If life weren’t so much of a mystery,
it wouldn’t be this fascinating.
Carlos Gardel’s life (1890-1935) was certainly very enigmatic. For various reasons this mystery was fuelled and partly even utilised by Carlos Gardel himself. After his tragic death the thesis surfaced that his place of birth was Toulouse, probably motivated by economic interests on the part of his legal representative. The documents clearly state Tacuarembo, Uruguay. It is undeniable, however, that the fascination which Gardel’s voice generated and indeed still generates has always been influenced and modified by a number of legends about his life.
Just as Garry Kasparov inverts a familiar saying in the title of his book How Life Imitates Chess, the words and aura of the tango also seem to dictate or inspire quite a few incidents in the life of Carlos Gardel (we tend to believe that reality nurtures fiction and forget that fiction also creates reality, that the two shape and feed each other). There is undoubtedly a communicative flow between Gardel as a person and his personality as an artist. His favourite topics were the neighbourhood, first love, gambling, returning to his beloved city, bravery, nostalgia, the tango itself …
For something to exist, many things seem to be necessary … time, facts, natural and social processes, etc. In Carlos Gardel’s golden age there was an entire city, and beyond that an entire country, that were longing to exist … Carlos Gardel lent a helping hand to Argentina in its desire to exist and acquire a personality of its own. Almost all Argentinians consider Carlos Gardel’s tangos and voice to be a kind of ‘birth certificate’ for the country, or proof of the value and the existence of this place in the world that was yearning to be Argentina.
Carlos Gardel made recordings in Spanish, Neapolitan, English, Guarani and French. He created films for Paramount Pictures. It can therefore be said that even though his art is associated with Buenos Aires and Argentina, his universality is well tested. This is not only due to the fact that he sings in various languages, but also because the artistic and poetic basis of his music overcomes geographical borders simply because he sings about human nature as such.
With this cycle of songs by Carlos Gardel I wanted to travel to those islands of his tangos, fly over the original terrain, sometimes land and visit an island, then take off again and continue; contemplating them from different perspectives, enjoying a state in which I am able to dedicate myself to these tangos with respect to the original ideas but at the same time challenging and discussing with an open and investigative mind (…).
The fact that these tangos were composed at the beginning of the 20th century, while the perspective and context in which this cycle appears are remote in comparison, constitutes for me a very relevant artistic aspect. I firmly believe in the dialectic capacity in art.
This cycle is like a conversation between Gardel’s tangos and my nostalgia, between the present and the past.
As a composer I place particular importance on the communicative aspect. I imagine a hypothetical audience. I think that one Gardel after another is too much sweetness, too much honey on one and the same piece of toast, as it were. I intend to set to music the psychological context in which these tangos were written. I know perfectly well that this is an imaginative, subjective, risky undertaking … and yet I contend that the best form of presenting these tangos is a cycle. It may be a pragmatic approach to alternate Gardel’s tangos with music that is somewhat more distant from this intensity of emotion and the tango, providing a sort of contrast. I examine the Italian term pianoforte and believe it to be a metaphor for my formal considerations underlying this cycle. Gardel’s tangos would be the fortes (or the pianos … ) and I felt compelled to interweave them with pieces that stray away from Gardel’s world, albeit not far, but still stray off in order to come back . in the same way that a swing can never only move back or forth. Gardel’s tangos are moving in a particular direction and I wanted to counter this.
Rather than merely orchestrating Gardel’s tangos, I intended to enter into a conversation with them as well as with their formal gestures, their harmonies, melodies, rhythms, timbres etc.
Gardel is part of Argentina’s ‘collective unconscious’. His phrasing or way of interpreting certain musical phrases has shaped forms of expression not only in the language of music but also in everyday language. The saying ‘Twenty years is nothing’ (‘Veinte años no es nada’), which appears in a tango and became famous across Latin America, is an example. During my work I listened to the recordings, trying to decode Gardel’s way of phrasing and comparing it with the notation which, of course, cannot be more than a simplification of Gardel’s masterly and virtuoso practice.
My intention is to set out on a kind of journey into Gardel’s world. In that respect I am the guide who has prepared an itinerary and devised a surprise or two, or a variation on the most relevant destinations, which are the tangos of Gardel.
Diego Collatti (2017)