Tango Argentino > El Choclo: A Musical Analysis

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by tangomonkey, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I re-read everything I wrote about D'Arienzo, every section and every repeat. And then I listened to all four versions. Almost everything I wrote applies to each of these versions. There are some differences, maybe a couple important ones here and there, but nothing so different to merit being called significantly different, ie. drastically altering the character of the music. By my standards, of course...

    Here's what I hear:

    The Question: pickup (anacrusis - although the correct technical word, I don't use it- sounds like a disease) to bar 1-2.
    1) The melody begins with the pickup to bar 1. It is unaccompanied.
    2) Rather than play the triplet sixteenth note-eighth note rhythm on beat one of bar 2 just a single note is played. True enough, the melodic rhythm is abbreviated, but there is no silence. And the melody ends on beat one, the strong beat. There is no need to play a melodic flourish on that beat. I hear and feel it distinctly enough without the elaboration. There is no silence.
    3) The four count (continuous eighths) is marked by the piano and bass, all the way through beat 1 in bar 1 to beat 1 in bar 2. During the melodic break, starting immediately on the second half of beat 1 ("2" if counting in four), the piano plays a solo fill - it and the bass do not mark the beat. The fill takes place during the melodic break between the 2 bar Q&As. Nothing unusual here - the piano or bandoneons almost always, in every version by every orquesta I've heard, do this.
    4) The Answer (pickup to bar 3-4) is treated exactly the same as 1), 2), 3) above.

    The melody does not stop as abruptly on beat 1 in bar 2. It plays on the second half of the beat too (count "2" in four). And so do the piano and bass - they don't in the 1937 version. Is this important? No. Does it change the charcter? No. The piano and bass mark the 4 count on the same beats with the additional "2" count in bars 2 and 4 being marked. There is a more elaborate piano fill and it starts sooner, right on the start of beat 1 in bar 2. (It was probably improvised anyway, so no surprise that it is different from time to time). No matter, it does not change the character of the music. The differences are slight and do not change the character, IMO. They take place in such a short time span (one eighth note!) they would have no berring on MY dance.

    If I were to mention every eighth or sixteenth note difference the already detailed analysis would become overburdened with triviality and have no value at all.

    ADD: By the way, the YouTube clip we've been studying is D'Arienzo's 1963 recording.
  2. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I intended to say something about the way the bandoneons play the melody in these versions. Forgot - so here it is. They play it marcato, in both. That matters a great deal. If strings played the melody lyrically, for example, that would be significant. They don't, the melodic character is the same in the two versions. So is the accompaniment: piano and bass marking the "4" count with solo piano elaboration between the Q&A. The strings are absent in both versions. The similarities are overwhelming; the difference(s) very slight.

    One other thing worth mentioning. The 1937 version is slightly slower, not much but it is noticeable. Does it change the character? Maybe a bit....but a slight tempo difference is only one of many elements to consider. And would that be noticeable when dancing? Yes, if the two versions were played back-to-back. But they never will be, will they.
  3. Ray Sison

    Ray Sison New Member

    tangomonkey: Glad to see that you have continued your impressive work on this. Perhaps you will publish this one day as a paper? Or perhaps share some of this with a site like Wikipedia! :cheers: and more :cheers:
  4. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Thanks. I was working a web site for a while but not sure I'll continue. A lot of work to do it right...
  5. Ray Sison

    Ray Sison New Member

    Well, tangomonkey, whatever you decide to do, I'm glad that you are sharing it will all of us who love what you've built up here... :cheers:
  6. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I wanted to hold back comment on possibilities I might choose when dancing to these two versions until I had actually danced to them in close succession. Specifically the first two 4 bar phrases only. It is one thing to sit in a chair thinking about dancing (which I believe usefull) but the real test is what happens when you get up and actually dance with a partner. And now I have...

    Unless people have both versions our discussion is of limited value. However, the YouTube clip (1963 version) plays the end of the Q&As and the piano fills exactly the same as the 1954 version. So readers can listen to the clip and read what we've written and follow along that way.

    I will use a 4 four count when talking about beats, since "4" is so prominently marked by the accompanying instruments. (I would not be counting beats while I'm dancing - it's just for discussion purposes here).

    Here's an idealized representation of what my ears would pick up on the dance floor:

    As I get comfortable in the embrace I am listening to the music. I hear a quick moving melody without breaks, played marcato by bandoneons.It is unaccompanied at first, obviously leading into the start of a phrase. On beat 1 I hear the piano and bass, and they continue in a regular marking of the 4 count, playing only on the beat. The tempo is neither slow nor fast, it is about an average walking pace.The melody has been a continuous 2 notes to the beat, no rests or pauses, and it is always marcato. The character of the music is crisp and flowing. Until it isn't. The character changes after count 1 in bar 2. The bandoneons stop playing, there is no melody and the piano and bass didn't mark beat 2. I immediately hear a solo piano playing some fast notes for 2-3 beats then it stops. There was no marking of the beat by the piano and bass during the solo piano passage. The bandoneons start another phrase with pickup notes around beat 4, and the music repeats the same things, in almost exactly the same manner. Several times.

    1954 (almost exactly the same narrative): As I get comfortable in the embrace I am listening to the music. I hear a quick moving melody without breaks, played marcato by bandoneons.It is unaccompanied at first, obviously leading into the start of a phrase. On beat 1 I hear the piano and bass, and they continue in a regular marking of the 4 count, playing only on the beat. The tempo is neither slow nor fast, it is about an average walking pace.The melody has been a continuous 2 notes to the beat, no rests or pauses, and it is always marcato. The character of the music is crisp and flowing. Until it isn't. The character changes after count 2 in bar 2. The bandoneons stop playing, there is no melody and I notice the piano and bass didn't mark beat 3. I hear a piano playing some fast notes for 2-3 beats then it stops. There was no marking of beats 3 and 4 by the piano and bass during the piano passage. The bandoneons start another phrase with pickup notes around beat 4, and the music repeats the same things, in almost exactly the same manner. Several times. I notice the piano fills are always somewhat different. They are always fast with lots of notes, sometimes starting before the bandoneons have finished playing the end of the sub-phrases (Q&As, on beat 2). Once it plays triplets (3's) on the beat not 2's or 4's. Interesting.

    A personal opinion about tango dancing: An improvised dance should be somewhat unpredictable. Dancing the same step or the same way to regularly phrased music - which essentially repeats itself every 2 bars - isn't improvisation, it's dancing by rote. So I try to be aware of what I have done previously and mix it up somehow. So whether the sub-phrases (The Q&As) end on beat 1 or 2 doesn't realy matter to me. I will not interpret those spots in the music the same way every time anyway. Not intentionally, anyway.

    And here's what happened when dancing to the two versions:

    Some things I led during actual dancing to the two versions four times each (as best I can recall...). Remember, this applies only to the first two 4 bar phrases, four complete sub-phrases, two complete Q&As. We began dancing right away (Dancers never do, but this is an exercise, so we did). I always stepped on beats 1 and 3 in the first bar of each Q&A, after the pickups. If I had more imagination I would probably change that around somehow, perhaps take smaller or larger steps, some to the side, not always forwards, and not always on every 1 and 3 beat, etc. Oh well, this is an exercise and I'm recalling what I actually did. (Now that I've recogniced a repetitious pattern I am more likely to change it around in the future.) When I hear (or know) the Q&As will always end on count 2 I sometimes did something to reflect that. I took a quick step on count 2 then a pause, or a quick rock step backwards on 2 and paused there for a couple beats then moved forwards again on beat 1, after the bandoeneons played the pickup into the next sub-phrase. At least as often I did nothing to acknowledge the 2nd beat. In general I simply paused after count 1, or just keep walking on count 1 and 3. Or I stepped with my left foot on beat 1, collected my right on beat 2, transfered weight to the right on beat 3, then stepped out again on my left foot on beat 1. I did not try to interpret the brief piano fills at all, in either version. I let them pass by.

    I like to begin my dances simply. Just walking, pausing and weight transfers. To get used to my partner and because the music usualy begings simply, adding layers and compexitiy as time passes. I will add giros, ochos, etc as the music changes and calls me to lead them. So everything I did during the experiment was simple, just walking and pausing.

    I hope others get involved in this type of discussion too. Thanks for posting your thoughts UKDancer. Please post more once we get into the dance discussion part of the thread - after I post some comments on how the larger 8 bar phrasing may be heard in the performances.
  7. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    How I would dance to this music would all depend on the moment, as it would for any music. I would begin by hearing the music as I embraced my partner. Then I would just let inspiration take over. I always try to contain my dance phrases within the musical phrases, except for when I don't.

    If my partner was new to me I would definitely allow an adjustment period, while we got use to each other, and I found out what she could do - how she would respond. OTOH, sometimes with a familiar partner I may just jump right into something with minimal preparation.
  8. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    As we are getting close to concluding the musical analysis part I want to summarize the important concepts and assumptions underlying my beliefs, methodology, and writings in this thread. Many of these things I have said before, some not. I want to put everything in one place, one post. It’s a long one… Something like this should be post number 1 in the thread.

    I began writing this thread from the ground up, with the assumption the readers are not musicians; cannot read music; have no formal musical training; do not play an instrument; have not leaned theory. User-friendly definitions – everything necessary to start learning to read music and follow the discussion - were provided at the start, and have been added here and there when needed. I always refer both to the bar numbers in the sheet music and the timing in the clips I am discussing. Following along with the music is a worthwhile exercise. The tools are all there for someone to learn to read music and do some basic analysis on their own. It will take time for sure - a lot of time and effort – but the information and methodology are in the posts. I believe learning to read music and do some analysis is an extremely worthwhile endeavor. But it is of course up to each individual to decide to make the effort, or not, which is OK. When I am told that what I say and think and how I approach tango music and dancing is not relevant to anyone but a trained musician or musicologist I know that person hasn’t read this thread. I am transferring the ability and method to anyone willing to learn it. I know many people won’t care to make the effort, or don’t believe analysis is necessary, or my methodology is wrong. You are encouraged to follow along anyway. I may change your mind.

    What Musicology Is

    Simply stated, musicology is the objective study of an inherently subjective human endeavor: music. There are two primary courses in a university musicology program: history and theory. They overlap. For example, while studying baroque era music history, the theory course will be the analysis of baroque era scores. This two-pronged approach instills both historical context and an incredibly deep and rich understanding of music, and the tools and thought processes required to study any piece of music in depth and intricately. As with every human endeavor there is jargon, lots of it. Terms and definitions exist to enable a common basis for communication and discussion. Many terms and definitions are centuries old. I try to keep jargon to a minimum, but it necessarily has to be there.

    In another thread I made the statement that analytical study of the score combined with analytical listening to a performance of the music was better than listening alone. I was asked how I know what someone hears and how could I prove by studying the score and listening I hear more than they do (Not just me, anyone with the training). Simple, ask them to write down everything they hear. That’s how it’s done in one type of university history or theory exam, an aural examination. A recording is played, from any point, not likely the start – too easy. Students write down everything they hear. Grades are given according to the accuracy and quantity of the information written down. And the information is very specific, very detailed – no room for subjectivity and how it makes you feel. (That is important to the individual, not to the examiner. Facts are objective and can be graded, emotions cannot). I assume that is the source of disagreement, or misunderstanding, of my statement. Certainly, music creates emotional responses. That’s why we listen to it, and dance to it, isn’t it? How do I know my emotional responses are deeper than anyone else’s? I don’t. That is a different question and cannot be proven empirically. But I believe there are ways to enrich anyone’s emotional responses: through study of scores and critical listening. You will never read in a university musicology department syllabus: “Enable Richer Emotional Experiences through the Study of Musicology”. That happens as a by-product. No one has to believe that. I do, and it is fundamental.

    (An aside: In theory class scores are analyzed in far more detail than anything I’ve written in the thread. Yes, believe it or not, the “excruciating detail” is about half of what I could say and would be expected to write in a university theory class analysis!)

    Analysis of Tango Music: Dealing with Limitations

    A musicologist is faced with some challenges studying tango music, and its history. Only the most popular pieces were published, and these as piano reductions. Meaning they were simplified versions meant to be played by amateurs. They are not scores. A true score includes all the instrumental parts. In our case: bandoneons, strings, piano, bass, voice. There is a very long tradition here. Classical compositions have received the same treatment for centuries. But in that case we have the actual scores, often in the composer’s own handwriting, and published versions. (Published scores - say a piano sonata by Beethoven - are still templates. All the notes are there, but only general indications how to play them. How to turn notes on the page into music; that requires training and artistry from the performer). There may very well be scores of D’Arienzo’s, Di Sarli’s arrangements somewhere – in private collections, museums, archives, attics. But I have never seen one. We must work with what we have, acknowledging the limitations, but not dismissing what we have as useless. It simply is not.

    Tango sheet music is a template. In some styles of music a lead sheet is all that is used. In jazz for example there might only be the time signature, the key signature, the melody, and the chord symbols (A7, C9, C7#9… not the actual notes of the chord). All the elements are there but reduced to a minimum. The playing and interpretation is up to the musicians – and each musician is necessarily thoroughly familiar with the template. Likewise, a tango piano reduction is our template. And there is more information there than a lead sheet. There are tango lead sheets and “Fake Books” are available. A Fake Book is the actual name for a collection of lead sheets. An interesting word choice. The tango template, the piano reduction, will contain all the important features unique to the individual piece of music: form (the individual sections), time signature, key signature(s), phrases (at multiple levels), melodies and rhythms, harmonies and harmonic progression. I can identify and mark these things down on the sheet music very quickly. It would take multiple listenings to get close to what the eyes can identify in a few minutes. The ears, very likely, never catch everything. They will if the template has been studied. As a result, when listening to Di Sarli or D’Arienzo or Pugliese for example, the changes from the template are obvious to hear and identify. The differences and similarities between them become obvious too. We as tango dancers are like improvising jazz musicians, we should know the template. When there is no sheet music available, or one cannot read music (and doesn’t want to learn to do so), then a study of the performance(s) has to make do. In this thread I have both provided an analysis of the template and some arrangements of it. I hope the sheet music analysis, and listening to a close playing of it by the Garden Quartet, was an enjoyable learning experience – it was for me.

    No orquesta is going to play the music as written in a piano reduction. Why would they? They play(ed) popular, recognizable tunes (and original music too, of course) in a way that distinguishes them from any other orquesta. How they do that is very easy to identify when the template is known. Without a thorough knowledge of the template even the most experienced listener will miss some things. That will be truer as the level of sophistication and complexity of the arrangements increases over time. And they do. Piazzolla’s recording of El Choclo (1966) is far more complicated than Firpo’s (but still danceable). It is certainly possible to analytically listen to the 12 or so recordings I have of El Choclo by various orquestas and learn a great deal. I mean thoughtful, not casual, listening; writing down observations along the way. But it is a far faster and far deeper learning experience starting with the sheet music first. When available use it, and my advice is to learn to read it.

    I have no reason to believe the sheet music we have is an inaccurate representation of Villoldo’s intentions. The habanera rhythm, so prominent in the bass line, is characteristic of early tango music. The earliest recorded version I have is in Piazzolla’s The History of Tango collection. It is arranged for bandoneon, guitar, flute, violin, (bass? Hard to identify every instrument due to the recording quality). The habanera rhythm is played. So are other things not in the sheet music: the accompaniment is more complicated (it always will be), and there is constant guitar, playing the fills between the Q&As and functioning as the piano does in later recordings. These things are not in the piano reduction, but so what? Knowing the template allows us to hear the new and different. We can trace the increasing sophistication musicians and arrangers developed over time by knowing the simplest version (the template) and working forward from there. Some El Choclo recordings in my collection: Piazzolla – the History of Tango, Firpo, Di Sarli, D’Arienzo, Trolio, Sassone, Piazzolla (1966), Sexteto Mayor, Orquesta El Arranque, Tangissimo (a local band). From the most basic and simple to complicated concert versions. Each one’s foundation is the template we all know. For beginners especially, think what has been learned from a single analysis of one tango, starting from its template and working through a few performances.

    I hear this question a lot: I want to dance, why should I study the music? Because as tango dancers we are a lot like improvising jazz musicians. Know the template, the lead sheet, inside out and good things will happen. Add to that (or at minimum do) a detailed study how a few of the orquestas play the music - wonderful things will happen. I am by no means an accomplished tango dancer, but I have gotten much better since I focused on the music and let the dancing simply happen. I work on technique constantly. Musicianship requires good technique as the baseline, more is required to dance musically.
    Gssh likes this.
  9. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

  10. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Well, time to lock the thread Steve! - we've now seen the definitive El Choclo dance.

    (And now back to the Stanley Cup finals, 2nd period of first game about to start. Us, Vancouver Canucks, vs. Boston Bruins)
  11. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member


    TM, since you are back around...

    Went through the thread looking for "tied," and may have missed something, but...

    I see there are several to many "tied" 16th notes - 4 at a time - with a curve above the first 3 of them, with a "3" written above the first 3 notes.
    Does that mean to play with a "triplet feel?" Interesting combined with the habanera in the bass part.

    Sheet music here

    I'm sure I've seen this somewhere, but can't think where to look.
  12. Subliminal

    Subliminal Well-Known Member

    Not TM, but yeah. That's triplets, just slurred together. :)

    Note that the time would not match in the measure if they were not triplets. 3 16th triplets = 1 8th.
  13. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    The three notes in a triplet are written with a curved line over or under them with the number 3. In this case the curved lines are not "ties". Tied notes mean to hold the note for the combined value of the tied notes - they are "tied" together and not played individually. In this case, the triplets are 1/16 notes, first appearing in measure 10, on the first half of beat 1, in the melody (top line). This is a melodic elaboration around the note Bb (B flat). And this elaboration happens on all the 1/16 triplets. The three notes are to be played on the first half of the beat, so they are fast sounding notes, and resolve down to an A on the second half of the beat. In a way the triplet rhythm is an elaboration on the start of habanera 2. And habanera 1 is in the bass, as you said. So, yes they are to be played with a triplet feel, but in this case the notes move along quickly - three notes to a half of a beat. (And I don't believe the orquestas I used in the analysis play them...the Garden Quartet does..as I recall...).

    The other curved lines (over two notes) indicate phrasing, and are called slurs. The notes under a slur are to be played in a connected manner; somewhat lyrically compared to short or clipped, like stacatto/marcato.
  14. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I see the old way to embed YouTube clips doesn't work with the new software. None of the clips I embedded show up now, just the code.

    This worked before
    . No longer.

    Here's an strict playing of the piano reduction, with the triplets.

  15. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Just pasting the url into the text works for me. It didn't used t, and I never could figure out how to make it work.
    Thanks for the reply, both of you.
  16. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Steve, is there a way to get older YouTube links working with the new forum software? I've noticed that YouTube links posted before the "upgrade", including in the videos sub-forum, are broken. It would be nice if they worked...

    Maybe a script could be written to read through old posts and convert the old embed coding to the new version?
  17. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Passed along to tech folks, but I can tell you that there are other things that still have to be fixed, so...
  18. larrynla

    larrynla Member

    No posts on this topic for years. I found it so useful, as I've just begun to learn to read music and play the piano.

    Which reminds me: A while back I went to a lecture by a musician who mentioned the missing/not missing intros to musical pieces. She said that they sometimes play it for practical not musical reasons. If at a dance venue, it lets the dancers get acquainted, with a comment or two, or by adjusting their embrace. If in a concert, it lets the audience know that the musicians are about to launch into the main part of the piece - in other words: shut up and pay attention!

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