“I can’t tell a waltz from a tango” would be a great title for a ballet-related music course, though in all honesty, “I can’t tell a kujawiak from a redowa” would be more apposite.
Songs that reference what might be going in the class while you’re playing for it are pretty rare, though the best example is perhaps the ballet teacher who described her life to me in song, with a rendition of “Little Girls” from Annie, accompanied by a massive eye-roll.
Coincidentally, Gordon Burns’s novel Alma Cogan was one of those books I was expecting to dislike, but I loved it. Anyway, if you need a handy tango for class that will make you and maybe one other person every 20 years laugh, “I can’t tell a waltz from a tango” is the one.
Short and sweet today, a little tango by Tárrega that is barely arranged at all from the original guitar piece. It’s tempting to fill it out (and I probably would a little in class, by doubling the bass occasionally, and doubling the thirds of the tune in the left hand where possible). On the other hand, part of the appeal of the piece is its simplicity. I kept changing my mind about whether the first tune would sound better an octave lower or not. I think you could probably experiment with playing the first half an octave lower, and the second half an octave higher.
The cool and restrained tango, for a change
It was also tempting to cover the piece with Grainger-esque articulations and dynamics to try and mimic the touch of the guitar, but thought it might look a bit presumptuous. It was also tempting to pimp it up Godowsky-style. To play a piece like this, which has so little in it, is hard to do well, whereas the Godowsky arrangement of the Albéniz Tango has voluptuousness built into it, so it sounds pretty good even if you don’t play it well. To make the original, much thinner piece sound like something, you have to work much harder, and so it is with this. I figured that you can fill it out yourself, if you want.
The reason for choosing this unassuming piece is because the holy grail for the ballet pianist searching for new repertoire is the “tango”-that-isn’t-a-tango, the kind that teachers request for battements fondus, and which also work well for slow tendus, because they have a perpetual feeling of in-and-out in their rhythm. This piece is in the right area, I think. If nothing else, it’s a lesson in less-is-more. The reason improvised tangos often don’t sound effective is because there’s a temptation to throw every harmonic trick going at them, or fill them out with masses of chords, forgetting that the real thing tends to just toggle between dominant and tonic a lot of the time – the interest is in the rhythm, and the way it’s played. It’s interesting that in the second half, the G major section, the peak of the phrase is every second bar, which creates an interesting tension between the metre and phrasing. So far, my favourite performance is the one in the clip below:
Tárrega: the bloke that composed that Nokia ringtone
I came across this because I was going to upload a piano version of the Gran Vals by Tárrega, better know as the Nokia tune/Nokia waltz/Nokia ringtone as this week’s card. (My thanks to the student who told me it was originally by Tárrega). It would have been fun, but the more I looked at it, the less I could see how it could be useful in class, except for the fact that the last four bars (the ringtone) happen to be in truly triple metre, whereas the rest isn’t, so it would be great for an exercise that needed detail at the end of the phrase, or to slow down as you turned around on the barre or something. But the truth is, there is little use for the bog-standard waltz in class, because it’s essentially duple metre with triple subdivision. So apart from the increasingly rare occasion where a teacher actually asks you for a “little waltz” during tendus, say, there’s no reason to fill your toolbox with them (it’s probably full of them anyway).
Thrilled today to have stumbled across www.ernestonazareth.com.br/ a site celebrating the work of the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. Amongst other things, it’s got piano scores of just about everything he ever wrote which is wonderful if you play for ballet classes, because his music is gorgeous for class.
Nazareth is a composer I’ve grown to love with a slow burn that started with a tango called ‘Nove de Julho’ (9th July). I recorded it on Studio Series 5 (it’s track 5 here) at Potton Hall, and to enjoy the sounds of this piece on that piano in that space was so wonderful, I could have sat there and played nothing else all day. Once I’d got inside this piece, I discovered that Nazareth is a much more subtle and sophisticated composer than the music seems on the page. There’s a gorgeous recording of the music for four guitars by the ‘Take Four’ quartet (see below). I also have only just realised how much Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil contains influences of Nazareth’s style (I also recorded a couple of those too – track 2 here)