Passion. Connection. Technique
Argentine tango is a music genre and dance that originated in the 1880s in the Río de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay. When you hear it, you cannot help but feel that passion, connection, and a sense of technique.
Where do you usually hear tango music — in movies or maybe a romantic restaurant? It is not difficult to recognize tango music. If you are in Buenos Aires, Argentina, you will hear Osvaldo Pugliese's music played in dance halls.
Osvaldo Pugliese — one of the most famous and influential tango musicians — has helped make the tango a symbol of Argentine identity. His style is unique and notable, and his music is marked by a strong rhythm, intense emotion, and graceful melodies.
Who exactly is Osvaldo Pugliese, and can you dance all night to his tangos?
Who Is Osvaldo Pugliese?
Osvaldo Pugliese was born on December 2, 1905 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pugliese formed his orchestra in 1939, but they did not record until 1943.
Pugliese's music was often political, and he was an outspoken critic of the Argentine military dictatorship that ruled the country.
During this time, his music was banned from the radio, and he was blacklisted from performing in public.
Despite these difficulties, Osvaldo Pugliese continued to compose and perform until his death in 1995. His music remains popular in Argentina and around the world.
The Pugliese Style
Listening to tango by Osvaldo Pugliese, we can identify some of the characteristic features of his style.
His music inspires us, but also makes us a bit uncomfortable.
According to Michael Lavocah in Tango Masters: Osvaldo Pugliese, Pugliese does not fit neatly into the categories we use to classify the music. He remarked:
"D’Arienzo pushes the beat, and Di Sarli the melody. Many orchestras can be placed, more or less conveniently, on an axis between these two poles. Troilo, who pushes the lyric, hints at another dimension, but we can say that he blends the two impulses, or moves between them, and leave it at that.
Pugliese destroys these notions of a simple classification of tango music into the rhythmic and the lyrical.
These two forces are present simultaneously in his music, it’s not that he’s “off the scale” — he’s not even on the scale in the first place."
Pugliese's tension and release in his tango are one of a kind. The way he builds and releases tension is what strikes listeners.
This can be heard and felt in his signature song, “La Yumba.” Pugliese gives a moment of respite when the beat grows too forceful and tense.
The beat disappears, and in comes an interlude. In the interlude, the melody predominates. The tension is lifted from the city's noise, and listeners/dancers feel tranquility. However, it does not last very long, and the rhythm comes back.
That is how Pugliese's tango goes: tension, release, tension, release — for at least three minutes until he finally lets go.
Pugliese admired the music of Julio de Caro. He understood that he had enormously enriched the resources of groups playing tango. De Caro's group was not the first to be described as an orchestra, but they were the first to earn it.
Pugliese created his own orchestra inspired and influenced by de Caro and other tango musicians. The orchestra quickly became one of the best orchestras of the Golden Age of Tango.
Now, the world knows his legacies: Recuerdo, La Yumba, and more!
One of Pugliese's musicians — Jorge Vidal — described him as someone who played like the devil.
Pugliese had a lot of de Caro influencing him, but he also used rhythm and force, which de Caro didn't have. Vidal called this rhythm and force "life."
De Caro himself said that Pugliese is his spiritual child and greatest son. Piazzolla called him the "the Count Basie of tango," expressing that he comes from Pugliese and his Negracha.
Undeniably, Osvaldo Pugliese's tango is the kind of music that stays with you long after the last note has been played.
His daughter, Beba Pugliese, described Pugliese as "the tango made flesh."
Nobody does tango like Pugliese.
Photo from musicboardapp
Dancing to Tangos by Osvaldo Pugliese
Dancing to tangos by Osvaldo Pugliese will not be the same as dancing to any other music.
His style is unique and inimitable, and performers can easily attest through his first two tangos.
Pugliese composed Recuerdo in 1924. It is one of the most important and admired compositions in the history of tango.
Recuerdo — like many instrumental tangos — has three melodies.
The first melody came to Pugliese around 1919 to 1920, when he was around 14 years old. Eventually, he completed the second and third melodies after two or three years.
Recuerdo is not just a song. Yes, it has a verse and chorus, but it also has a third section: the trio.
The chorus is a dialogue between the low and high registers. It is between the left and right hands of the lead bandoneons. The qualities involved are the rapid movement between the different instrument registers and the high notes' piercing, almost shrill nature. If the performers listen to the chorus repeatedly, they will feel how the phrasing of the bandoneons really talk to them.
The role of the violins is fairly restricted in the whole piece. The bandoneons carry the chorus and the variación, while the verse and trio are played largely. Pugliese saves the trio and the variación for the end as it gives the piece a magisterial finishing touch.
Pugliese saves the trio and the variación for the end as it gives the piece a magisterial finishing touch.
The bandoneons sound effortless in the variación, but achieving this lightness is difficult. According to Tango Masters:
“The fingers of Alessio and Ruggiero dance so lightly across the keys that it sounds effortless, but just listen to this tango played by one of the later orchestras playing Pugliese style and you’ll realize how difficult it is.”
Dancing to Recuerdo will require the same efforts. The communication between the low and high registers must be fully expressed.
Further, the transition to the lightness achieved in the variación becomes another challenge. Playing it is already difficult, and the challenge also applies when dancing to it.
Pugliese began working on La Yumba in 1943.
It took him three years to complete the piece. La Yumba gives a name to the Pugliese style, which, according to Eduardo Lagos:
"This is a heavy, driving beat that has been described as strong enough to push heavy furniture across the floor."
In 1946, the Pugliese orchestra debuted La Yumba. La Yumba crystallizes Pugliese’s ideas about constructing a tango, separating himself from Julio De Caro and Carlos.
In the piece, Pugliese uses the emphasis on beats 1 and 3 to create a repeating cell. He sharpens the anastre into something much more percussive. This deploys the combined force of the violins, the bandoneons, and the double bass. Furthermore, Tango Masters describes that:
"The whole is reinforced with low, grumbling chords on the piano played on the weaker beats, 2 and 4, something clearly visible in the movement of Pugliese’s left arm in footage of him playing this and many other pieces.
Above this rhythmic foundation, he erects an overarching superstructure using the contracanto (counterpoint) of the violins. The bandoneons drive the dancer forwards relentlessly at die same time as the singing of the violins stretches out in time. Troilo alternates between rhythmic and melodic sections, but Pugliese has both energies at once. It’s this collision of two different forces, even more than the yumba beat itself, which gives the music its unique stamp and is responsible for its effect on the listener; this is a music that truly penetrates one’s being."
According to Pugliese, La Yumba was inspired by the sounds of metalworkers.
If you never watched this movie - you should. But to see the factory noises making music and sense of the space for someone who barely sees - scroll to 2’23”
Lacovah said that it is not so strange to think that the rhythmic noises of the machines start to infuse one’s being. He added that anyone who lives near a railway line finds the same thing.
Dancing to La Yumba requires one to express how sound of the machines is inside them, just like how the piece successfully does.
Photo from Makaela Tango
It Takes Two to Tango with Osvaldo Pugliese
Osvaldo Pugliese's music is strange and conflicting, which is why many listeners and dancers love it. It is not easy to listen to but impossible to forget. It demands our attention and compels us to dance!
So can you dance all night to tangos by Osvaldo Pugliese? Keep in mind that he once said:
"We are sailing on the vast ocean of tango. The important thing is to know the currents that lead us to the gate of the heart of the people. The tango must always be interpreted in terms of human emotions. It has a human voice. For that reason, we have to produce a sound that expresses exactly those emotions."
Pugliese's tango holds and expresses human emotions, and that is what illuminates him in the long history of tango.
His tango is so dramatic, strong, and passionate; even if you listen to one of his songs while simply walking, it leaves you unable to breathe.
If you really perform his tangos to illustrate and express the whole drama of the music, you are probably done after a maximum of four tandas, which adds up to about an hour.
When you hear his tango in a tango concert, you should expect a rush, an unending cycle of tension and release, and a moment that will leave you breathless!
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