Piazzolla’s Oblivion: Tango and the Mystery of Divine Love

Written as part of the Soundtrack of Marco Bellocchio’s 1984 film Enrico IV, the hauntingly beautiful Oblivion has had great success on the concert stages of the world. [you can watch the trailer to this film at the bottom of this page.]

From superstars in the classical world such as violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to superstars in the jazz arena such as Chick Corea and Al de Meola, the timeless quality of this piece has revealed itself as a conduit for an astounding array of emotional and musical treatments. Much as Bach has been transposed, transcribed, re-arranged, re-thought and re-assembled in many forms while remaining true to its internal essence – and still remain undeniably “Bach” – the same can be said for much of the work of Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla (1921-1992)

One Tango, Many Incarnations

I have been performing this Tango for over a decade now. With the CT Tango Ensemble we have progressed from the melodic line played on Accordeon, to the subtly more “crying” of an actual Bandoneon, the first instrument for which it was conceived. We have added guitar, sometimes saxophone, violin obviously, and on our 2010 German Tour to perform at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, even added an orchestra of Accordeons.

We have had formal “Performance Dancers” – Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich (in an astonishing red dress), performed it on a giant chess-board set for Marthinus Basson’s “Tango del Fuego”, and many times since.

Mark Hoeben & Ina Wichterich

Mark Hoeben & Ina Wichterich

We performed it at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Angela Salat and Andreas Küttner, two of Germany’s finest performers.

 Angela Sallat & Andreas Küttner perform with CT Tango Ensemble: Leipzig Gewandhaus

Angela Sallat & Andreas Küttner perform with CT Tango Ensemble: Leipzig Gewandhaus

And then of course, we have performed it simply for Tango Dancers to dance to, at various Milongas from Cape Town to Germany. I also had the joy of performing it during the international Tango Festival at Abbrazzos in Singapore. For a recent concert, we added Jazz Saxophonist Daniel Shout and Melanie Scholtz sang the French version as performed by Piazzolla’s collaborator Milva.

String Quartets and Symphony Orchestras have all performed this work

Even Techno-inspired version exist of what is, after Adios Nonino, Piazzolla’s most recorded and re-invented work.

And now I will perform in it’s simplest incarnation – a piano and a melody instrument. In this case, the cello.

  • How can one work fit into so many contexts?

  • And why would so many treatments be desirable?

  • And how does one adjust a work to fit these?

The answer to these questions lie of course at the heart of the Tango itself. The real Tango is not worked out by steps, choreographed or learnt by rote. Argentine Tango is improvised, and follows the expression of the music very closely. It is intensely sense-driven. Dancers actually do not make much eye-contact and do not generally talk while dancing. All communication happens through the senses. You feel the weight of your partner’s body, and if their weight is on a particular leg, it determines the various options that are open to you. There is a leader and a follower in Tango, but the follower is far from passive and the leader far from dominating. It is a gentle conversation of request and consent, of strict convention infused with a delighted playfulness and desire to experiment. And despite the public display inherent in dancing, the actual experience is deeply internal.

Tango Albert Combrink

Dancing as a mirror of the self

The best dancers do not think about what they look like to others. They are too busy connecting with each other and experiencing the conversation.

Dancing with someone tells you a lot about them. Are they comfortable taking the lead? Do they follow happily without having to insist on their needs being met first? Can they listen with their souls and their bodies at the same time? Or do they get insecure and fall back on rote-learned patterns that keep the status quo safely in the comfort-zone?

As Kapka Kassabova – author of the book Twelve Minutes of Love- A Tango Story” says so beautifully when asked what about the Tango obsesses her somuch”

“It’s a metaphor for love and hope. And the music is divine – it connects you with the whole of the 20th century, and its melancholy is exquisite. I don’t know any other music that has such perfect balance of the sad and the playful. Just listen to a simple old tango called ‘La melodia del corazon’, or anything by Astor Piazzolla, and you’ll know what I mean. You also become part of a ritualised international subculture and that gives you access to tango clubs around the world where you can have the dance of your life with a complete stranger, to the world’s most romantic music. Tango attracts interesting, complex, often troubled people. The dance itself is very creative and every tango partner you experience is completely different. How can you not get hooked! “

Twelve Minutes of Love


Music as a form of Dance

For me as a musician, this experience is exactly the same. This Tango reveals the training and preconceptions and perceptions of the musician performing it. To break away from the notes on the page, to bend the rhythm without fracturing it, to colour a note beyond what is indicated on the score; these things take great skill, but even greater courage. It is not a simple matter of “Classical musicians read the score” and “Jazz musicians can improvise”. Classically trained musicians often feel that their own desire to express something is somehow subservient to that which the composer wishes to express. The answers – we are taught from childhood – are to be found in the notation on the score, and composers spend their lives refining and redefining music notation in order for their musical instructions to be as clear as possible. And in many cases, this is already a good place to start. Simply performing a piece accurately with every single notated nuance, is not only an achievement in itself, but presents the music without any egotistical “interpretation” by the artist. Try that with Piazzolla and you’re dead in the water. The notes are a rough guide. A very precise, rough guide. If you play all the notes, you miss the point. Improvising around such a strict guideline with expansive freedom is an enormous challenge.

Each musician I play with, has their own ideas, their own personality, and bring their own “paintbrush” to the collaborative canvass you are creating together. Exactly like two Tango Dancers. And yes, like lovers.

Tango Heart – the Tantric Journey of Argentine Tango says it beautifully:

“Words may divide but the Tango embrace unites.  So on the dance floor, in the absence of words, I completely offer my heart and spirit to my cherished dance partners.  Although my offering is only on the level of energy and presence with the dance, for me it is so complete and exposed, that I might as well be making love.   It is my conscious choice to open my energy field to this degree and I do so with partners I generally trust. But it’s a vulnerable place to be

Albert Combrink Tango 3


Tango as a path to the Divine

Naturally, not many people are open to this level of intimacy. The dance and the Tango and the music can guide them along this path.

A decade of playing this music, studying it, masterclasses with dancers and musicians, listening to the great masters – all of these have given me a certain feeling and freedom with this repertoire. A style which is respectful of the original, but one that acknowledges that interaction and interpretation with the Spirit of the text can override the actual text. This reminds me of people – spiritual leaders and laymen – who obsess about the words in sacred texts, rather than their spiritual meaning. The act of dancing Tango is a meditation on inner quietness, a mediation on making visible certain feelings, and in particular, feelings inspired by the music. In the same way, making the music is a meditation. It is a meditation on creating connection with your musical partner(s), connecting with the world of the  spirit with which the composer was connecting.

This is meditation at a very deep level. Subjugating the ego, quietening the mind and going to world of feeling and emotional response, which you can only get to once the world of technical limitations have been left behind. Through this quietness find connection. Through the waves of stillness, we feel the pulse of the Divine.

Albert Combrink Sea Scape

Watch a Trailer of Marco Bellocchio’s 1984 film Enrico IV below and read more about the film HERE.