“Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation,” is this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month theme. One wonderful way to celebrate inclusivity is through music and dance, so today’s blog will present the Argentinian Tango.
The tango is both a musical style and a dance. Influenced by people from various continents, the tango originated in Argentina and in Uruguay. The Argentinian tango is mostly associated with the city of Buenos Aires. To this day, on its Plaza Dorrego, locals and tourists can enjoy listening to live music and experience couples dancing the tango on the square.
Tango exists as instrumental and as vocal music. Typical tango orchestras include violins, flute or clarinet, piano, double bass, bandoneons (a type of button accordion), and sometimes guitars. Tangos exist for individual instruments or instrument groups. When performed as songs with lyrics, the topics cover love, passion, machismo, betrayal; they may express themes of nostalgia, countryside, social criticism and more.
The tango is known for its passionate and rhythmically accentuated movements. At its core, the tango merges two musical styles: the Argentine Milonga, which is a fast, sensual dance, and the Cuban Habanera, which is a folk dance and a social dance in duple time.
In its beginning around 1880, the tango was deemed disreputable. It developed in the port district of Buenos Aires, and was associated with brothel entertainment. However, the music simply drew a lot of attention and, therefore, soon found its way into reputable social venues. One of these was the Teatro Opera, which started including the tango in their ballroom dances in 1902.
From then on, a real craze for tango developed, fueled by the emerging recording industry. At the beginning of the new century, tango music became one of the most recorded popular music on phono-records. By the 1920s, tango music had captured the attention of Europeans and was consumed worldwide. If you want to check out some of the recordings that were sold back then, browse The Library of Congress’ National Jukebox, which makes available over 100 such recordings. Below you can listen to “El Choclo,” composed by Angel Villoldo, performed by Victor Ochestra and recorded in Camden, New Jersey in 1912. It features a Milonga style:
While the tango was the in-style music at the beginning of 20th century, its popularity tended to slow down with economic hardships, but flourished again with growing prosperity. Regardless of the financial times, the tango became a product of national identity and pride. It became a musical genre and dance that would connect people worldwide.
The classical tango is typically composed in the easily danceable time signatures of 4/4 and 2/4. The most basic rhythm of the traditional tango consists of four equally long beats 1-2-3-4, with emphasis on beats 1 and 3. The rhythm of a Tango Milonga has a syncopated beat that emphasizes the beats 1-4-5-7 (123–4–56–78), often notated as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note and two eighth notes. The Tango milonga ciudadana emphasizes the beats 1-4-7 of 8 beats (123–456–78), often notated as two dotted eighth notes followed by an eighth note.
Since the 1950s, while the classical tango remained popular, it also became a source for innovation. Composers started adding new instruments, such as the saxophone, infused elements from other genres such as jazz, or added new dance movements. This continuing development is called Nuevo tango, or tango nuevo.
In the 1980s, the tango received another big boost of attention when composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) released his probably most famous composition “Libertango.” As the title indicates, the composer aimed to “liberate” the traditional tango, and to do this, he added more percussive elements to the off beats.
Here at the Library of Congress, we were fortunate to recently host contemporary Argentinian composer and musician Pablo Ziegler. Ziegler was Piazzolla’s pianist for 21 years, and he continues his musicianship in the spirit of Nuevo Tango. You can view Pablo’s Ziegler conversation with Claudio Morales, as well as educational talks on Tango and Nuevo Tango (e.g. on Nuevo Tango phrasing) online, or you can check these materials out on BARD and on cartridge.
What is your experience with tango? How about learning how to play it? To check out the materials listed below, you can download the digital files through BARD, or borrow hard copies of braille music and talking books on digital cartridge. Call the Music Section at 1-800-424-8567, ext. 2, or e-mail us at [email protected]. If you are new to BARD, you may find the following links helpful: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access.
If you would like to learn about tango with materials from the NLS collection, you may like:
Buenos Aires-born and Grammy-winning pianist, composer, and arranger Pablo Ziegler discusses rhythmic differences between traditional tango and nuevo tango; the structure and history of the music genre milonga campera; nuevo tango phrasing; how he finds inspiration for his compositions; and tips for playing nuevo tango for beginners. Ziegler provides musical demonstrations on the piano for illustration.
Buenos Aires-born, Grammy-winning pianist, composer, and arranger Pablo Ziegler speaks with the Music Division about his concert presented in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. In addition, he shares memories of his time working with nuevo tango maestro Astor Piazzolla and his journey as a musician.
Moss, Chris. Astor Piazzolla: The Legacy of a Tango Genius, originally published in Songlines, recorded with permission in: Contemporary Soundtrack. A Review of Pop, Jazz, Rock, and Country Music. A bimonthly magazine produced in recorded format (Volume 44, Number 4 July/August 2022). Available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
—Tango. Extrait d’España, op. 165. For piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM27764)
—Tango espagnol. For piano. Vertical score format. (BRM27754)
—Tango. No. 2 from “Six album leaves,” op. 165. For piano. Section by section format. (BRM02139)
—Tango in D. For piano, arranged by Max Hirschfeld. Bar over bar format (BRM06870)
—Tango, op. 165, no 2, transcribed by Fritz Kreisler. For violin and piano. Paragraph format (BRM21542)
—Tango. For guitar, transcribed by Andrés Segovia for guitar. Single line format (BRM29265)
Anderson, Leroy. Blue Tango. For clarinet and piano. Bar over bar format (BRM07419)
—10 études latino-américaines pour flute et piano. Volume 1. Flute part only. Line by line format. (BRM36531)
—10 études latino-américaines pour flute et piano. Volume 2. Flute part only. Line by line format. (BRM36532)
Ginastera, Alberto. Danzas Argentinas for Piano Solo. Bar over bar format (BRM20534)
Matos Rodríguez, Gherardo Hernau. La cumparsita: Tango. Arranged for piano accordion in bass clef. (BRM23336)
Mignone, Francisco. Tango. For piano. Paragraph format (BRM24462)
—El viaje. (The Journey). For piano. Bar over bar format (BRT37306)
—Oblivion and Libertango. Two tangos arranged for flute, alto flute, and piano. Single line format (BRM36740)
Schreier, Filippo. Tango of Roses. Arranged for piano accordion in bass clef. Bar over bar format (BRM07369)
Tango Nuevo for Piano Solo. Volume 1. 10 modern tangos from Argentina. Includes works by Astor Piazzolla and Pablo Ziegler. For piano. Section by section format (BRT37355)
Tango Nuevo for Piano Solo. Volume 2. 10 modern tangos from Argentina. Includes works by Astor Piazzolla. For piano. Section by section format (BRT37356)
Thompson, John. Tango Carioca. For piano. Paragraph format (BRM03506), bar over bar format (BRM00501)
Stravinsky, Igor. Tango. For piano. Bar over bar format (BRM22319)
Villoldo, Angel Gregorio
—El Choclo, arranged for piano, in: Let Us Have Music, volume 1. Bar over bar format (BRM27380)
—El Choclo, arranged for clarinet, in: Tangos for Clarinet. A Collection of the Best-Known Tangos Arranged as Solos, Duets, Trios, or any Combination of the Published Instruments, arranged by F. Henri Klickmann. Single line format (BRM33733)