Viva Piazzolla

7th August 2010 | Concerts, Musings | 1 comment

I’ve been rehearsing tangos by Astor Piazzolla for a late-night concert tonight. As I don’t play this kind of music very often (more’s the pity), I got in the mood by listening to a number of recordings by Piazzolla himself.

Without the sound of a genuine Argentinian tango ensemble in my ear, I couldn’t make much sense of the piano part. I was very aware of the amount of information not contained in the printed notes. No instructions are given about the style of ‘attack’ or the type of sound required to conjure up the tango clubs of Buenos Aires. When you’ve heard this music played by experts, you know what’s needed, but what if you haven’t? Just playing what’s on the page, using Western classical technique, keeps you at arm’s length from the right sound. In particular, the amount of ‘oomph’ required, the degree of emphasis in the articulation, is something that you have to hear to believe. The composer doesn’t say a word about it in the score. No doubt he can hardly imagine that anyone wanting to play his tangos will be ignorant of how they’re supposed to go.

The experience has made me wonder about all the music I play from different centuries and different composers who no doubt thought that ‘the right way to do it’ was totally obvious – not realising that there would be times and places when people didn’t know, and wouldn’t be able to retrieve the information from the score alone.

1 Comment

  1. peter

    Susan —

    A good example of this is given in Kenneth Hamilton’s superb book about 19th-century piano performance styles and practices, “After the Golden Age” (Oxford UP, 2008) (which book by the way, I highly recommend). Apparently, almost never did late-classical and romantic era pianists play the notes in left-hand chords synchronously, but rather as arpeggios. Yet composers – often the very same people as the performers (eg, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, etc) – almost never wrote these chords as arpeggios. So which style is more accurate: playing as the original score indicates, or playing as contemporaneous composers would have expected and as contemporaneous performers would have done so?

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