El Choclo: A Musical Analysis

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by tangomonkey, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I am going to provide a musical analysis of El Choclo, composed by Ángel Villoldo in 1903. I’ll first define some musical terms then break the piece down from a big picture overview to smaller and smaller bits.

    The piano reduction is available here http://www.todotango.com/english/las_obras/partitura.aspx?id=24 . The visual quality is not great. I used Photoshop to sharpen it up a bit. The music can be saved to a file by right clicking and choosing “Save image as...” (In Chrome, other browsers will have some other menu option). There are two pages, so right click near the top of the score and save, then right click near the bottom and save again.

    (The reason I called the music a “piano reduction” and not a score is because that’s what it is. A score has all the instrumental (and vocal) parts aligned horizontally by measure. The version we will look at has been “reduced” to two lines and is intended to be played on a piano)

    I suggest even those who cannot read music download and print the sheet music. I’ll be going through it bar by bar and talk about the time signature, the primary beat and how it is subdivided, the form, phrasing, rhythms, maybe keys and harmonies. There will be definition of terms and you'll be able to pick up some important stuff about how music is printed and what all those weird markings mean.

    (The recording at todotango.com is by Canaro with Tita Merello singing. I won’t be discussing any of the vocal recordings. I don’t care to dance to most music with singers (the proper definition of “song”, by the way. If there is no singing it is not a song). I find the arrangements have been altered to showcase the singer. It certainly has been in this case. There are many exceptions of course, but I’d rather dance to instrumental music written and performed for dancers.)

    Our version is as Villoldo wrote it – so I assume. I can’t be sure. There are some lyrics but no vocal part. I don’t know if Villoldo wrote one or somebody else did later. At any rate, it isn’t included in the music we have. Every “orchestra” does something unique with the music, so what we are working with is close enough. (I put orchestra in quotes because a (modern classical) orchestra has strings (violins, violas, cellos, bass), several different wind, brass, and percussion instruments. Tango ensembles do not. I refer to them as group, band, ensemble, trio, sextet…)

    Some terminology first - can’t escape it, we need to have a common, well defined language for discussion. I ask anyone who knows of a good source for music definitions and rudiments (basic theory) to post some links for us. No doubt there are good definitions in Wikipedia.


    Off the top of my head and kept short and simple (mostly):

    • Beat: the underlying pulse of the music. See Measure and Time Signature.
    • Measure (or bar): small sections which contain all the number of beats as specified by the time signature. Marked with a vertical line across the two pairs of five horizontal lines (called staff lines or staves). A bar in our piano reduction is both pairs of staves. (The top one is called the treble clef, played with the pianist’s right hand, and the bottom one is called the bass clef, played with the left hand).
    • Time Signature: The two numbers, one above the other, written near the beginning of the first line (or whenever it changes). It is not a fraction but is usually typed as one. Time signature tells the number of beats in a measure and the type of note that gets one beat. 2/4 tells us there will be two beats per measure and the quarter note gets one beat. 4/4, four beats and the quarter note gets one beat. 6/8, six beats and the eighth note gets one beat. (Look up what whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth notes look like on Wikipedia. And if you are in the UK look up quavers, semiquavers…but I won’t be using those terms)
    • Structure (or “form”): how the piece is structured (duh). The way the major sections are organized and the order they are performed. Unique sections are labeled “A”, “B”, “C”, Introduction, Coda (a concluding section).
    • Phrase: difficult to describe simply, but for our purpose think of them as a short section of music with a clear start and end quality. Phrases usually happen over a specific number of bars, usually 4, and can have two smaller sections of 2 bars each. There is usually a call and response or question and answer quality to them.
    • Time Value: what portion of the beat a note gets. We know in 2/4 there will be two beats and the quarter note’s time value is one beat. There is one 1/4 note in one beat, two 1/8 notes in one beat, four 1/16 notes in one beat. They can be written as fractions: ¼, 1/8, 1/16, because that’s what they are, in terms of a 4/4 time signature, which is the most common one. Still with me? Think of it this way. In 4/4 there are 4 ¼ notes per bar, eight 1/8 notes, sixteen 1/16 notes. A “whole note” will always get the full number of beats defined by the time signature. In 2/4 it will get two beats, in 4/4 four, etc. And there can be dots added to increase the basic time value of the notes by 1.5 times the undotted value. A dotted 1/8 note will get 1/8 + 1/16 = 3/16. Keep that in mind, tango uses the dotted 1/8 (which has a time value of three 1/16 notes) followed by a 1/16 note rhythm very frequently. It is part of one of the two habanera rhythms we’ll see in El Choclo.
    • Rhythmic Pattern: a succession of notes usually played in a mix of time values (but necessarily a mix).
    If you are going to follow along with the score (and you should even if you don’t read music) I suggest you write the bar number in the left margins beside each pair of staves. In the print out there are 4 bars in the first line (Consider the two groups of five lines as one line), so put “5” in the left margin of the second line, “9” on the third line and so on. If I say to look at bar 15 it will easy to do so if the bar numbers are marked in.



    Glad that’s out of the way. Now on to El Choclo...tomorrow. Going to a practica soon.
  2. Ray Sison

    Ray Sison New Member

    Bravo! :cheers: Thanks for this very impressive, detailed report on a familiar piece. :notworth:

    I will definitely read this several times, while also listening to the music a few times to help me appreciate your fabulous analysis even more...
  3. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Hi Ray. The analysis hasn't started yet. That was only groundwork - musical terminology mostly. The real fun will start tomorrow.
  4. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Wow! TangoMonk. I am very impressed with your beginning, and eagerly await your next installment.
  5. Ray Sison

    Ray Sison New Member

    +1... :cheers:
  6. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Very nice. The way I "feel" this song is (not surprisingly) different from the time signature listed. I feel it as a 4/4 which basically equates to merging every two measures into one. A quarter note would be a "slow" beat, and thus an eighth note would be a "quick" beat. The melody in this song has lots sixteenth notes, thus 4 of these grouped together would (also) be a slow beat (with respect to stepping).
  7. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    canyengue is different

    Thanks tm for your detailed explanations. Only in one point, I do not agree. Isn´t it actually yet the other way round? Most tangos were born as a song and use to be domesticated when jammed into the form of an arreglo. El Choclo anyway started as a song dedicated to the pimp and night club owner, who employed Villoldo. Villoldo wrote words and melody. The original (lot of dirtier) lyrics were replaced by the more smoothed version of Discépolo later on, when he produced the title for Libertad Lamarque. The linked arreglo seems to trace back to Roncallo, beeing revised by Discépolo as well. You see, this piece has more than three lives: a first one in the brothels of BsAs, an orchestrated version for the dancing halls which actually was living on hiding the words everyone knew, and finally Discépolo´s version for our current media age, and so on...

    That really is too bad. Dancing to sung tangos seems to be much closer to the origins of our hobby. And, concerning me, I dance a great deal better to sung tangos than to orchestrated versions.

    I think and feel the same. But there are such a lot of eighths in it, so 2/4 only looks (sic !) more elegant on the sheets. El Choclo is a canyengue piece and canyengue is genuine 4/4 music. And, speaking frankly, I don´t like all those tango liso and tango bravo versions of it flooding our ears all around.
  8. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    I dont think its signature has much bearing for a dancer..you can buy the tango fake book in 2/4 or 4/4 I seem to recall. Its what you hear that counts. Joaquin Amenabar's workshops always avoided using music terminology other than simple terms all would understand like beat rhythm, phrase, melody and so forth and listening. he used simple diagrams to explain milonga rythm- which is helpful for those who learn best with a visual input.

    I too prefer instrumental tangos. The lyrics of El Choclo were after all full of innunendo and smutty
  9. UKDancer

    UKDancer Well-Known Member

    2/4 and 4/4 basic rhythmic patterns are not interchangeable: and it isn't just a matter of halving or doubling the pulse/note values. If you put aside particular rhythmic devices, like canyengue, then 2/4 has a basic stress pattern of STRONG, weak (and can be at any tempo), while 4/4 has the pattern STRONGEST, weak, STRONG, weak (ie a primary stress on the 1st beat and a secondary stress on the 3rd).

    The difference between them is often abused in BR tango (standard technique assumes 2/4 rhythm, but then wrongly says that both beats are 'equally' stressed, which is nonsense). Rhythm is very often misunderstood by dancers.
  10. sudoplatov

    sudoplatov Member

    Tangos (and ragtime) is often written with a 2/4 time signature but played like is was 4/8. Some composers preferred to write in 4/4 (Salgan?) and others in 2/4. It's a convention.

    I haven't can't post links but "Bahia Blanca" has a 4/8 time signature, "Adionos Nonino" has C. The basic tempo is still 4 beats per measure.
  11. bordertangoman

    bordertangoman Well-Known Member

    according to what I have learnt; i quote form the torito.NL website

    What difference will an amature listener hear between '2/4 and 4/4 versions'? Can you explain something about this 2/4 and 4/4, for a non musician?

    For a listener, there is really no difference. It is strictly for the performer. These numbers refer to the time signature (often used interchangeably with 'meter'), a musical measurement, the organisation of music into units of accented and unaccented beats.

    Meter is actually what is heard and is not the same as a time signature, which is what is written.

    So what is heard, as a tango is performed, is the same, regardless of what is written.
    Tango originally was written in 2/4 (to be technical: 2 beats per measure, a 1/4 note gets one beat).

    This to me reflects the dance in the best way. The dance is generally danced two steps per measure. This is the original 'dos por cuatro', two strong beats on four.

    But modern tango composers such as Astor Piazzolla began writing in 4/4. This for them was easier to read, and reflected the more even beat pattern in the music, in such tunes as 'Michelangelo 70'. These days, many tango musicians, though not all, prefer to see tango written in 4/4.
  12. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Some more definitions. I may need to add definitions as I get into the analysis. Hopefully, not many more. I promise. I will get to the analysis eventually.

    • Tempo: the speed at which the beats move through time, or the number of beats per minute. There are numerous tempo definitions, usually in Italian, and they not only imply the tempo but usually the character of the music as well. They aren’t printed in tango music because the tempi are mostly very similar. If there was a printed tempo indication it would be Andante, which means a “walking pace”. (How appropriate) In terms of beats per minute Andante tempi fall around 80-100.
    • Key Signature: don’t want to go into too much detail here. Key signatures tell us what key the music is in. For our needs we just need to know there are two types of key, major and minor They have a distinct sound and character. Major keys are generally happier while minor keys are sadder. (Very broadly speaking).
    • Modulation: when the music changes to a different key.
    • Rests: think time value again. A rest is the same as a played note in terms of time value, but there is to be no sound. So, a quarter rest means there should be no sound for one full beat, etc….
    • Treble and Bass lines (or parts): again I won’t go into too much detail here. Think of the treble line as the top line of notes in the treble clef (the top staff). It is the melody line (although there can be more than one melody and it can be played anywhere). The bass line is the very bottom line of notes in the bass clef (the bottom staff).
    • Theme: the melody (means much more but that’s all we need to know)
    • Syncopation: ah yes, some dancers have a peculiar idea about this one. Syncopation is any time the music emphasizes the off- beat, which is the time between the primary beat of our quarter note. There is usually an accent (played a bit louder or clipped short, called staccato). For our purposes, the off-beat can be an eighth note, sixteenth note or a grouping of notes that when played place an emphasis/accent between the primary beats. Syncopation is very common in tango music.
    • Cadence: essentially the end of a phrase or section. When it happens the music feels like it has reached a concluding point, because it has.
    • Chord (harmony): several different notes played simultaneously, usually built in intervals of a third. Eg. C-E-G; B-D-F. There are many types, the most common are major, minor, dominant seventh. Major chords sound bright and cheerful. Minor chords sound sad. Dominant seventh chords sound incomplete, like they need to go somewhere. And in fact that’s their purpose: to resolve back to a major or minor chord. These sound qualities are determined by the intervals, the distance between the notes, in terms of pitch. Take a C major chord: its notes are C-E-G. The distance between the C and E is a major third. A b minor chord is B-D-F. The distance between B and D is a minor third. The dominant seventh chord has four notes, the fourth one is the interval of a (minor ) seventh away from the bottom note.G dominant seventh (or simply G7) has the notes G-B-D-F. It’s that (minor) seventh, the F, which gives this chord the feeling of needing to move onto something else. Dominant sevenths will frequently occur at candences in the music, ie at the end of phrases, and almost certainly the end of a larger section (the A, B parts). In fact, the resolution of the dominant seventh to the next chord is what makes a cadence sound like the end of something.

    I realized I’ve been talking about “note” all along and haven’t defined it in terms of pitch. I wasn’t going to go into detail about notes (other than time value) and clefs and what those lines and spaces represent. I will for those of you who don’t read music. If you understand clefs and notes you are mostly there in terms of reading music. (Aside from the technical part of playing notes on an instrument). If you know all about clefs and notes, no need to read the rest of this post.

    • Clef: Remember clefs from my definition of Measure? Our piano reduction has two. The top one is called the treble or G clef because that backwards S looking thing at the beginning of every top line is actually a stylized G, and the staff line that goes through the bottom curly bit is called G. The bottom clef is a bass or F clef. It is a stylized F and the staff line between the two dots is called F.
    • Note: a pitch, a specific sound with a specific frequency measured in Herz. When classical musicians tune up they tune to the note A, at 440 Herz. Notes are positioned on staves, with the lines running through them, or in the spaces between the lines. The location determines both the name of the note and its pitch when played. Notes have both pitch and time value (also called note value).
    Naming notes.
    There are only seven basic note names: A B C D E F G. Keep that in mind.
    Imagine drawing a line between the two clefs. Just a short one, a dash. A note placed with that line going through it is called C. And the dash-sized line is called a ledger line. The lines and spaces can continue beyond the lines and spaces of the staff, using ledger lines. That C is called “Middle C” because it is in the middle of the two clefs and it is a C in both of them.

    Naming Notes in the Treble Clef: We know where G is on the treble clef. It is the second line from the bottom. And middle C is one ledger line below the treble staff. Going up from middle C, alphabetically, the space between the ledger line and the bottom line in the treble clef is a D. Continuing up: the bottom line is an E, the space above is a F, the next line is a G (which we know from the treble clef discussion). There is no H note, so we start again at A, the space between the second and third lines (from the bottom). And so on…

    Naming Notes in the Bass Clef: We know where F is on the bass clef. It is the second line from the top. And middle C is one ledger line above the bass staff. Going down from middle C, alphabetically, the space between the ledger line and the top line in the bass clef is a B. Continuing down: the top line is an A, the next space is a G, the next line is a F (which we know from the bass clef discussion). And so on…

    I should define “scale”, “key”, “sharp”, “flat”, "tone", "semi-tone" but I think that’s enough (more than!) for now. This is supposed to be an analysis of El Choclo not a diatribe on rudimentary theory. And I’m getting tired.
  13. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Just to add, what is written, and how something is played, is not always the same. For me, I "feel" 4/4 to most tangos, which amounts to just combining every two (2/4) measures into one (4/4) measure (at least in this song). The difference is subtle, and at the end of the day, the band is going to play it how they wish, regardless of how it was written.
  14. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    I do not agree. Even 3/4 and 4/4 are interchangeable if you make some effort with the notation.

    For the rest I follow BTM with

  15. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    Regarding 2/4 versus 4/4 and meter, UDancer has it right. 2/4 meter is stong-weak, 4/4 is strongest-weak-stong-weak. They are different, but I agree how it feels to listeners and dancers will depend on how the musician choose to play the stong-weak. In general beat one is almost always strong, so there should be a different feel when every other beat is noticably strong (2/4) compared to when it isn't (4/4).

    There is also the phrase and candence to consider. 2/4 phrases are shorter in duration, in terms of real time not bars. And there will be more cadences (pauses).
  16. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    I've read some of this before, and I know tango was original sung. Thanks for the El Choclo history. And I know what the words El Choclo really represent. ;)


    About dancing to vocal tango music. I only dislike dancing to it if the music is full of rubato or when it becomes subservient to the singer. I would not dance to the version on todotango.com.
  17. tangomonkey

    tangomonkey Active Member

    There’s been some discussion in the thread about 2/4 compared to 4/4 so I will talk a bit about it here. And there will another couple definitions.

    • Meter: the pulse of a bar. Think of it in terms of the beat and how some beats feel more important than others. There is pattern to the beat and the time signature helps define it. 2/4 meter is stong-weak, 4/4 is strongest-weak-stong-weak. They are different. (How the strong-weak pulse feels to listeners and dancers will depend both on how the music is written – a composer doesn’t have to write music that re-inforces the strong-weak pulse – and on how the musicians choose to phrase (interpret) the music). In general beat one is universally strong in every time signature, so there should be a different feel when every other beat is noticeably strong (2/4) compared to when it isn't (4/4). There is also the phrase and candence to consider. 2/4 phrases are shorter in duration, in terms of real time not bars. And there will be more cadences (pauses). That may or me not matter to individual dancers. We’ll see as we move through El Choclo.
    • Scales, Tones, and Semi-tones: I have to explain these. Scales have eight notes (the eighth one is the same as the first but an octave higher; oct meaning eight, as in octopus). The key signature sort of tells us what the first of these eighth notes is going to be. Sort of because it does not indicate a major or minor key. The key signature sharps (#) or flats (b) tell us to raise or lower the notes they identify by a semi-tone; which is the smallest distance between two notes (in our Western scale system). Sharps raise the note, flats lower it. If you look at a piano keyboard you will notice there are black keys between the white ones, except sometimes two white keys are side-by-side with no intervening black key. The distance between those ones is called a semi-tone. The distance between the white keys with black keys between them is called a tone. It can be thought of as is two semi-tones (because it is). Tones are often called “step”, semi-tones “half step”. What makes a scale major or minor is the pattern of its tones and semi-tones. This pattern (and the chords based on them) is what gives the scale its emotional feeling. Major = happy, minor = sad. (more or less). Can you guess what type of key most tangos are in?
    (If you are following along with all these definitions it might be a good idea to copy and paste them into a document and save them – easier to refer to if you need to look them up).

    Let’s get on with it.

    I’ll take a top-down approach, starting with a few general comments, then talk about structure, then get into finer and finer detail. Over the next few days.

    The time signature is 2/4. So we know there are two beats per bar and the quarter note is one beat.

    The first key signature has two sharps (#) printed before the time signature (and on the next line of staves). They tell us this section is either in D major or b minor. (trust me…). We can’t tell until we look at the notes (or hear them) which it is. Notice the key signature is different for bars 9-32. There is a flat (b). Now we know the key is either F major or d minor. (Remember modulation? Here t is). The key signature changes from bar 33 until the end. There are two sharps again. So we go back to either D major or b minor. I’m pointing out all this key business for a reason, which I’ll get into later. It is quite important.

    Structure: Introduction, A-B-C-A-B-C.
    Intro is eight bars, 1-8, with two 4 bar phrases. (None of my recordings play the intro. I’m sure I heard played once somewhere, either during a class or milonga, but I don’t know by which band. Anyone know?)

    Section A is 16 bars long, from 9-24.

    Section B is 16 bars, from 25-32. But that is 8 bars,no? No. Notice the bracket above bar 32 and the following bar. And the numbers under them - 1 and 2. And the two pairs of dots (called a repeat sign) at the end of bar 32. The dots mean to go back to another pair of dots earlier in the music and play the music all over again. The first dots are at the start of bar 25. (The music is very faint here but, that’s where they are). The bracket with a 1 means play the notes in this bar the first time through and the measure with the bracket and the 2 means play this measure (instead of the one marked 1), the second time. These are called first and second endings, for obvious reasons. So section B is indeed 16 bars long with an 8 bar section that gets played twice without alteration (except for the tail end of the second ending)

    If you marked bar numbers on the score don’t include the second ending. So the third line of page two should be bar 33, not 34.

    Section C is 16 bars, from 33-48

    Take a look at the last bar. There are letters D.C. al then some squigly sign. This is Italian: Da Capo al Segno, it is not a valid use of those phrases, but anyway it means the music is to be played again from the first segno sign at the start of section A, bar 9. So the intro, 1-8, does not get played again. Everything else does and that is why the structure (form) is Intro- A-B-C-A-B-C.

    So now we know El Choclo has an introduction of 8 bars and three main sections, each having 16 bars. And the whole piece is played twice, excluding the into. The A-B-C sections are all the same length, and it looks like they are in different keys. That, and other things we'll get into, helps differentiate the sections.

    If you can, follow along with the music, and do some listening. Skip Di Sarli’s version for now – he changes A-B-C-A-B-C structure. Listen for the A-B-C sections. I’m sure that will be easy for people who have heard and danced to this music.

    That’s it for now. Next time I’ll get into the sections in detail and show how their individual character and moods are accomplished musically.
  18. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Bravo, tangomonkey!
  19. Ray Sison

    Ray Sison New Member

    I love it! :cheers: to you, tangomonkey! I plan to save this info and read it several times. I look forward to learning a lot... Thanks!
  20. AndaBien

    AndaBien Well-Known Member

    Very nice analysis, and well-written, too.

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