Passion, color, charm: recent piano works by Luis Jorge Gonzalez

Luis Jorge GonzalezLuis Jorge Gonzalez is a compatriot of mine. He was born in San Juan, Argentina, in 1936. Coincidentally, Luis Jorge studied piano and composition at the same university where I got my first undergraduate degree in piano – the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, in Mendoza, Argentina. Luis Jorge came to the US in the 1970s to study composition at the Peabody Conservatory. He taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder from the 1980s until 2003, when he retired. You can read about his distinguished career on wikipedia (in Spanish for now):ález.

I met Mr. Gonzalez in person in 2004 when I was hired to teach piano and pedagogy at CU Boulder. We had much in common – expatriates born in the same region of Argentina, educated in the same music school there, and a passion for everything Argentine. I had heard about his illustrious career when I was in Ohio at my previous teaching job. So it was a pleasure to finally meet him. For my first recital at CU, I asked Luis Jorge if he had any music Continue reading Passion, color, charm: recent piano works by Luis Jorge Gonzalez


“Seven Pieces for Children” and “Music for Children” by Luis Gianneo

luisgianneo.jpgLuis Gianneo is one of the “best kept secrets” of Argentine music. His piano music is original and solid, and the overall quality of his creations is high. He wrote well for the piano – his pieces are comfortable for the most part and fun to play. He published mostly at the defunct Editorial Argentina de Musica. Some of his works have been republished by Peer Music International.

In a previous article in this blog, I focused on Juan José Castro and his 1941 Tangos for piano. Gianneo belonged to the same generation of composers – he was born in 1897 and died the same year as Castro, 1968. Like Castro, Gianneo was also interested in writing nationalistic music using a more modern, dissonant and universal style that avoided the cliches and “postcard” approach of some of the earlier Romantic composers in Latin America. This modern nationalistic movement sprouted throughout Latin America from the late 1920s until the end of the 1940s or mid 1950s. Often, these Latin American composers knew and respected each other’s music. Throughout these years there was some sort of “continental awareness” and synergy that produced, from my point of view, some of the most interesting classical music in the history of Latin America.

Gianneo, like many of his colleagues, was attracted to some of the tenets of neoclacissism: use of a “spikier” tonality with plenty of 4ths and major 7ths, politonality, non-functional harmony, bimodality, 2-voice counterpoint, etc. But at the same time he made use of vital and driving rhythmic energy and ostinatos based on folk dances that remind me of Ginastera, 19 years younger than Gianneo. In fact I truly believe that Ginastera’s exciting and driving style owes a lot to the style developed by Gianneo.

Gianneo’s piano output is pretty large. You can find a catalog at . My favorite pieces include his “Sonata No. 2,” “Suite,” “Tres Danzas Argentinas” and the children pieces that are the subject of this article. Marco Polo released his complete piano works in 2002, recorded by myself and other Argentine pianists, members of the now extinct Ostinato Foundation. These CDs are available through and other vendors.

“Seven Children Pieces” (1946) are at the late elementary difficulty level, and “Music for Children” (1941, with a total of 10 pieces) is at the early and mid intermediate levels. These sets have great pedagogical value, and are, at the same time, very charming and effective. They don’t sound like “teaching pieces”, but are sophisticated little gems.

The “Seven Children Pieces” are written in a very tonal language, with only a few dissonances, so as to make them more accessible to younger ears. Children (or adults!) should be able to play the easier ones during their second or third year of piano studies. Among the pieces is “Tango,” which uses a limited range of notes. It introduces sound pedagogical features such as dotted rhythms and melody in the left hand in the middle section, which allows students to work on balance and projection of both hands. It is evident that Gianneo knew how to compose excellent teaching pieces! You can listen to an excerpt of this Tango here (recording by Dora DeMarinis, from the Marco Polo release).


Another piece in the “Seven Pieces” set is “Danza Campesina” (“Rustic Dance”). This piece features a hemiola typical of Latin American folk music: the rhythm of the right hand sounds in 6/8, while the left hand sounds in 3/4. Another rhythmic challenge of this piece is the use of syncopation in the right hand in the second system. The piece is great for working on an energetic non-legato articulation produced from the forearm with fingers close to the keys. This articulation, sometimes called “martellato” (“hammered”) is necessary in many other compositions by Gianneo, and also Bartok and Ginastera. You can listen to an excerpt of Danza Campesina here (recording by Dora DeMarinis from the Marco Polo release).

Rustic Dance

The first two pieces in “Music for Children,” Prelude and Fugue, are the most difficult and dissonant of the set. The Prelude is loosely based on the broken chords of Bach’s popular Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier book 1, but written “upside-down.” The fugue uses a folk theme. The rest of the set includes easier gems such as “Indian Lullaby,” “The juggler” and “Little Dance Song.”

Indian Lullaby (excerpt from the Marco Polo release, Pervez Mody, piano)

Indian Lullaby

“Seven Pieces for Children” and “Music for Children” are printed by Peer Music International and are available at a discounted price here:

No image available tiny
look inside
7 Piezas Infantiles
(Easy Piano Solo). By Luis Gianneo (1897-1968). For Piano. Peermusic Classical. Easy. Softcover. 16 pages. Peermusic #61110-501. Published by Peermusic (HL.228109).

“Tangos” by Juan José Castro: Neoclassical tangos with a touch of Stravinsky

Juan José Castro’s “Tangos” for piano are effective and fun pieces at the early advanced level. The set comprises five miniatures: an introduction and four tangos totaling about 12 minutes. Not many people know of the music and style of this composer. These tangos sound definitely different than, say, Piazzolla’s tangos. Castro’s pieces were composed in the 1941 — earlier than most of Piazzolla’s works– but are definitely more modern, dissonant and bolder than Piazzolla’s. They reflect Castro’s interest in composing a national music that went beyond the picturesque and tonal nationalism of earlier composers.

castro.jpgJuan José Castro belonged to a family of musicians. Two of his younger brothers — José María and Washington Castro– also became composers of fame in Argentina. Juan José was born in Avellaneda in 1895, one of the working-class suburbs of Buenos Aires that spawn the urban tango genre at the end of the 19th century. Undoubtedly Castro was in touch with this popular genre; he composed some light tangos in the early 1910s, when he was in his late teens. Among these were the charming “Qué titéo!” which was published, and a couple of other tangos that were recorded by a well-known popular band of the time. This first-hand knowledge of the genre is evident in his more sophisticated 1941 “Tangos” – they possess that unmistakable freshness and authenticity of the original genre.

Castro went on to classical music studies in Buenos Aires. He became a very good pianist and violinist, and was particularly interested in conducting. He went to France between 1920 and 1925, and studied at the Schola Cantorum. While in Paris he must have witnessed the revolutionary changes in music of the time, with the music of “Les six” and the first neoclassical Stravinsky. At his return to Argentina he connected with other Argentine composers of his generation interested in modern techniques. Together with his brother José María, and like-minded composers Juan Carlos Paz and Gilardo Gilardi among others he founded the Grupo Renovación (Renovation Group) in 1929, whose goal was the exploration of modern techniques and the dissemination of new works by its members through concerts and publications. Luis Gianneo, another important composer, joined the group a little later.

Castro’s “Tangos” are small vignettes that depict typical urban characters of Buenos Aires.
“Evocación” is a nostalgic introduction that quotes two passages from La Cumparsita, a widely known popular tango composed in the 1910s by the Uruguayan Matos Rodriguez (Click here: Evocacion (excerpt) to listen to an excerpt of my live performance).


“Llorón,” the whiner, portrays a character that complains loudly and bluntly about his love tribulations. This piece includes fast melodic ornamentation typical of the tango genre. (Click here: Lloron (excerpt) to listen to my live performance).


“Compadrón,” partly based on an octatonic scale, portrays a self-assured, dangerous gangster who is not afraid of fighting with his knife. “Milonguero,” written in two-voice counterpoint, is the archetypal elegant yet tacky tango dancer who frequents the tango gatherings or milongas. “Nostálgico” is a somber and nostalgic tanguero who evokes the “good old times.”

“Tangos” is published by Southern-Peer International, and is available at a discounted price here:

No image available tiny
look inside
(Piano Solo). By Juan Jose Castro (1895-1968). For Piano Solo. Peermusic Classical. Softcover. 20 pages. Peermusic #61400-501. Published by Peermusic (HL.228401).

Astor Piazzolla РVerano Porte̱o and other tangos

For the last four or five years, I’ve been doing presentations on music by Latin American classical composers in several venues in the US. The audience for these presentations has usually been teachers interested in teaching Latin American music in their private studios, or pianists who want to explore it. This blog is, in fact, a product of my presentations.

piazzolla.jpgI remember clearly the first time I presented this material in front of a group of eager teachers in southern Ohio. For one long hour, I talked about and played pieces by most of the luminaries of Latin American classical music: Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Chavez, Castro… At the end of my presentation, one of the teachers raised her hand and asked: “can you now play a ‘real’ tango, like some Piazzolla, please?” I was embarrassed to admit that I did not have any Piazzolla in my presentation at that point! In fact, including Piazzolla in my repertoire had not crossed my mind until then. You may ask why I had totally ignored a composer who invariably causes a deep impression in classically- and non-classically-trained listeners? A composer who is equally admired and played by tango and jazz musicians, and more recently, cross-over classical performers such as Barenboim, Gidon Kremer and Yo-Yo Ma? After some reflection I realized my omission had to do with my Argentine classical training. You see, Piazzolla, in the 1980s, was not highly regarded in Argentine classical music conservatories. He had two “shortcomings”: first, he was Argentine (conservatories there tended to over-value the three German “Bs” and Chopin, and to devalue most things written on this side of the Atlantic, with some notable exceptions); second, he was a tango musician, for God’s sake, a TANGO musician! Tango, as in “POPULAR MUSIC’s tango,” not worthy of the classical stage. Well, this lady made me realize that maybe I was wrong. I quickly started looking for some good Piazzolla to add to my presentations and my concerts. People loved it.

The main problem that faces classically trained pianists when tackling Piazzolla’s music is that the printed versions of the pieces are arrangements or transcriptions of works that existed first as “sound” for a very particular ensemble of instruments, flexible in their genesis just like jazz. If you hear Piazzolla’s recordings you’ll realize that, like jazz, the pieces owe much to the spurt of the moment, the musicians who play them, and the place where they are played. This means that some of the arrangements you can buy nowadays sound somewhat awkward and contrived. Some are too “thin” and unconvincing, while others are just plain impossible to play, since they include many layers of sound, for which you would need 3 or more hands. For some of these pieces you need to use common sense and intuition to make them work at the piano.

There are some great Piazzolla piano pieces at the intermediate and early advanced levels. Some of these pieces include:

  • The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas), especially the rhythmic and captivating “Verano Porteño,” or Summer of Buenos Aires, which works very well with some minimal tinkering (listen to my performance below)
  • The set Angel, which includes Milonga del Angel, a gorgeous slow milonga at the intermediate level that will enthrall students and audiences alike with its sophisticated harmonies and slow, hypnotic melodies
  • Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi, or Portrait of Alfredo Gobbi, a lesser known, fantasy-like tango with many mood changes and daring harmonies
  • Adios Nonino, a fast and exciting classic tango

There are MANY other sets that I encourage you to explore.

You can hear an excerpt of my live performance of “Verano Porteño” (Summer of Buenos Aires) here: veranoexcerpt.mp3. Also watch me play Milonga del Angel (apologies for the wrong notes!)

Verano Porteño (excerpt), published by Tonos.

Buy any of these tangos on by clicking at these links:

No image available tiny
look inside
Verano Porteno
Composed by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). For piano. Tango. Published by Melos Ediciones Musicales (QM.MEL-1034).
No image available tiny
look inside
Composed by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). For Piano. Tango. Collection. Published by Tonos Music (TO.20001).
No image available tiny
look inside
Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi
Composed by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). For piano. Tango. Published by Melos Ediciones Musicales (QM.MEL-1388).
look inside
Astor Piazzolla for Piano
Composed by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). For Piano/Keyboard. Hal Leonard Piano Solo. Latin and Argentina. Difficulty: medium-difficult. Instrumental solo book. Introductory text. 64 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.306709).
look inside
Astor Piazzolla – El Viaje
(15 tangos and other pieces Piano). Composed by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). For Piano. BH Piano. Softcover. 32 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M060119620. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48019906).

Watch Piazzolla himself playing “Milonga del Angel” at this YouTube video:


“Odeon” by Ernesto Nazareth

nazareth3.jpgErnesto Nazareth was a Brazilian pianist and composer born in Rio de Janeiro in 1863. He died in 1934. Described as the “true incarnation of the Brazilian musical soul” by his compatriot Heitor Villa-Lobos, Nazareth composed and published more than 200 short piano compositions with strong popular flavor. Of these, 88 are tangos, many of which are still popular in Brazil and the rest of the world.

Nazareth was an impressive sight-reader and improviser. He was hired by a music store in Rio to play music for customers interested in buying sheet music. He was also hired as a pianist at the Odeon movie theater around 1924 to play in the waiting room.

The tango “Odeon” was probably written around that time. It is one of the best known tangos he composed. You can hear it not only in the original piano version, but also in guitar and other arrangements (you can find some of them in the iTunes store).

“Odeon” –and Nazareth’s music in general– can be a powerful motivator for intermediate piano students who have become “burned” by traditional repertoire. I remember a junior recital at the University of Minnesota during my student years that included a set of 3 or 4 tangos, performed by an Asian student. She liked this music so much that it truly was the best thing she performed that day!


Buy it here:

Look inside this title
Ernesto Nazareth: Brazilian Tangos and Dances - sheet music at
Ernesto Nazareth: Brazilian Tangos and Dances Composed by Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934), edited by David P. Appleby. Collection for solo piano. Series: Alfred Masterworks Editions. 40 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (AP.16775)
See more info…

I think Odeon’s beauty is the result of the happy combination of many elements: a perfect balance of “saudade” (nostalgic feeling) with upbeat rhythms, a long and expansive left hand melody in the refrain, “jazzy” harmonies in the right hand, and a slight touch of “Tico Tico” and Camen Miranda in the last episode (maybe?).

There are other tangos besides “Odeon” that an intermediate student can handle well. To name two of the most popular: “Remando” and “Brejeiro” (which sounds suspiciously similar to Milhaud’s Scaramouche, composed later).

A tip: don’t play these tangos too fast. Remember that this music also has a big deal of nostalgia (ask any Brazilian!). Just watch the video (in Portuguese) of composer Francisco Mignone. Mignone met Nazareth at the music store where the older composer played for customers. The young and enthusiastic Mignone jumped at the piano and played “Brejeiro” for the composer at a dashing tempo. Nazareth response: “that’s not how you should play it!” and played it for him slower, more clearly and more singingly. Nazareth then told him that performers often ruined his music by playing it too fast.

Mignone on Nazareth (video on YouTube):

“Odeon” is in the public domain. You can download a free copy at the International Music Score Library Project.

If you want to buy good anthologies of his Tangos, Alfred Publications has a good compilation of 10 or 15 pieces (Brazilian Tangos and Dances. Van Nuys: Alfred, 1997). Also check A Collection of his Finest Piano Works. San Francisco: GSP, [no date] on Amazon.

-Alejandro Cremaschi