Symphonic Tandas Anyone?

Why does the classic structure of Tanda and Cortina work so well?

During a recent Workshop on . . . Musicality (sigh) I put forward an idea about a possible link between Tango and classical music forms.

A lot of the great Tango musicians and composers were classically trained.  Many came from Italian immigrant families who would have been familiar with Verdi, Puccini and other nineteenth century composers.  Indeed,  you can hear classical musical influences in the structures and melodies of many of their compositions . . .

To try to communicate something of this, by way of background information, here’s an indecently brief account of the evolution of classical music:

Classical music evolved out of various dance forms which, by the end of the Baroque period (1750ish) had become established into suites of music.  So, people like Bach wrote suites comprising a number of pieces in linked but contrasting dance styles and rhythms, for example: a Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Bourré and Gigue.   You can look this up on Google or Wikipedia if you want to explore further.  Each of these pieces would follow a structure – for example section A, section A repeated, section B, section B repeated and so on.

During the late 18th & early 19th centuries, the Baroque gave way to the classical period (e.g. Mozart) and then the Romantic (e.g. Mendelssohn)  – well I did warn you it would be brief!

The dance forms evolved into movements and the suites became symphonies (orchestral), sonatas (individual instruments or small ensembles) and concertos (solo instruments with orchestra).  Sometimes there would be three movements sometimes four or five, not unlike the acts of a play or an opera.

It all broke down and changed at the end of the 19th / early 20th century, through the influence of people like Schoenberg, but that’s another story.

During the classical period, the structures that had previously been associated with the dances evolved into what is known as Sonata form.  This was varied by different composers to suit their musical purposes but, put simply, consisted of:

Exposition – with perhaps one but usually two themes

Development – where the themes are developed every which way

Recapitulation – where it’s all brought back together again.

If you’re still reading this – as opposed to going off and listening to your favourite Gotan track, here’s the bit I find magical.

I believe all of this history would have been inescapably wired into the Tango composer’s musical DNA.

So (returning to my music workshop) I demonstrated how a classic Golden Age Tango followed an uncannily similar same pattern to the Sonata form of a 19th century composition.

And then it hit me.

If that’s the case, could it be that the three or four dances of the Tanda are also a reflection of the movements of a classical work?  That’s why the whole thing hangs together in such a compelling way – it speaks to us, deeply and unconsciously, in a way that we have inherited over generations of music making, listening and dancing.

Although  I have no proof of this,  I find this to be a deeply intriguing possibility.  It also explains to me – albeit subjectively – that when these fundamental structures are messed around with by people, however well intentioned, who don’t have any depth of understanding what they are experimenting with, the result usually doesn’t quite work.

In contrast, when we dance a glorious Tanda of classic Tango music, we unconsciously sense an indefinable depth of connection, of course with our partner, but also with a cultural DNA that extends beyond time.


© Tango Nomads, 2017