Monday, 26 September 2016


The music started, emotional, intense, melancholic. I wanted to dance long before I wondered which orquesta it was, as usual. Slowly, it came into focus: Troilo. Not the familiar 1941 recordings, the emphatic Troilo of tracks like Cachirulo or Guapeando that you know immediately, but later, slower, sadder music. We were surrounded by couples who appeared to be listening to a D'Arienzo milonga: slowed by the floor and absorbed by the music, especially the final track, as if I'd never heard it before, music of great intensity and yearning, I felt we hardly needed to move much. I recognised one phrase: ‘La tarde de mi ausencia’. You have to credit the DJ for playing it. It’s really not party music, 1944 recordings that get played rather less frequently than the earlier, brighter Troilo. I remembered the title on the way home. Cristal.

Of course I looked it up later, and found a translation together with a link to both the Troilo/Marino and the Canaro recordings. ‘More fragile than crystal was my love...’ A bit ordinary perhaps, but the poet really makes it work with the following line: ‘Crystal your heart, your gaze, your laugh…’ Fragility, hardness and brilliance, all in a single word. & as usual the translation doesn’t do much justice to the original: ‘And now all I know/is that all was lost/the evening when I was absent.’ Even with my limited Spanish it’s hard not to think that ‘La tarde de mi ausencia’ has a kind of intensity that just isn’t there in ‘...the evening when I was absent’! The song is by José María Contursi who wrote words for several great tangos we know from Troilo recordings, including Gricel and En esta tarde gris, similar poems of loss that actually remind me a bit of Thomas Hardy’s late poems. ‘Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me...’ Hardy’s poems are much more concise, but he didn't have to fit them to a piece of piano music.

& that extraordinary music? The intensity grabs you from the first chord, and it just doesn’t let up. It’s amazing music of great variety that keeps surprising you, a masterpiece of arrangement and a great performance. There seem to be so many musical ideas in the track that the ending, a few final chords, is abrupt: after all that music you feel it should go on much longer. Tango songs often started as piano scores and I wondered how much of this variety was there in the original. I searched online for the piano version and came across this site which has keyboard versions of a number of familiar tangos, but unfortunately not Cristal. & of course I looked to find who wrote the original composition and found it was Mariano Mores, who briefly recounts his life in music here (an English translation). But what really jolted me were his dates: 18 February 1918 – 13 April 2016. It’s always astonishing when the tango past becomes so immediately present. The composer whose music I was dancing to so recently died just a five months ago, aged 98. He was 26 when Troilo recorded Cristal.