Interview to Horacio SalgánPianist, leader and composer
(15 June 1916)
here are names that are definitions. Salgán -Horacio Adolfo Salgán- means one of the major personalities of our
popular music, maker of an original style, expressively his own, rich in innovative ideas that still influence composers, musicians, orchestrators and arrangers of our time.
Gladly he accepted to be interviewed by Club de Tango for a series of interviews to composers, arrangers and orchestrators of first level.
- The starting question, almost unavoidable, is referred to his teachers.
- My teachers were Amelia Weygand in harmony, Vicente Scaramuzza, Raúl Spivak and Alejandro Borosky in piano. I can also name Pedro Rubeone, who was Carlitos García's teacher as well, of whom we keep a touching memory. I also want to mention maestro Marcoli with whom I studied counterpoint. I have had the luck of studying with teachers of first level, even though I was unable to study with them all the time I think it would have been necessary.
- We had the luck of meeting Marcoli. He used to come to Buenos Aires as member of the board and he even was living a time with us.
- Of all of them I keep very good memories. But I would like to make a distinction I think important. Some time we talked of Iscla -a great maestro- and without even knowing him I decided to visit him in his place on Pueyrredón Street to thank him for all he had done for our music and our culture. Because as usually happens with many teachers, no one ever went to thank him for how much he contributed. The same happened with maestros like Madrigal -bandoneón teacher of many of our best artists- whom very few know and nobody ever thanked him. For that I visited Iscla, to thank him in the name of all who learnt with him.
- This that you say is very important because is in the same line of Club de Tango. To recover for the collective memory the work so valuable that people of a great humility equivalent to your greatness have done. So great as unassuming, of whom society today has no record and tomorrow will have no memory.
- Generally they do not know them and if they know them they don't care...
- Or they wrongly know them. From that we go to another question of these series of interviews: How did you achieve the definition of your style?
- Not on purpose, absolutely. There are many people who come to tango or to other music genres with the idea of innovation. I came to tango neither to save it, nor for anything of the kind. I did it because I love the music of my country -tango and folklore-, because I have a respect and devotion for the music and the genre, in this case, tango. I, among other things, play all the genres -classical, jazz, etc.- but a have a respect almost religious towards music itself, because music is a bridge towards God. I never pretended I had come to save tango or something of the sort. I have a great respect for the forerunners, Arolas, Bardi, Cobián, the De Caros, and I came neither to modify nor to do anything, because tango does not need it. I simply came with all humility, to expose my musical language. I neither had the intention of having a style nor making a renewal of anything. What turned out, came because I spontaneously so felt it.
- Who are the different musicians or composers that you feel have influenced you?
- I have no special choice, because each one of the great composers -of the geniuses- represents one of the many ways of expression of feeling. There are times when we feel religious, then in Bach we shall find the answer. There are times when we have the idea of impressionism and then we resort to Debussy. And there are times when we feel like listening to some old music, of the Renaissance and we identify ourselves with the composers of those centuries. That is why there is no one that represents them all. Each one expresses the different moods the human being undergoes. Each one has captured with his music that which cannot be said with words. Chopin, for example, has represented the Romanticism of his time, like Liszt and Schumann. They captured what was in the air and translated it into music.
- As for the creative musicians of tango, of which do you feel nearer or which of them have impressed you most or have influenced your music?
- I do not emphasize much the evolution of tango in the technical sense. In the early days there were very outstanding people such as Bardi and Arolas. If we choose some Bardi's compositions we shall find that they have a so extraordinary lyrical character, and because of that I recently started to do something that for me seemed daring before. I have begun to make an evaluation of their qualities in comparison with those of the great geniuses of the universal music. And I find that Arolas, Bardi, Cobián and others have reached a height comparable with that of the greatest composers of the world. Neither in the development or symphonic building nor in long-breath works, but in the creation of melodies.
- That's amazing!
- That point of view is not only a personal thought. There is a film named Por Amor a la Vida, in which Arthur Rubinstein in person tells us his life and he plays two or three tangos and says that when he hears a tango he is moved to the extreme of tears. In the movie he plays a part of a tango and he asks if that number is not at the level of a sonata by Beethoven. It is a movie where Rubinstein speaks in French.
About this I can tell you that Rubinstein likes Argentine popular music very much. In the December number of Revista Clásica edited in Buenos Aires, appears an interview to Lalo Schiffrin in New York, who says that he is writing a work in which one of its movements is referred to tango. And he says that tango has reached a height so that it cannot be considered simply a popular music any longer. He mentions Oscar Peterson, an incredible pianist, and I have the luck that he says that he played my tango Don Agustín Bardi before Rubinstein who enjoyed it so much to the point of asking him a copy to study it. And he even says that when he visited Stravinsky in his place, he was then very old and in a wheelchair, the great maestro asked him to play my music. Had it not been told by Lalo Schiffrin I would have considered it a made-up story.
- It is a high regard for Argentine music and especially for your works.
- Yes, that's what I think. And as for my personal preferences that you were asking for, I don't say anything new if I mention the orchestra of Julio De Caro...
- We have to interrupt you because your modesty makes omit something very important. It was around 1953 when Markewicz came and listened to your rendition of "La Cachila" and he went crazy for it. He shouted one more time! One more! One more!
- Yes I remember it. In the evolution of tango is highly important the technical, scholar contribution made by Julio and Francisco De Caro and Pedro Laurenz. We have to mention both three because there is a blending of the romantic form of the former with the brave style of Laurenz. In the interpretation of "Boedo" there are parts where Julio plays what at that time was called the harmony -the counter melody- and Laurenz appears with his bandoneon solo. The three together created that style that was in the air, as Chopin used to say. Tango romanza, so it was known and which was the conjunction of these values, was in the air, but they shaped it into music.
This was one of the early impressions, of the most vivid for me. Afterwards I must mention the Roberto Firpo orchestra in which I played. There was a great pianist with great ideas, named Armando Federico who very few remember. And from then on I started to do things in my own way.
- As for the national musicians trained at conservatories, Who do you consider closer?
- Guastavino, because evidently among the many trends that appeared in music, Guastavino was the man that wrote folk things with the best flavor and fidelity. A great maestro. So much so that he was faithful to that old saying: If you want to be universal sing for your village. That is why of all Argentine concert music, that of Guastavino is the one most often played in the world.
- Do you think that somehow there is an orthodox tango created by the orchestrations of the 40s. What's your opinion?
- I think that that is the consequence of a feeling. The feeling of what through time lasts by the gravitation of its own merits. We could say that tango, as all music, is always somehow in the possibility of additions and infinite resources. Always another thing can be done.
See that until Tommy Dorsey nobody had thought that with a trombone a melody could be sung very harmoniously. And this is because musical genres are born and develop ruled by two fundamental elements: space (geographic place) and time (historic period). We, for example, know the great German composers that brought forth fantastic things in the German space of their time. But today's time is not the same of then even though the geographic place is, and for that reason the same great composers do not appear.
That is what is going to happen with the so-called orthodox tango. All will depend on the consequences, on the ferment and the essence offered by life itself. Tango, as all music, receives the influence of what is happening. If we talk of what the early times were. For a course on tango that I am writing I have wondered this: Is a genius a constant in time and needs of these sentimental psychic elements which we talked about recently to manifest, or does he appear from time to time independently of them?
I think that those that have created something, have always taken it from life itself, influenced by the air of times.
- Let's go to a series of technical questions referred to your orchestra. At a given time you included the bass clarinet. What was the object to do that?
- It was a need within the structure of the orchestra because the tango orchestra, formed by bandoneons, violins, cello, viola, double bass and piano, at some passages of a work it lacks a better bass. Because the violoncello, that could provide a good bass, is often reinforcing the violins that some times turn out weak. The cello and the viola add body to the strings and we cannot either count on the cello because it is used for other functions. Then we have the bandoneons. The bandoneon is an instrument quite beautiful that is very well balanced in itself; the bass notes of the bandoneon are balanced. But these bass notes are not enough strong as to be considered the basses of an orchestra. They are good for the instrument, but turn out weak for the orchestra. The double bass provides a clear bass, but at a given time it accompanies in pizzicato and there is no bass support for the orchestra. We still have no bass. From the instruments that are remaining, that can blend with the bandoneons and with the rest, the most suitable is the bass clarinet, which has fulfilled very good roles in my orchestra.
- Among the chamber and symphonic ensembles, where do you think tango is best found?
- That depends on who writes. Tango depends on the composition, on the arranger and on the orchestrator. He will try to do anything within any ensemble as soon as the work allows it and the orchestrator had the necessary capacity. There is not a limitation of any kind.
- Here comes a question that maybe ought to have been made before. We always try that the people interviewed place themselves as arrangers or orchestrators. But in your case, Salgán, we think it is a different thing. Yours is neither arrangement nor orchestration, but a true composition of each number.
- In general, orchestration is to translate to the orchestra something that was not thought for the orchestra. For example, a piano part can be orchestrated by distributing it among the voices of the orchestra without additions, without either taking out or adding any note. This is orchestration.
The arrangement is another thing. Here composing takes place. To give you a clear idea, I will tell you what I say to my students. An arrangement, in a practical example prepared for the students, is similar to a space where echo is produced. The work itself has to resound in the same way as in that space where echo is produced. If I get into a place and I say: hello!, the echo does not answer me: how d'you do? How are you?, but it says the same that I said according to the characteristics of the space. That is to say that in the arranger it corresponds to his nervous system, his musical heritage, his environment, to everything he is. That is the work of the arranger. The fidelity to the work. Because sometimes we find that this fidelity does not exist when a melodic work becomes a rhythmic one or vice versa. The arranger must have a quite clear idea of the musical genre he is working with. Even though every genre has a wide range of expressive freedom, they also have their limits. The limits for the arranger are staying within the genre and the character of the work, for respect towards the composer. In case he dislikes what the composer did he had better compose one himself or choose another work to arrange. In other words, the arranger, besides talent, has to possess a very clear orientation.
Another important thing to take into account when arranging for an accompaniment is the character of the parts to be sung. Not always this is done. Most often the arrangement has nothing to do with the mood of the lyrics and so we find that while the text conveys sadness, for example, the music is filled with joy. To accompany is to provide a background, a mood, to give support. Many do not take it into account and consequently contradictory arrangements are produced. It is necessary to have in mind that in an arrangement composing takes place, because you have to add counter melodies, to substitute harmonies and everything possible to improve the work.
- Another question that has been extremely rich in answers on other interviews, is referred to tonalities. The use of tonalities and modes.
What is your answer in connection with your work? What tonalities prevail in your compositions?
- I imagine a composition and begin to play it as I feel it, even though tonalities have their idiosyncrasy and each composer uses them according to his judgment. Chopin, for example, makes use of a lot of flats because his music is romantic, same as Ravel. Beethoven, instead, when he wrote in homage to Napoleon he chose D major that is a strong tonality. Let us not forget that the standard of pitch has been changing. My first composition -a chôro-, was written 58 years ago in F sharp because I wanted to create a sweet thing that was sweeter than F major. It's one of the few times I had into account the tonality. But in general, I don't. I write according to what I feel.
- Your version of Responso, in what tonality was written?
- In G minor. But very often the use of minor or major depends on the composer.
- So we get into the modes.
- There are those who write everything in minor because it is thought it is sadder, but everything is relative. It also depends on the imprint of the work, of the timbres.... There is no strict formula, fortunately. As we fortunately do not know what is the magic of music.
There should be much more to talk with maestro Salgán. Maybe it is a debt we have with our readers and with ourselves. We'll go on one more minute for another question:
- In general, what character does your music have?
¿Is it intimate, does it strive for melodic richness, for balance?
- It depends on the work.
EL CLARON DE SALGAN (Salgan's Bass Clarinet)(Poem)
by Mario Frieiro Pombo
Las especiales vibraciones del clarón
que Salgán incluyó en «La última curda»
crean un universo inédito y glorioso
en el sonido de la orquesta típica.
Estas notas nos lanzan en una zambullida
a una corriente de delirante ambigüedad,
que en su apolínea y plástica sonoridad
nos recircula como pasajeros de la vida.
Cuando aquel clarón suena en la noche profunda
debe haber algún escándalo en el cielo
frente a las poderosas cualidades sensibles
de esta rara estructura de timbres orquestales.
Los tronos, los principados y las dominaciones
que del cielo constituyen parte de su organización,
y especialistas como son, en cualidades y diferencias,
han de conmoverse en una especie de compromiso
con la belleza, aptitud que es más propia de Dios
que de sus subordinados, y que, por una vez,
al reclinarse en una nube, adquirirán el estado de gracia.
SALGAN'S BASS CLARINET(Poem)
by Mario Frieiro Pombo
The special vibrations of the bass clarinet
That Salgán included in «La última curda»
create an unprecedented and glorious universe
in the sound of the tango orchestra.
These notes throw us in a dive
Towards a stream of delirious ambiguity,
That in its Apollonian and plastic sonority
recycles us as passengers of Life.
When that bass clarinet is heard in the deep night
Some scandal surely is taking place in Heaven
Due to the powerful sensitive qualities
Of this rare structure of orchestral timbres.
Thrones, princedoms and dominations
That constitute part of Heaven's organization,
and specialists as they are, in qualities and differences,
probably shall be moved in some sort of compromise
with Beauty, aptitude that belongs more to God
than to his subordinates, and that, at least once,
when leaning upon a cloud, shall achieve the state of grace.
Originally published in the Club de Tango magazine, Nº 10.