Monday, February 2, 2009
It Takes Two
Duncan and I are having a sehr gut time in Germany, a place that always makes me think of another of the great loves in my life—the bandoneón. (Sorry, honey.) I've spent some time trying to play this German descendent of the accordion, and dancing the tango, which is inseparable from the bandoneón. This past year I took up the instrument again. It’s been so satisfying to pick up an old pastime and rediscover its history, culture, music, and all the other reasons I loved it in the first place.
The 19th-century inventor Heinrich Band created the bandoneón to accompany choral church music in his native Germany. His invention replaced the accordion’s keys with buttons, and produced different notes depending on whether it was being opened or closed. It’s easy to see why this instrument, with its emphasis on chords and the way it “breathes” air past reeds on its inside, was a natural partner to a choir. When Germans brought the bandoneón to Argentina around the turn of the century, however, it took on a more colorful role among the Buenos Aires brothels, places where even the disenfranchised could earn a living. Now the chords had a more melancholy tone, reflecting the desperation and hard truths of prostitution, and the “breath” had a sexier edge to it.
As time went by, Argentinean politics granted people greater social parity, then took it away, then gave it back again, and then took it once more. Another breathing was happening, and the bandoneón breathed with it. With each surge of equality, tango gained acceptance among the upper classes. Once the music’s popularity helped it reach listeners in Paris, France, tango (and the bandoneón) were given a place in high society that couldn’t be taken away. These days, nearly everyone’s heard bandoneón music through composer and performer Ástor Piazzolla, and we’re all richer for it.
As great as my love for this sexy instrument is, my husband doesn't have anything to worry about. After all, as they say, "It takes two!"