Thursday, April 2, 2009


The tango melodies came to life in New York City in the late 1970s. I woke up in the middle of the night with a fragment of music in mind. It started growing into a full phrase so I got up, turned on the light, and wrote it down. This was the first theme (played by the flute) in the first tango, SoƱador/the Dreamer. All the other tangos grew out of this one fragment. A little later came the pulsing rhythmic phrase that links the tangos of the suite.

I was listening to a lot of old Carlos Gardel recordings at the time, and in homage to him I kept the harmonic vocabulary and structure of my tangos as
simple as the popular songs of that era. The challenge was to achieve some musical richness and complexity while keeping the overall feeling simple and light.

I imagined these tangos as music in a dance-theatre piece, and I eventually sketched out a plot — about two Argentinian tango dancers stranded in
1920s New York. While the tango was blossoming richly in their own country, America was entering the "Jazz Age", the time of the flapper, hungry for noise and raucous rhythms. What fascinated me was that tango dancers always maintain touch with each other, moving intricately in harmony, while in those new American dances — the Black Bottom, the shimmy, the Charleston — it was rare for partners to touch; rather than a passionate commingling there was an exhibitionistic frenzy, a contempt for collaboration and cooperation, a refusal of intimacy. This was the period of Prohibition, bootlegging, gangsters, and the wild speculation leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. The theatre piece would be about innocence rubbing elbows with corruption — and the different forms of passion.

The tangos were initially sketched as a vocal/instrumental line with chords, occasionally filled in with piano accompaniment. I also wrote music for "American" songs and dances of the period, but the theatre piece around them never crystallized. I closed the cover on the project when I left New York in 1980. ... When I came to Santa Fe in 1986 I was asked to compose something for the San Miguel Trio — guitar, flute, and oboe or English horn — and the tangos came to mind; I felt that the textures of a guitar trio would lend themselves well to a suite that was warm, lyrical, unhurried, intimate. (A remnant of the "American" music is heard in the alto flute solo in the final tango of the suite, a la Puesta del Sol/at Sunset.)