Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why? Why? Why?

A chain of why's formed from viewing a mediocre violin performance of Piazzolla's Tango Etude No. 3. Why would someone post such a unflattering performance? Why would someone play an etude written for flute on a violin? Why, for that matter, did Piazzolla write not one but four etudes for flute?

I think the answer to the first "why" is that the offending video was posted by a clueless "friend" - if you are a performer, watch out for the tiny camcorders pointed your way. Answer to the second is because it is nice music for not just the flute but for many instruments as will been demonstrated in the three posted videos below. It is the third question which really puzzles me. The flute was fundamental to early tango but Piazzolla was hardly tied to early tango in any way. Piazzolla did include a flute part in the original score for Maria de Buenos Aires and included a flute player, Arturo Schneider, in the later formations of his octet in the late 70's. One his most popular works (from the perspective of frequency of performance), Histoire du tango was composed for flute and guitar. Were these written for Schneider? Were they written as commissions? Were they written as a gift for a special friend? Did Piazzolla secretly play the flute? Perhaps the answer is written somewhere and most certainly there are those alive today who know the answer to those questions. Hopefully, you will read the answer here some day. If you already know the answer, please comment below.

While the etudes were written for flute, they are challenging and intriguing enough that all sorts of instruments attempt them: violins, guitars, mandolins, clarinets and baritone horns. Here are three examples of Tango Etude No. 3 for you to compare and contrast. The first is played on flute by Frieda Chan (you need to go 3' 40" into the video to see No. 3). The second, the strongest of the three in my view, is on violin by Jean (Rudy) Perrault from the University of Minnesota at Duluth. And the third, the most unusual, a virtuosic performance on clarinet by Anton Dressler at the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival.

If the videos do not appear below, click these links for flute, violin and clarinet.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

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