The Bandoneon for Barletta

Maria Susana Azzi, a very well known Argentine anthropologist, publishes in her book Antropología del Tango. Los Protagonistas, Ediciones de Olavarría, 1991, her interview with Alejandro Barletta in his home in Adrogué.

The tango is product of the inmigration. The rhythmic influence of Andaluce and black. The melody is Italian.

The German inmigrants settled mainly in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, the tango was already played with violin, guitar, brass instruments, and there the bandoneon could mix in... The sound of the instrument pleased and could be inserted in the core of the popular orchestra. Later the piano, the violoncello and the viola were added. The tango orchestras at the end of the last century and the beginning of the present, where fairly modest, like popular music in general. Later instrumentalists, orchestrists and arrangers gave the tango an other quality until the modern tango, which has nothing to do with popular music but is close to light music and in certain moments a touch of chamber music: they are studied compositions with harmony, counterpoint and orchestration. The tango at the beginning of the century had a lot of people and folks, the modern tango does not has any folks, it's a laboratory matter for certain minorities. The phenomenon of the modern tango is accepted in Europe.

Piazzolla has impulsed the modern tango. Here (in Argentina) he is for the elite, in other countries there are more young people he has taken off the rock. He worked a lot with the jazz-tango, he remained many years in New York. In Japan the primo genius tango is of interest, more than modern tango. When the Japanese ask for tango, they wait for a Canaro style, neither the Fresedo style which was more complex with some percussion instruments. He used xylophone, violoncello, viola, yet closer to the chamber orchestra, somewhat like Mariano Mores which is tango with a touch of symphonic orchestra.

After the beginning of the century the tango is not accepted without bandoneon. The bandoneon is the sound of the tango. There is no flamenco without guitar. The flamenco guitar was called Spanish guitar. Today the guitar is played all over the world, but it continues to be a Spanish guitar. Today there are played all types of music with the guitar, they have added the electricity, the electric guitar was introduced in the rock and is the base of the rock bands. An instrument has many possibilities. The bandoneon was refuged in the tango. What I made was to take it off, that they admit the bandoneon to be one more instrument to make every type of music, including the classic one... it's still in discussion, there remains a prejudgement about the instrument. They are accepting it now, in Buenos Aires I received the Konex Price, a diploma for merit. There where granted one hundred Konex prices to musicians considered to be the most important of Argentina's musical history. They put me inside the classical music with my bandoneon, they have accepted it officially, for at least by the jury. I wrote and gave concerts for bandoneon. I contributed as composer to the literature for the instrument, I made a new technique for the instrument and incorporated it to the classical music. I made a work unknown before in the musical world. Here (in Argentina) it is still not recognized. I made a work. The bandoneon is now a classical instrument, you can make music... It's similar to the way the guitar went.

Today there are made many things with the instrument, the orchestration and the use have changed. At the beginning of the century the bandoneon was very primary, both hands where nearly not used. The left hand was left nearly dead and, let's say, the finger board of the right hand was played almost two octaves, or one and a half. The rest of the tones remained unused. Sometimes you bought an instrument and you saw that the high and the low tones of the left hand where never played. That was the great defect of those bandoneonists. It was a primary technique useful to play something and accompany: the marte which means that chan-chan in the slang of bandoneonists – that chan-chan was made with the left hand, one octave of the keyboard only. They did not use the rest. That means that they used only two and a half of the general range of five and a half octave... it was unknown that it is possible to make polyphony with the bandoneon. This instrument is eminently polyphonic. I play Bach on bandoneon. I play the three keyboards of the organ without having three keyboards. I couple two keyboards to the left hand and one to the right. That's the bandoneon. It was so decayed and low! The three voices are polyphony. It's the clarity which does not come out with the organ. It's an instrument which sounds. It's what the instrument really can give – one more inside the history of instruments. It was limited to the popular orchestra with the exception of some small variations upon a theme realized with the right hand and sometimes a small drawing with the left – it was completely unbenefited. When I started with my concerts in Buenos Aires; what? you can play Bach? It's possible to play Chopin? I took plenty of attraction.

After that I made what I was interested in. The instrument is a bellow organ: a reed organ, aerophone how musicologists say. With the reverberation found in cathedrals, the instrument is heard with the technique I use. The truth is, that I use the technique of an violinist or an violoncellist: working. Working the bellow, opening and closing. The modern popular bandoneonists, even Piazzolla, always played on opening and the valve making noise, which means that those people play very bad, even that so famous – Piazzolla. They find the music for what they are doing, tango and nothing else. That technique is not applicable for any serious work. If they would play Bach they would cut completely the whole work. I brought the instrument to Argentine composers and asked to write works for me: Juan José Castro. Caamaño, he wrote the first concert for bandoneon in 1954. There wasn't any concert for bandoneon and orchestra in the history of music. The premiere was with the National Symphony Orchestra, that was the introduction. After that I wrote several concerts for bandoneon and orchestra, premiered at the Teatro Colón, and also orders from the Teatro Colón. The way was open for the erudite music. Then came the composers of different esthetic tastes, some of avant garde, others more classic: all searched for the sound of the instrument. I have various works of fairly well known composers of the world, Joaquín Rodrigo, is one of them. I have a work made, nobody will take me this... there was nothing before. All was too precarious. Neither the tangos where written for bandoneon. The bandoneonist themselves where ashamed about their work. They didn't believe in their own instrument, although they where eminent bandoneonists: Arolas, Laurenz. All those bandoneonist of former times, some good, others not, who wrote popular music, recognized that the tangos they composed for bandoneon where edited for piano. When I started to give concerts, I said to me: "It can't be, how this instrument hasn't literature? – Well let's create one and bring it to the composers." That was it. Now the whole world writes for bandoneon. One had to be absolute pioneer, it was an instrument for accompaniment, they made some variations for tango music. Additionally there existed unproportions in the orchestras: six, sometimes eight bandoneons and four violins. Two bandoneons can overwhelm eight violins. They used the instrument only with one voice. It didn't sound. They believed the instrument was quite limited. It has an impressive power. It is dangerous to record without care, it over drives the microphone. I have it proofed during many concerts. I gave more than 2500 in cathedrals and big halls all over the world. I played at the famous "Thomaskirche" of Leipzig, where Bach acted during 27 years; it's a temple of music. But having introduced the bandoneon there, when no German had occurred that ever a bandoneonist would give a concert in Bach's church... And in Venece I played where Vivaldi passed nearly his whole life, gave lessons for pupils, and played. He was a "prete", he was called "prete rosso" because of his red clothings. Mine is a work which goes ahead the tango, it's inside Argentine music.

Religious music was never played with the bandoneon. It was used eminently for popular music. I've searched a lot among old German bandoneonists who had very precariously written, limited pieces. There existed even a chair at the Musikhochschule of Berlin, in the Conservatory. The director was a composer and wrote some works for bandoneon: It was the time of Hitler before the war. He posted the bandoneon as a popular instrument. He put it in a case.

In the beginning the bandoneon had an informal keyboard. We continue to play with that informal keyboard where the disposition for the left hand or the right hand changes on opening or closing. There are two forms of keyboards: one note is an "a" on opening and "b" on closing the same button. That's a second, but sometimes it's a quart of difference. The keyboard of the bandoneon is crazy. The German bandoneonists have changed that keyboard. In 1925 they made a contest all over Germany and selected two keyboard systems: one was of Kusserov and an other of an other bandoneonist. The most widely used was that of Kusserov, a keyboard called chromatic and which is ordered: on opening or closing it's the same tone. It was quite simplified. The keyboard we use is crazy. But Argentina rejected that, it didn't like it. Additionally, for economic reasons since Germany had lost the war, the Germans made some modifications of the bandoneon. The reed plates on which the reeds are fixed are made of zinc and antimony, an alloy hard to obtain, specially for a determined quality. It seems that it is compressed with 500 tons. This increases the price of the bandoneon, they couldn't pay that. They used aluminum reed plates instead, they where far cheaper and far simpler. The sonority changed, it was more accordion like, but for the use in popular music it didn't mind. Here they continued to play the informal keyboard with the real reed boards of the bandoneon. Those which came here where more expensive, it didn't mind, We where rich, it was the decade of the 10th, 20ies, of the 30ies, we had money to pay that bandoneons. Than the factory worked nearly exclusively with that bandoneon for the Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay). For Germany our bandoneons with informal keyboard and zinc reed plates don't exist, and the quality of the instrument declines considerably. We do play the real bandoneon. "Tango para Bandoneón y Orquesta de Cuerdas": it's a work I composed in Granada.

Concerning the technique of the bandoneon: here comes a bandoneonist of Basso's orchestra. He comes rigid, with back ache. I let make him relax exercises: The man changes after a week. But they play completely cramped. They damage the instrument. The instrument tunes by itself. Since 16 years I don't tune the instrument, it makes it by itself. Sometimes there jumps a spring. It's marvelous this instrument. But they bring it every 2 months for tuning, because they hit it. But it could last 200 years. In that manner it holds 10 or 15 years. They ruin it.

date of creation: March 4, 1997