audio for "Madreselva"
Again from Todotango.com.ar we find a superb rendition of Madreselva, sung by Carlos Gardel, accompanied by the orchestra of Francisco Canaro. The date is 1931.
The Spanish lyrics are also included.
The same web page includes a more recent version, dated 1970. The sound is better, of course. The female singer is Zulema Robles, and she does produce a satisfactory rendition, although I definitely prefer Libertad Lamarque.
This newer version presents a very interesting feature: the introduction by the orchestra is lengthy, and the characteristics of the style are adapted to the Golden Age, that is, a strong rythmic beat and an excellent polyphony. The instruments wind in and out round each other beautifully. Please take the time to listen to this version, after listening to the one linked here.
This interpretation is not quite true to the original composition, which corresponds to the Guardia Nueva period, but it certainly makes a thrilling Tango experience. I hope you enjoy it!
2.- Madreselva. Guardia Nueva.
This beautiful song was composed in 1931, with music by Francisco Canaro, and the lyrics belong to Luis Cesar Amadori. It is definitely a Tango Cancion, prior to the Golden Age, with a good melody and a soft beat.
It was first recorded by Carlos Gardel and the orchestra of the composer, Francisco Canaro, in that same year (1931). For this reason, I have presented the lyrics in a masculine gender. However, in 1938, Amadori, the lyricist, who later became a film director, produced a movie by the name of “Madreselva”, starring the female actress and lyrical singer, Libertad Lamarque. Her interpretation of this Tango is considered as a classic of classics, and it is really extraordinary.
Libertad Lamarque was named “the Bride of Latin America”. She died in December of 2000. She was unusual not only for her fragile beauty, the quality of her voice and her great acting, but also because there are so very few female Tango singers who really make the grade. The Tango is essentially a macho genre.
The melody shows a charming combination of very short chromatic segment, combined with a very melodious use of arpeggios and intervals. There are also several “mirror” tunes, that is, the same melody is repeated further up or further down the keyboard, in a different tone. The beat of the rhythm is there, but muted, as would be expected of a Guardia Nueva composition, in which the singer and the melody are all important. In fact, in the version sung by Gardel, the accompaniment consists of two solitary guitars. All in all, a beautiful example of the genre.
The recording by Carlos Gardel, is on Todotango.com. I have not been able to find a recording by Libertad Lamarque, but YouTube has several videos of her singing this tune, in the context of the corresponding scene from the movie of that name. I strongly recommend a visit to that webpage!
My very free translation of the lyrics of “Honeysuckle”.
-Old tenement wall, your shade was my companion. / Your honeysuckle was my friend throught my obscure childhood. /
When the hope of my first love delicately kissed my soul. / Close by you, and with a pure happiness, I sang my first confession of love. /
-Honeysuckles in bloom, that witnessed my birth, and on that old wall were surprised by my love, / Your humble caress is like that first dear love I feel for her.
- Honeysuckles in bloom, that climb up the wall, your embrace is firm and sweet like my love... / As every year your flowers bloom again, may my first love live on! /
-The years have gone by, and I’ve come to confide my disappointments to you. /
-So far I've learnt that one must pretend, in order to lead a decent life, / that love and faith are lies, and that everyone laughs at pain…/
-Today that life has smitten me, and taught me its bitter creed, I return to you, dear wall, and with deep emotion I sing to you like I did in the past: /
-Honeysuckles in bloom, that witnessed my birth, and on that old wall were surprised by my love, / Your humble caress is like that first dear love I have never forgotten. /
-Honeysuckles in bloom that climb up the wall, your embrace is firm and sweet like my love. /
-If every year your flowers bloom again, why does my first love not return?
Carlos Gardel and Enrique Cadicamo
Audio for "Nostalgias"
Todotango.com.ar has a recording of this Tango, sung by Charlo, with an orchestral accompaniment, but does not specify the date of the recording, nor the name of the orchestra.
The Spanish lyrics are also included.
Because of the style of the orchestration, I'm guessing that the date would be close to that of the musical composition, which would be about 1936.
The singer, Charlo, does not equal Carlos Gardel, but his rendition is very good, he has the ability to portray feelings, so necessary to the Tango as a genre.
I hope you will take the time to listen to this recording.
3.- Nostalgias. Golden Age.
The words for this famous Tango were written by Enrique Cadícamo, as part of his extremely prolific production as a Tango lyricist: a total of some 1,300 tangos, tango-waltzes and milongas.
The music for "Nostalgias" was composed by Juan Carlos Cobian. The debut was in 1936, and the tune became so famous, it has been sung all over the world and in various languages. It has also been adapted as a bolero and as tropical music.
Cadicamo's one great sorrow, was that Carlos Gardel did not live long enough to make a recording of this outstanding composition.
The style of the music is bordeline, in that it still reflects many characteristics of the Guardia Nueva period, principally the muted beat in the background, as the singer and the melody take the fore. All the other elements are there, however, the insistent use of the black notes to form half notes and chromatics, constant arpeggios that repeat and repeat in one form or another, as well as short, incomplete scales that form a cascading melody that is repeated in various positions on the keyboard.
If we remember that the words were written first, and then the music was composed specifically for this piece, it becomes obvious that the very beautiful passage at the end of the refrain, is completely intentional, as the words refer to "the fall of the dead roses of my youth", the tune goes in to a lengthy cascade, that descends down a full octave, while at the same time small parts of this cascade are actually going up in chromatic fashion. It is a really quite an extraordinary creation! When I have played it on the piano, I have needed all my concentration to bring it off successfully.
My very free translation of the lyrics.
(The scene is a bar)
-I want to drown my heart in drink / to quench a mad love / that is more pain than love. /
-That's why I'm here, / to erase former kisses, with the kisses of other mouths.../
-If her love was a "one day bloom", what is the reason for my ever persistent and cruel concern? /
-I want to raise my glass for both of us, to forget my obduracy, but I just remember her all the more. /
-Nostalgia, to hear her wild laughter / and to feel her breath next to my mouth, like a fire. /
-Anguish, to feel abandoned and to think that by her side another will soon...soon declare his love... /
-I don't want to demean myself, nor beg, nor cry to her, nor tell her that I can no longer live... /
-In my solitude I will watch the fall of the dead roses of my youth. /
-Wail, bandoneon, your grey tango, / maybe you are also wounded by a sentimental love... /
-Cry, my puppet soul, alone and sad on this night, a black and starless night..
-If drink brings consolation, here am I with my cares, to drown them once and for all... /
I want to drown my heart in drink, then raise my glass to toast "the love that failed"... /
Once again, I can only say that the research for this article has taken me back to many pleasant memories, and some enjoyable moments listening to these classics of the genre.
The Tango is very much alive in all its aspects, and for a person who is only superficially familiar with the topic, the information can be overwhelming. What is extraordinary, to my mind, is that the Tango is first and foremost a production "of the people", and it has endured over time. In fact, it has not lost its popularity like so many other musical styles have done over the years. It has evolved, and I hope to write an article about one of the newer streams, but classic Tango is still out there!