Alfredo Gobbi’s Recap
Magic moments... Tango recordings and compositions are full of ‘magic moments.’ Original, inspired, or captivating; humorous, moving, or unforgettable. You don’t have to be a trained musician to enjoy them, and this blog breaks them down.
Alfredo Gobbi Orchestra - ‘El Andariego’ (Alfredo Gobbi)
Alfredo Gobbi is one of tango’s biggest names. Orchestra leader, violinist (“tango’s romantic violin”) and composer of a handful of titles that are among the most important in the repertoire, Gobbi is also somewhat of an enigma. Despite leading an orchestra that many consider stylistically unique and massively influential, Gobbi left behind very few recordings. He spent his later years in poverty, playing the piano in dive bars to make a living. His piano playing happens to be beautiful and was captured on a homemade recording after a couple of his colleagues insisted. It’s simple, deeply emotional playing
This month’s magic moment occurs in one of Alfredo Gobbi’s hit tangos: El Andariego, composed by Gobbi and recorded here by his orchestra. There is a concept in classical music known as ‘recapitulation.’ This is the term given to the second presentation of the main musical idea, or ‘main theme.’ Most tangos have two or three parts, referred to as A, B, and C. A three-part tango might be played in this order: ABCAC
We might think of a tango’s A section as its main theme. When that A section comes around for a second time we get the same feeling we get from a recapitulation in a in classical piece: Ah! The main theme is back! Now, part of what makes recapitulations interesting are the slight differences that appear, the things that weren’t there the first time around. Sometimes those differences are significant enough to have been notated by the composer (for example, a melody played by a piano is now heard in the violins), or they may be far more subtle, the type of differences that a bandleader might ask his musicians to add during rehearsal. We can imagine Gobbi saying: ‘when we come back around to the A section, I want you to play it this way…” So, without further ado, here is Alfredo Gobbi’s El Andariego:
The Magic Moment
To best appreciate our magic moment, we’ll need to listen to the beginning of the first A, and then the beginning of the second A, which is where the moment occurs. So, first listen to the section from 0:08 – 0:19. Concentrate on the ‘hits’ or accented chords that land just about exactly at the 12- 13- 16- and 17-second marks. Got it?
Ok, now let’s take a look at the recap. The same musical material appears between 1:59 – and 2:09. The ‘hits’ we noticed in the first A fall on 2:03, 2:04, 2:07 and 2:08. What’s different this time? They sound more vigorous, right? (Go back and check and compare the two excerpts) Well, the hits are indeed more vigorous…it sounds as if the orchestra is playing them with a little more force and excitement. But what else is different? Listen to the low notes that fall just before each hit. Do you hear a difference between the first A and the second? In the first A, the double bass plays bowed notes…if you listen you can pick them out. In the recap, instead of those notes we hear what sounds like a bass drum – loud, forceful, percussive. This is in fact the sound of the bassist performing an effect called golpe de caja which involves striking the back of the bass forcefully with the left hand. This drumlike sound gives the music an energy previously unheard. The whole orchestra seems to crank things up a notch, and when our ‘hits’ appear, the violins and bandoneons appear to be responding to the bassist with a new, joyfully explosive force. It’s magic!