I've always loved vals above anything else, but it's taken me five years to notice something that has been staring me in the face ever since I first struggled to dance it: that a good many tango valses are in the minor. I'm really curious about this: perhaps there's someone out there who can tell us more. As far as I know, the European waltz is always in the major, the giddying, swirling dance of smiling dancers. We all know that tango vals isn't like this.
Some things I've found out recently:
The vals was danced in BsAs as early as 1810: the polka too goes back to early in the 19th century. Various local versions grew up and developed.
One of the oldest recorded vals I can find is still a great favourite, Lagrimas y sonrisas, which was recorded by Eduardo Arolas in 1913 – and it is in the minor. (Sadly, I can't find that recording on Spotify: a pity because it's a wonderfully controlled accelerando, it starts slow and gets faster and faster.) 'Tears and smiles': appropriately, the lively cheerful rhythm of the vals is tempered by the melancholic minor key.
Desde el alma by Rosita Melo, recorded by Firpo in 1920 and recorded in many different arrangements since, of which the D'Arienzo and Pugliese versions are especially well known – minor.
Orillas del Plata written and recorded by Juan Maglio, who died in 1934, minor.
Many of the great early Canaro valses including El triunfo de tus ojos, Adios juventad, Con tu mirar, Palomita blanca, all recorded pre-1932, all minor.
D'Arienzo valses may be more inclined to the major: Pabellon de las rosas, for instance, is major. Arrangers would use pre-existing material, which probably included a lot of vals in a minor key.
I ran a quick check on the waltzes of Johann Strauss: all the best-known ones are in the major. But Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schubert, Liszt all wrote waltzes, and I can't check them all, so there might be a European precedent for waltz in a minor key. I'd be curious to know if there are European waltzes in the minor. Or is the vals in the minor an Argentine innovation?
Wherever vals in a minor key originated it seems to have settled in Buenos Aires, where that peculiar mixture of cheerful rhythm and melancholic scale are still, to many people, the ultimate in tango, the music that above all else wakes up our hearts and makes us want to dance.