Tangos with melodies from classical music

This post simply presents a fun listening exercise, where a few of the tangos that are using melodies from the classical repertoire can be compared to how they are usually played in a concert hall.


Let’s start off with Edgardo Donato’s La Melodía Del Corazón:

Compare the above to Frédéric Chopin’s organically flowing Étude Op. 10, No 3: Tristesse, as performed by Evgeny Kissin:

Wedding march

Several orchestras have recorded the tango Marcha Nupcial. Here’s Francisco Canaro:

And Biagi:

And, of course, the original Wedding march from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, here conducted by Kurt Masur:

Hungarian dance

Enrique Rodríguez played some nice foxtrots, e.g. this Danza Húngara No. 5:

And Claudio Abbado’s classical version of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian dance no. 5 will show you why it’s easier to dance to an adaptation by a tango orchestra, rather than the original composition:

Pearl fishers

Florindo Sassone’s Los Pescadores De Perlas is played a lot in European tango events these days:

The original tenor aria “Je crois entendre encore” is from from Georges Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles. I recommend first listening to Jussi Björling’s flawless rendering:

And then let your heart melt to Alfredo Kraus’ extraordinary stage performance of the same aria:

For anyone accustomed to the classical versions, the corresponding tango versions may sound a bit square and insensitive in comparison. But this might be a necessary adaptation, in order to make the tunes danceable. And the interesting thing is that very often you tend to like the version of a song that you heard first better, so if you e.g. already heard some of the above at milongas, it is not unlikely that you’ll prefer the tango version not just for dancing, but also for listening. Either way, I hope you enjoy all of this amazing music!

How to dance to the music: Know the recording

Many dancers prefer tangos from a specific period, namely the Golden Age (approx. 1935-1955) of tango. Although there are plenty of gems in that musical treasure, some of the nicest songs get played more often than others in practicas and milongas, to the point where you will recognize them from the first few harmonies, and know much of them by heart. This is a good thing, in my mind, since knowing specific recordings really well also makes it easier to dance to them. My series on how to dance to the music continues.


A trained ear can guess rather well what is about to happen in a previously unknown tango. Some expressions of musicality in dancing, though, rely on actually knowing the specific recording by heart.

The accents of Edgardo Donato’s milonga “Ella Es Así” are virtually impossible to predict unless you’ve heard the song before, and if you want to play with the exact rhythm of the many playful fills of Rodolfo Biagi’s piano, you need to know from memory what is about to happen in the music.

The better you know the specific song, the better are your chances of finding time to prepare. The body needs time to create a movement, so it is not sufficient to realize what is coming just a fraction of a second beforehand – often movements need to be prepared at least one beat in advance, sometimes even several beats for a good build-up.

Here’s a few examples of how knowing the details of a tango piece can be used in the dancing:

  1. Make embellishments that match fills in the music. Fills are short instrumental passages in the breaks between the phrases of the melody. Carlos Di Sarli often lets a few piano notes shine through to connect two phrases. Ángel D’Agostino as well, or he may leave it to the bandoneons. Some leaders make sure to leave space in the dance for the follower to do this, when they know a good moment is coming up.
  2. Hit accents in the music with something distinct in the dance, such as a heavier step or a boleo. Often, the necessary time of preparation for the movement corresponds roughly to its size. If you don’t have time to execute the big boleo, go for something smaller, like a shoulder movement or a foot tap.
  3. Play along with the ending of the song. As already mentioned among the basics, one way is to make sure that your last movements hits the last note of the song. Extravagant ending poses are fun, but not always suitable for the social dance floor. Simply coming to a stop in the dance right when the tango ends, is a great effect in itself. Sure, most of the time, it is easy to hear when a song is about to end, even if you do not know the specific recording, but there are plenty of exceptions, so make sure to remember if you can. Sometimes, the music is twisting it the other way around: it lets you expect an ending, when in fact it continues, like a Beethoven symphony that never wants to finally settle into silence. Dance on without any hesitation in those moments, and notice the effect.
  4. The moment when the singer enters the song is often a very special moment, so don’t let it pass unnoticed in the dancing! It can be the right time to slow down to almost complete stillness (try that e.g. to Temo by OTV). Or it may be the time to get into really a close and gentle embrace. If you don’t remember exactly where the singer starts, it is perfectly fine to make such alterations once you actually hear the voice, but the effect is greater if you can prepare beforehand, to really change the way you move from the very first note of the singer.