In music, the term note has two primary meanings:
- A sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound
- A pitched sound itself.
Notes, or notation, is the system by which we visually represent the aural in music. The notes are arranged on the staff (or stave) which is the framework on which pitches and duration of individual notes are indicated. Thus the staff and what is written upon it provides the roadmap for the musician to navigate to realise sound.
Notes on the score are the musician’s language. For the uninitiated the score may appear to be a forest of confused dots: to the musician, these have profound meaning, special associations and sometimes even dislike! (That fiddly passage in Beethoven which always catches you out…..)
Notes can be treated, or articulated, in different ways to produce particular sound effects. A dot above or below indicates staccato, a note of shortened duration, a detached sound. How one treats staccato in, for example, Mozart or Debussy, depends on one’s experience, musical knowledge and instinct. Each type of note has the equivalent “rest”, a marking to indicate silence, a pause or a breath in the music.
Notes stacked on top of one another create chords which open the door to a world of harmony and musical colour.
Thickets of demi-semi-quavers may suggest extreme rapidity or, in the slow movement of a Bach concerto, the delicate arabesques and decorative filigree of Baroque architecture.
Ernesto Nazareth, the father of Brazilian Tango Music
Tango music has acquired millions of new fans because of Strictly Come Dancing. But how many of them have heard of Ernesto Nazareth, the father of Brazilian tango?
But before we look more closely at Ernesto Nazareth, we should ask why it is that tango dancing is so popular. Maybe it is because it represents the freedom and daring we miss in our everyday work-orientated world. “No mistakes in the tango, darling!” says Al Pacino in the movie ‘The Scent of a Woman.’
He means: don’t worry about getting it wrong. The rhythm is everything.
For those who haven’t seen the film, Pacino is blind and tries to persuade a beautiful ingénue to dance with him in an elegant restaurant, where all eyes are on them. “Simple,” says Pacino’s character. “That’s what makes the tango so great. If you make a mistake, get all tangled up – just tango on!”
Ernesto Nazareth, the classically trained composer who became known to millions as the father of Brazilian tango music, might not have agreed with that simple sentiment. Nazareth had his own exact ideas about tango – especially his tango. He complained about the speed at which some of the pianists interpreted them. He wanted them slow and played with feeling and with the right accentuation, so that the melody came through sweetly.
And why not, tango is an intricate art form, played well, which requires all the attention one would play to a classical piece.
I was first introduced to Nazareth’s work by my Brazilian piano teacher. Wearying of my classical musical repertoire and my musical exercises, which I was playing week in, week out, my teacher, fresh back from Sao Paulo, laid out two Sellotaped sheets of ‘Odeon, Tango Brasileiro’ on the music stand one day.
‘Who is this?’
‘Ernesto Nazareth. He’s very well known in Brazil and South America but over here, no one has heard of him. He composed ‘Odeon’ in the early 1920’s, most probably during the time he worked as a pianist in a cinema foyer. He was hired to entertain the people queuing for tickets.’
It was love at first play so to speak. ‘Odeon’, a seemingly unprepossessing piece at first glance, was however a challenge to play. The rhythms were multi-layered and perplexing, bringing in samba, other Latin and ragtime influences. My da-tatata, tatata would morph into a datata, datata. I was less worried about hitting the wrong note than getting the syncopation and emphasis wrong. Putting the challenges aside, I found the joy of playing something exotic and new exhilarating and found myself transported to the beautiful and chaotic Rio de Janeiro, Nazareth’s home town.
For those of you who haven’t heard of poor old Ernesto, he did meet a tragic end, (he drowned himself) after a family tragedy, I urge you to take a look at his music – and remember, when you’re playing it – not to let your fingers run away with you!
If you would like to play ‘Odeon’, click the link below for a free download of the sheet music.
Karine is a teacher and writer of fiction and poetry, drawing most of her inspiration from France, past and present. Read more about her writing and excerpts from her first book here