Requena - A requiem for my friend Requena (A chat in 1999)
eath does not ask permission and, cunning as a gust of wind, it passed by the city of Castelar to carry Osvaldo Requena away. It was on a Thursday of March 25, 2010.
His peculiar sensitivity, his to-the-end romanticism present in all his works, his loving attitude, ceased to exist in the calm of what was his daily existence. His piano was left empty, Osvaldo’s hands had departed.
As follows, by way of a requiem with words instead of music notes, I’ll try to transcribe what was recorded of a chat we had on August 3, 1999.
—Osvaldo, here we have the sheet music of a tango composed in 1913 by the tenor singer Tito Schipa, “El coquetón”. I expected to find a choppy, canyengue beat like the ones of many tangos of that period, but it isn’t so.
«No, this was written by a guy that knew. For the time, it attracts my attention that it is harmonized in a different way, with embellishments, with elaborate lines. Our tango men did not do it yet. This sounds more like the beginnings of the following decade. I don’t know, it seems similar to what Julio De Caro used to do, for example. It’s written in a different way. We don’t know who harmonized it, but it probably was Schipa and that would evidence that he had a vast musical knowledge.
«This has to be played slowly, so it’s written on the paper, now we can play it “choppy”, but we wouldn’t be truthful to what the music staff shows us. (Osvaldo begins to play the tango on his piano). This way is okay, even though I added a little spirit, something lighter. For our milieu, it was a musical innovation. (Now he toys with the piano and plays excerpts the way how it would have sounded in the past, in the forties and now).
«Look, the first section is in C major, the second is in G major and the trio is in F major. It is very difficult to compose in this way, using three different tonalities for a work, changing the tonality. The third is very beautiful and allows us to interplay, precisely, with the harmony. For an arranger that is allowed, but we must never change the melody. A customary thing for a large number of singers who are fond of changing everything. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “The rose is beautiful, let her remain as it is”. An arrangement is a different thing, it is for enhancing the beauty of a piece. I think that the best side of Piazzolla is when he writes orchestral arrangements on the tangos of other composers. What he did with “Boedo”, Julio De Caro’s tango, is amazing. Another is his chart on the Vicente Greco’s tango, “Ojos negros”, another masterpiece and there many more of that level. The arrangement is an embellishing framework according to the feeling, to the intention of the one who writes it».
—Let’s change of subject. You and Leopoldo Federico have written and committed to record a series of tangos. Have you had a satisfying answer by recording companies of Buenos Aires?
«Not at all. We knocked at some important doors but they didn’t pay any attention to us. Here there is a problem of structure, at least for our music. We live in a poor country that does not know how to export, that does not understand what the music business is about. The Americans knew it from the beginning. It’s the ABC for them. And for the Brazilians, too. When Brazilian music is recorded, as they regard it as culture, taxes are dramatically diminished. The society of authors and composers protects the creators and they get greater benefits.
«The Yankees have always thought that it was important spreading and exporting their music. Pay attention that now each country has its own rock music. There is the Argentine, the Uruguayan, the German, the Spanish rock and many more. It was imposed by them, the cultural penetration through the media. And music was one of them.
«As for the disc, then we sent a couple of recordings to Japan, to the companies that know us. They agreed and next year it will be released and there is a possibility that, later, it will be published in our country. The disc, in case it is released, will be entitled here “Coincidencias” and it’ll include fourteen numbers».
—Do you remember any of the numbers?
«One is dedicated to a scholar of the history of tango, the late Héctor Ernié. Our intention was to fill a space that was left after the so-called «music of Buenos Aires», the one that Piazzolla played, but also Eduardo Rovira and others. Also Héctor Artola in the fifties. Of course, trying not to make an abrupt break with the music of the forties.
«Another tango piece is dedicated to El Flaco Paz (Juan José Paz), the pianist in the Francini-Pontier orchestra. Another number, already recorded, “Retrato de Julio Ahumada”; another one, “Evocando a Paquito Requena”, an uncle of mine and teacher of great musicians. He taught Federico, Arturo Penón, José Libertella, Juan Carlos Bera, Rovira and many more. We also pay homage to a woman, great broadcaster of tango in her country, Japan. “Iroko” is her name.
«We are ten players; to the four violins we added viola and violoncello for a better balance due to the strength of the bandoneons. That’s the way we like it.
«The Argentines have not yet realized the treasure that tango means, and here I’m talking about music producers. Foreigners have already discovered that and they not only study Piazzolla, but also how he has arrived and what was in tango before him. And they find that beside him there were great players. I very much like a large number of tangos by Piazzolla, but none of his tangos would I place before “Mala junta” or “Berretín” or “Flores negras” or Agustín Bardi’s “Tiernamente”.
«I’m waiting for a call from Germany because they asked me to arrange twenty-five tangos, they gave me the titles and none of them is by Piazzolla. They know him very well. They are crazy about the tangos signed by Gardel, with the ones by Juan Carlos Cobián and those by the De Caro brothers. World War II left a big gap for tango spreading in the 40s, and because of that there is a lack of knowledge and, fortunately, there is interest now in getting in touch with it.
«I’ll humbly try to help to fill something of that empty space with things of the time when the music of Buenos Aires appeared and what came later».