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In 1965, Piazzolla began writing Cuatro Estraciones Porteñas, a homage to both the tango and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and completed the work in 1970.

The Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, also known as the Estaciones Porteñas or The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, are a set of four tango compositions written by Ástor Piazzolla, which were originally conceived and treated as different compositions rather than one suite, although Piazzolla performed them together from time to time. The pieces were scored for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. By giving the adjective porteño, referring to those born in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital city, Piazzolla gives an impression of the four seasons in Buenos Aires.

The Seasons

Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer)
written in 1965[1], originally as incidental music for the play ‘Melenita de Oro’ by Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz.[2]
Invierno Porteño (Buenos Aires Winter)
written in 1969.
Primavera Porteña (Buenos Aires Spring)
written in 1970, contains counterpoint.
Otoño Porteño (Buenos Aires Autumn)
written in 1970.

In 1996-1998, the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov made a new arrangement of the above four pieces with more obvious link between Vivaldi and Piazzolla, by converting each of pieces into three-section pieces, and re-arranging for solo violin and string orchestra. In each piece he included several quotations from original Vivaldi’s work but due to seasons being inverted between northern and southern hemispheres, thus, for example, Verano Porteño had added elements of L’inverno (Winter) of Vivaldi.

On Sunday mornings, I get up shortly after Arb leaves for work, and move from the cozy, snuggly bed to the equally snuggly sofa.  I make a cup of coffee and listen to Sunday Breakfast on CKUA, and half-doze under at least one cat (depending on Fiona and V’s current level of detente).  This Sunday, as I faded in and out of consciousness, I heard something familiar and yet not.  “This sounds like Piazzolla,” I thought, “but I don’t recognize it.”  Turns out I was right, it was Piazzolla, and the reason I didn’t recognize it was that I’d never heard this composition arranged for violin and harp.  Here, have a listen:

Astor Piazzolla is one of my favourite composers (though if I’m going to actually dance tango I prefer Gardel and Pugliese’s older styles).  Piazzolla grew up playing and composing tango music, but was also deeply interested in jazz and classical music and studied classical composition with Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger.  At first he tried to keep his classical and tango work separate, but his true genius lay in bringing his classical and jazz sensibilities to his tango compositions.

The tango that they dance in Argentina is a very, very different dance than you might see on Dancing with the Stars.  It’s highly improvisational, and allows not only the leader, but also the follower, to make artistic decisions.  Everything is communicated between the partners through physical contact, whether it’s a slight shift of the shared center of balance, or physically pushing with hands, feet, or legs.  One guy that I taught tango to, who was into martial arts, commented that Argentine tango is very much like judo, except that the object is to NOT fall down.

Here are Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs dancing to “Gallo Ciego”, by Osvaldo Pugliese.  By where they put little flourishes with their feet, you can tell they’re very familiar with this particular recording of this particular song, but the steps they do together could all be communicated with lead and follow, no need for pre-planned choreography.

 

One particularly interesting thing about Argentine tango is that because of its origins in a time and place where men significantly outnumbered available women, there’s also a tradition of men dancing with men, without any gay connotation to it – not that gay guys don’t dance tango together nowadays and make it very, very homoerotic.  Here are brothers Enrique and Guillermo De Fazio, dancing a milonga – a country dance that was one of the precursors of tango.  It uses many of the same steps as tango, but goes a whole heck of a lot faster.  Because they do break apart a fair amount, some of this performance probably had to be pre-choreographed.  Note how every once in a while they’ll trade who’s leading and who’s following.  Enjoy the hot guy-on-guy milonga action!

 

Because tango music is in four beats per measure, you can actually dance it to any music that’s in a multiple of four.  Here, a fan has taken an Argentine tango video, and redubbed it with VNV Nation (the band I introduced you to last week), and it works.  In “real life” it’s hard to dance tango to industrial music, because when you go to venues where they play industrial music, you usually wear big, stompy boots, and they tend to be too grippy to spin well.
  

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