Dos Danzas Españolas / 2 Morceaux Caracteristiques:
Tango in A Minor, Op. 164
Original recording by Ricardo Viñes:
My recreated performance:
The recreating experience
Although I found the Viñes performance of this relatively rarely recorded piece a little alien at first, I quickly started to appreciate it as I progressed in the recreating process. It was particularly the feeling of “schwung” – the swing-like character of the rhythm - that I found very intriguing. Regardless of the choice of tempo, character or individual rubato in modern-day performances, there are several aspects of a romantic performance style in Viñes’s playing that quickly became apparent. The most striking difference to modern ears is the rushing of the melody line – even at the expense of lost beats towards the end of the bar. Viñes also generally plays the habanera-like rhythm with a tenuto on the first beat, resulting in a close-to double dotted tendency, making the following semiquaver rushed. His wide use of “arpeggiation” not marked in the original score is easy to spot, although the nuances and very subtle differences between them was something I discovered only when I started to play alongside his recording. This is also true for the unmarked “dislocation” between the hands, i.e. where one hand arrives later than the other, although they are marked as on the same beat in the score. Such “dislocation” causes delays of varying length between the melody and the accompaniment. The longest of these delays can easily be detected by the listener, but through my work on recreating this piece, I discovered that Viñes uses a range of subtle variations, and that he intentionally varies these effects.
At the beginning of the recreating process, I suspected that the unmarked “arpeggiations” Viñes was applying in his performance were simply embellishments, perhaps imitating the portamento technique of voice or string players. I also thought that he always rolled the chords in a “typical” manner, starting at the bottom and finishing at the top note. Playing alongside the recording, though, I made an important discovery. In the first bars of the piece, Viñes rolls the chords in a very brisk and rapid way (like a guitar), but it was difficult to imitate this – something was missing and my performances were not “melting together” with Viñes’s in the way I desired. The melody in my playing was distinguishable, but missing the clarity of Viñes's. I came to realize that Viñes’s rolling of the chords is closely related to his practice of delaying the melody. Viñes plays the melody note in the left hand after the rolling of the chords. Here we have both “arpeggiation” and “dislocation” happening at the same time, and it is this very subtle delaying of the melody that I perceived as clarity. Indeed, I found this to be a tendency that occurs wherever the melody is located in the score, with the position of the melody note in the harmony affecting how the “arpeggiation” is carried out. To be able to achieve this subtle way of bringing out the melody, I started practicing very slowly - exaggerating the rolling of the chords and the delay of the melody. Following this, I gradually increased to full tempo. I was now playing the arpeggios so briskly that the rolling of the chord become almost inaudible, and the delay of the melodic line no longer sounded like a delay – it sounded like an amplification of the main theme. This made me realize that Viñes uses “arpeggiation” to distinguish and amplify the melody, rather than only as a means of embellishment. Indeed, there are only a few bars in this Tango piece where Viñes does not roll the chords, namely bars 23-24, 28, 32, 37-44 and 91-93. Viñes repeats the same musical material in the repetition of the piece, this time also not rolling the chords in bars 117-118, 122, 126 and 131-138. Why would he not also roll these chords if there was a “general trend” of rolling chords in his romantic-influenced playing style? I suspect the lack of polyphonic material within these chords to be the reason that Viñes plays them simply as unrolled chords. As we shall see, I found this to be the case also in other pieces played by Viñes. Although this practice of not “arpeggiating” chords that do not consist of individual voices seems to be typical of this recording, we find an exception to this trend in the last chord of the first part. Here I do believe the rolling of the chord to be an embellishment effect.
In bar 9, the delay of the right-hand melody is one of the most audible delays in the piece, making the E natural melody note sound tenuto. This kind of “dislocation” is in my view in line with the portamento found in other instruments – delaying the melody as a means of making it more expressive. The aforementioned characteristic way of playing the habanera-like rhythm begins in this section, and although Viñes is rushing and slowing in both hands, the melody is clearly separated from the left in a polyphonic manner. The extreme way he rushes from bar 10-11 and 12-13, which causes him to almost skip the notes, could easily be disregarded as “unintentional” or “sloppy playing” by a modern-day critical ear. Fortunately, this section is repeated and Viñes is very consistent in his way of playing it. In fact, the same manner of rushing is repeated also in the middle theme. Having had similar experiences in other recreated pieces, I later began referring to this kind of rubato as the “rubber ball principle”. When a rubber ball is thrown from the hand and up into the air it has a propelling force at first, but starts to slow down right before it reaches its maximum height (climax). At the top, the ball then comes to a full stop mid-air (weightless) for a short time, and then gradually accelerates on the way back down to the hand. I have attempted to illustrate this by thick red arrows and tenuto marks in the annotated score. If one regards these sections of rushing the melody lines in this “gravitational” perspective, rather than as a deviation from strict rhythm, it comes out, in my view, as feeling natural rather than wrong.
Beside the aforementioned unmarked tendencies of Viñes’s playing as well as some minor variations in the ornamentation, there are no fundamental differences between the original score and the recording of this piece. However, it is worth mentioning bar 77, where he plays an F natural instead of the written E. This could either be score-/edition-related, a re-arrangement, or simply a wrong note played by Viñes. Although this note is of little significance with regards to the performance in this piece, it is interesting with regards to the assertion that Viñes made several mistakes (as discussed earlier). This was the only note I found in the entire performance that might in my view be a mistake, and as we shall later see in other pieces, I did not find many at all.
When all these “unmarked tendencies” are seen in relation to one another, including the “arpeggiation” of the chords, the almost double dotted rhythm, the “dislocation” of the hands, and the rushing/slowing of the melody, I found myself having a feeling of structural hierarchy: the direction and emphasis of the melody in Viñes’s playing is in my view superior to all else.
Comparison to other recordings
To compare Viñes’s performance with modern-day recordings, I selected three:
In Greek pianist Rena Kyriakou’s recording, originally recorded in the 1970s, the vast difference when compared to the Viñes recording is immediately apparent just by the length of the recording, which is close to a minute longer in Kyriakou’s case. Her main tempo is slower, and where Viñes rushes in favor of the musical direction of the melody, Kyriakou is doing quite the opposite and slowing down by the end of her melodic lines. Also, where Viñes is rushing the habanera-like rhythm, Kyriakou again leans more towards slowing down. There are no traces of the “unmarked tendencies” such as the “arpeggiation” or “dislocated attacks” we hear in Viñes’s case.
In Belgian pianist Miguel Baselga’s recording, the tempo is relatable to Kyriakou’s, but slightly more flexible in terms of rubato.  However, this subtle rubato is not “polyphonic” as with Viñes, because it is equal in both hands. Also, I suspect this inconsistent rubato to be either unintentional or musically “inspired,” rather than consistently and structurally applied as we hear with Viñes. It is also interesting to note that where Baselga is slowing down in bars 37-44, Viñes accelerates.
Swedish pianist Roland Pöntinen’s recording is the one of the three that most closely resemble the Viñes recording in terms of tempo and character. It does have very subtle dislocation as well as rubato tendencies in the direction of Viñes, but it lacks the more evident “dislocation” that gives individual character to the voices. Pöntinen could thus be said to contain a degree of “general rubato” whereas Viñes uses a more “polyphonic rubato”.
I was unable to find a historical recording of this piece from the time of Viñes. However, this recording of Isaac Albéniz himself improvising in 1903 provides us with a glimpse of his energetic and “forward-moving” way of playing. In my personal view, this strong sense of a Spanish-like rhythmical character and rhetorical rubato qualities is quite similar to what we also hear in Ricardo Viñes’s recording. Although it may never have been the intent of Viñes to imitate the playing of the composer, let us not forget that they knew each other.
Having recreated and embodied the performance of Viñes, his playing now felt natural rather than alien to me. I found myself more seldomly reflecting on how this playing deviates from modern-day standards. Comparing his performance to the three aforementioned recordings though, quickly reminded me of this gap, and I must admit I found their performances to be a bit uninspired when juxtaposed with Viñes’s playing. This is of course highly subjective, but an experience I probably wouldn’t have had if I had not recreated Viñes’s performance. The most important discovery I made when recreating this performance is that the general tendencies of Viñes’s playing which greatly differ from modern-day performances, such as the use of rushing and “dislocation,” seems to have been intentional rather than unintentional.
 Albéniz, Isaac. Tango in A Minor, Op. 164/2, B36/2. Played by Rena Kyriakou. Rena Kyriakou: Isaac Albéniz Complete Piano Works, VOX Reissue 2011. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G48qTi6XUg
 Albéniz, Isaac. Tango in A Minor, Op. 164/2, B36/2. Played Miguel Baselga. Miguel Baselga: Albéniz: Piano Music, Vol. 9, BIS Records, 2017. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiy5YBeNQps
 Albéniz, Isaac. Tango in A Minor, Op. 164/2, B36/2. Played Roland Pöntinen. Roland Pöntinen: Mendelssohn / Rachmaninov / Liszt / Debussy: Music for A Rainy Day, Vol. 2, BIS Records 1998. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUZj0G6jwYQ
 Albéniz, Isaac. Improvisation no. 2, 1930. YouTube, accessed on November 1, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VQ1RB5YXp8