EDUARDO ROVIRA AND THE REPOSITIONING OF TANGO IN THE ’50’s AND ’60‘s
By Paula Mesa
In the ’50s tango suffered a creative stagnation that coincided with changes in people’s consumption habits. The music industry, almost entirely in the hands of foreign companies, imposed a policy that prioritized the promotion of American artists as opposed to Argentine artists, especially if not suited to the consumption patterns of the time. In this context Rovira was one of the artists who reflected upon the problems posed to Argentinian music. These artists not only undertook an aesthetic search in their new compositions, but also repositioned the tango so that it could be “consumed” and appreciated as instrumental music, to be valued as music itself, without being associated with dance or literature and obviously trying to propose a way of creative freedom within the overall “stagnation” of the time.
Given the period in which [Rovira] began to develop his new aesthetic it is a bit difficult to talk about his work without briefly mentioning his relationship with Piazzolla. As “Tata” Cedron said when [Rovira and Piazzolla] shared the stage at the legendary bar “Gotan”, “a climate of respect was felt but it turned into competition (…)”. They were the ones who at the time represented the new, the different in tango (…) and the influences were mutual. Why was Rovira not as “lucky” as Piazzolla ? His followers content themselves with the fact that the breakdown of his aesthetic was much deeper than the search performed by Astor. His purpose was to compose and play music; he never showed much interest in achieving transcendence, Anyhow it’s imposible to avoid recognizing how Rovira influenced famous performers such as Virginia Luque; as did Astor.
Analysis of “Sonico”:
Before beginning this analysis, it is necessary to explain a concept that is a structural part of his work: the open form. This concept started being used in musical analysis in the early 20th century and was associated with different compositional styles by avant-garde composers, being implemented in different ways. Cage, Stockhausen, Boulez and Xenakis, among others, ventured into the open form through mobility or variability, permanently abandoning the traditional notion of form to explore that of the open. The opening of the form and the consequent indeterminacy of content became the most effective way to end the revolution of musical thought under way since the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the case of Rovira’s work we consider this type of structuring present on a micro and not on a macro level. The sections of his works are distinct from each other, but in the thematic development of each section a break happens consisting of repetitive patterns or variations that generate sections of 16 bars (as in much of the repertoire of tango until then).
In his works we not only note that the sections are organized from the melodic plane, but also that he has broken with the traditional thematic structure patterns of 2, 4, 8 and 16 bars used by many of his contemporaries. That is how this concept – to our knowledge – describes the processes of the work’s internal development and not its external structure. It is a way of synthesizing the fact that his tangos break with pre-existing models of thematic development.
The tango Sónico contains two themes and re-expositions.
Theme A: It has a strong rhythmic and repetitive nature, based on melodic mode and overlapping ostinato rhythmic cells. The new rhythmic idea is in turn enhanced by the superposition of different measures; the motive executed by the bandoneon is different from the piano and the bass so a rather unusual and complex for the time polyrhythm is produced.
The motives are structured every 6 beats and internally accentuated in 3 and 3, “playing” in this way with the overlapping of 4/4 of the accompaniment. This means that while three repetitions of chromatic accompaniment can be heard the motive is presented twice.
In the beginning we see the unified role of all instruments playing in unison as accompanimental support and the bandoneon as a soloistic motif composed superimposed on another bar. Toward the end of the first section, a harmonized melody on fourths is used, another hallmark of his style that is a bass in both tonic and dominant.
Theme B: Internally it can be separated into three sections which are differentiated by their interpretative nature and could be summarized as Allegro, Andante and Andante (B1, B2, B3). All three have a similar thematic material: b1 and b3 are cantabile, which changes the character as they are strongly melodic in comparision with the repetitive rhythm of the subject A. B2 retakes the rhythmic treatment of A, reworking B1.
In B2 (allegro), rhythmic and repetitive interpretive material from A is reworked into the material presented in theme B1 (andante). As a new element a brief tonal region in the minor mode is introduced. This section concludes with a return to the andante, presenting a thematic link as a bridge played by the bandoneon (the only completely solo part of the tango). The bandoneon only incorporates a new textural element in order to develop a short four-voice choral, with an open ending on the dominant, and then returning to the A subject.
Another prevailing element in his work is the use of silence to generate stress points, or as a way of juxtaposing different sections. In this tango we found them in theme A where a contrapuntal section goes into a homophonal section. In B he uses them between b1 and b2 and then they reappear between the end of B and the A re-exposition.
The tango ends with this repeat of A where the overlapping planes (as a polyphony generated by the repetition of ostinato) are densified and become more complex.
For a tango style that whose historical references were traditional orchestras, this way of composing -using open, rhythmical and more variable forms, tempo changes etc. – existent in Rovira’s work is something new, innovative, indicative of his view of the tango and is only comparable to his generational peer Astor Piazzolla.
His music’s Innovative features are based on the structuration of his writing as a type of “collage”. The eclecticism that shows the way in which different elements of musical language are interrelated has given his music its own hallmark. At the same time, he retains certain aspects from traditional tango, for example the essence of phrasing and of interpretation, the low, melodic structure, and the alternation between 4/4 and 3: 3: 2.
It is important to mention again that this big rejuvenation does not occur only on a musical level but also on an ideological level. Rovira proposes a tango that, by definition, must be made and executed to be listened to; it is no longer tango for dancing or for the accompaniment of singers. Ricardo García Blaya tells us regarding Rovira: “He was a musician who risked popularity based on an evolutionary search of the genre, who played with musical ideas, without looking to the sides, but admitting its Decarian roots and contributing talent and creative audacity to tango. He began to have experience in leading orchestras in which he met and experienced a traditional performance of tango, but renewed the style, creating a new one in the process.”
Research grant by Fondo Nacional de las Artes 2014 -2015