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The Tango

Bandoneon - Instrument Of The Devil

The first instruments to accompany the Tango were the guitar, flute and violin. Eventually, though, the bandoneon became the crucial instrument. It is often remarked that the bandoneon is the soul of the Tango, and Tangos have been written which pay homage to that "instrument of the devil". The bandoneon is a sort of squeeze box concertina with keys at both ends, and notoriously difficult to play.

With the exception of some vocal Tangos, most feature the bandoneon. "La Cumparsita", perhaps the best known Tango in the world, dates from 1916, and was composed originally as a march by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez. Later adapted as a Tango, "La Cumparsita" means a small street band or procession in a carnival. Another very famous Tango composed in 1905 by Angelo Villoldo is "EI Chodo". This has endured as one of the most popular Tangos of all time, and, in the 1950s, had a new lease of life when the release of a new arrangement, "Kiss of Fire", launched it into the American popular charts.

With the deep, sonorous and breathy notes of the bandoneon, the Tango became more earthy, intense and brooding, and even sometimes, but not always, melancholy. Words were added to the melodies, which reflected the preoccupations of the people. The principal themes evoked by the Tango lyricists adopted a fatalistic view and focused on the trials of life as they saw them. Carlos Gardel became the greatest Tango singer of all time.

Gardel was the archetypal Latin lover, and was killed tragically in an air crash in 1935. His grave in the cemetary of La Chacarita in Buenos Aires has since become a place of pilgrimage. Many of Gardel's vocal Tangos had only a guitar accompaniment, reflecting the style of the old payodores. The first Tango to be performed by Gardel was “Mi Noche Triste", (My Sad Night") in 1917. The sentiments express the sorrow of an abandoned lover consoling himself with drink.

Enrique Santos Discepolo, one of the foremost Tango poets and composers, said "Tango is a sad thought expressed in dance'. To me, however, Tango is not so much a thought as an impulse that challenges the dancers to explore their inner feelings through dance. The Universal Suffrage Law of 1912 gave a new freedom to the people, and an impetus to the Tango. Now, it was not only the lower classes who wanted to dance the Tango, but it also became fashionable for high society to throw Tango parties, and Tango salons were quickly established in the upper-class areas of Buenos Aires. The fame of Tango soon spread from South America to New York, London and Paris, where Tango tea-dances became the rage.

However, the uncompromising and daring character of the Tango placed it in immediate conflict with authority figures. In Paris, Cardinal Amene declared that 'Christians should not in good conscience take part in it" and the following year, Pope Benedict XV complained "It is outrageous that this indecent heathen dance, which is an assassination of family and social life, is even being danced in the Papal residence'. In 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II forbade his officers to dance the Tango while in uniform, describing the dance as "lascivious, and an affront to common decency'.


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