BY STEVE MARSH | FROM THE SUMMER 2018 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
It was while studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger that Astor Piazzolla got to hear the jazz musicians who performed in that city. He became captivated with their “swing” rhythms and profusion of musical invention, and that prompted him to try and free the tango of his homeland from its long-established traditional form and imbue it with more modern nuances and rhythmic complexity. It is well documented that this decision spawned a great deal of animosity among the mainstream tango traditionalists; the hostility even resulted in Piazzolla receiving death threats! Undeterred, he carried on with his chosen musical pathway. His name has now become synonymous with this style of music, and today he is one of the most celebrated composers of the modern tango.
Roland Dyens was an extraordinary musician. He had an acute awareness of what could be achieved on the guitar, and anyone who has studied any of his compositions and arrangements will know the amount of sophisticated detail he introduced into his scores—the exact stopping of over-ringing harmonies, precise timbre and dynamics, elimination of string squeak, and more. Indeed, in the preface to this book, there is a list of nearly 40 detailed “instructions” (some of which are redundant to the music in the book; presumably this list is reproduced by the publishers for all their publications of this composer’s music, of which they produce a large quantity).
These solo-guitar arrangements of some of Piazzolla’s most iconic compositions must have been a difficult but rewarding labor of love for Dyens. The project took a number of years to complete, with Dyens still revising the manuscripts in the hospital right up until his death in 2016. In total, there are ten pieces, beginning with possibly the composer’s greatest “hit,” Adiós Nonino. This is followed by Chau Paris, Chiquilin de Bachin, Libertango, Milonga del Angel, Ovblivion, and, of course, the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas: Primavera Porteño, Verano Porteño, Otono Porteño and Invierno Porteño.
Piazzolla had a great gift for lyricism, and that is much in evidence in these ten compositions. Throughout, Dyens has tried to remain as faithful to the originals as is possible on just six strings. Compromises obviously had to be made. For me, when comparing Dyens’ solo guitar versions to some of the sustained melody lines from the original recordings, some of the passion is lacking, but that is a small price to pay for arrangements as good as these.
In more ways than one, the book’s title is well chosen. First, as stated above, this was possibly the final work by Dyens, and second, it would be hard to surpass these tremendous arrangements of almost orchestral stature. This edition may well be the last word in solo guitar presentations of this wonderful composer’s music. With this new publication, Dyens again revealed his superb skill in arranging music intended for other instruments and getting it to sound indigenous to the guitar. As stated by Sérgio Assad in the preface, they represent the summit of this remarkable musician’s work and push the limits of the guitar to unprecedented levels.
Here are two modern giants in their chosen fields coming together in one publication. The technical standard required to do justice to these presentations is fiendishly high, but to those with the technique to cope, this book is highly recommended.
The Last Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla
Arr. Roland Dyens
Les Productions d’Oz, 88 pp.
Below, watch Dyens play Piazzolla’s Oblivion. Ever the raconteur, Dyens talks for a few minutes first recommended!), but if you’re in a hurry to hear the music it begins at 3:17.