Suite pour Berthe Gardes
This composition originated from my obsession with the baroque French dances (such as the bouree, chaconne, and Italian toccatas), Colombian rhythmic patterns, Argentine tango and American Jazz harmony - all of which are interwoven throughout the work. During the writing process, the French Impressionists were essential guides in constructing the first movement, so much so that I have dedicated my Suite for Piano No. 2 to a single mother from Toulouse, France, Berthe and her son, the Tango-singer/actor Charles Gardes, famously known as Carlos Gardel.
The complex history of South America and its diverse ethnicities have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, much of the South American news the world receives does not reflect the most altruistic aspects of this heterogeneous continent; perhaps most notoriously, the world has heard extensively about European criminals who escaped to South-America post World War II, such as Adolf Eichmann. Another high profile example that the world hears much about is the Falkland Islands conflict in the late 1900s between British and Argentine forces. In reality, South American history is rich with many more positive influences and migrations - like those of the British sailors who brought soccer (football) to Argentina in the 1860s. In this composition, I chose to highlight the story of a humble European woman who gave her son to the Americas. Her contribution, through her son, led to the development of an immensely important cultural and musical genre that up to today continues to draw millions of followers. Her heroic story compelled me to celebrate her life and legacy by composing this work in five movements: I - Noctazia, “Berthe attend un enfant à Toulouse,” II - Chaconne “Laissant Bordeaux,” III - Tango “El Rey de Buenos Aires,” IV - Bouree, “Berthe revient à France,” and V - Toccata, “Gardel en Medellin.”
The architectural make-up of the opening movement relies on an unlikely juxtaposition of impressionism and baroque. In the baroque period, J.S. Bach’s keyboard works were written for the harpsichord and organ instruments. When Bach scholars interpret his works on piano, there is almost no pedaling. More orthodox thinkers believe that Bach’s works should not be played on the piano but instead on the composer’s intended instruments: namely, the organ and the harpsichord. When I began this composition, I wondered what would happen if a more impressionist-influenced movement employed a more baroque approach, with little damper pedal - as if it were a work written in earlier years. My experiment obviously resulted in a re-created modern work of dances and styles from the baroque, classical, impressionist, romantic as well as other styles from the 1900s, such as the tango and my own noctazia.
The natural extension of this effort was to then imagine what a Debussy piano work might sound like without pedal, or with less use of it. This was part of my exploration on the opening movement: it is heavily influenced by the impressionist as well as by American Jazz harmony. I continued to explore an inner discourse of what would happen if I combined a baroque influence with more commonly impressionist pedaling. For the chaconne, originally a more baroque selection, I experimented using the pedal to see how the rich harmonic structures would interact with each other. For other sections of the chaconne, I abstained from the pedal and found myself creating a very enjoyable contrast in timbre and sound duration. From the first movement to the closing toccata, the Suite employs instances both of little pedal use, as in the tango and the noctazia (my own invention: a cross between a nocturne, fantazia and toccata), and of more pronounced pedaling, as in the chaconne and bouree. The toccata in particular demonstrates the ongoing motion characteristic of its style, but is contrasted with heavier counterpoint, a slower cantabile and chorale middle section, culminating in a climactic ending that depicts the tragic and sudden death of Berthe’s son.
In addition to the technical compositional methods I employed during the writing process, two main sources are notable as inspiration from which I abstracted Berthe’s journey in my Suite for Piano No.2. The first source comes from my father’s storytelling of the history of Tango and its French roots. Twenty-five years after first listening to them, my father’s stories led me to research the life of Gardel in what became my second source of inspiration for this work, Esteban, Ruffié and Galope’s book The Father of Gardel. In the end, interestingly, it was not Gardel’s father who motivated me to compose this large work but his mother, her journey from France to the Americas, and how this journey shaped the destiny of her son.
This poignant journey comprises the essence of my Suite for Piano, No 2. Born to a humble merchant family in 1865 in Toulouse, France, Berthe lost her father at a young age. She worked as a laundry woman and developed a relationship with a man, Paul Lasserre. When Berthe became pregnant, her life unravelled. Perhaps it was because at 27 years of age, Berthe was much older than the then more marriageable women in their early 20s. Perhaps it was the stigma of having conceived a child out of wedlock. Whatever the cause, Paul abandoned Berthe to single-motherhood in a society unreceptive to such a plight. The pain, solitude, and financial struggles of this expectant young woman manifest in the dramatic first movement.
Berthe’s son Charles was born in Toulouse in 1890. A few years later, mother and son departed from Bordeaux, set to sail a new horizon. This new beginning in their lives marks the beginning of my second movement: the arrival of single mother and child amongst their fellow European immigrants, pursuing a better and yet unknown destiny in the Americas. What thoughts went through Berthe’s mind? What dreams did she have for her and her son? Fear, suffering, escape, hope for economic opportunities and a fresh start: these wild thoughts, borne on the long ride that brought Berthe and Charles to Argentina, wrestle throughout the second movement.
I consider the decision to write a chaconne as part of the Suite to be one of the most remarkable moments of my writing process. Although the chaconne originated in the Americas, it became a very popular style in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England. The stories I recall my father telling when I was a child located the origin of tango in the most obscure streets of Paris, subsequently making its way to the Americas. (Incidentally, this was a very controversial claim, as tango and Gardel are equally integral to the cultures of Argentina and Uruguay.) Both styles and dances, the chaconne and the tango, made the transatlantic cultural shift; their cross-cultural influence uniquely suit them to form the second and third movements - the nucleus - of the Suite.
It is in a tango, the third movement, that we find Charles grown. Under the name Carlos Gardel, he has become a singer famous throughout the Americas, but especially in Argentina and Uruguay. Despite not having lived in France since his very young childhood, Gardel was required to leave a successful musical career and report for French military duty in 1914. This complication was averted with the creation of a fake Uruguayan birth certificate, which both freed him from mandatory military service in France and gave credence to a later dispute about his nation of origin. To further complicate matters, Gardel later used this fraudulent Uruguayan certificate to become a legitimate Argentine citizen.
The third movement, El Rey de Buenos Aires (The King of Buenos Aires), conveys the passion of Gardel’s rise to success in his preferred form. The tango is passionate, centered on heart-break - and is also very popular in the Antioquia and Viejo Caldaz regions of Colombia. I listened to many of my father’s favorite Gardel works while preparing this Suite, including “Cuesta Abajo,” “El Dia Que Me Quieras,” “Por una Cabeza,” “Caminito,” “Mi Buenos Aires Querido,” and “Volver.” His work explored many topics, including an expression of longing for home. This was an experience shared by many European immigrants to South America as they adapted to their adopted homelands. Journalist Ramy Wurgaft, in an El Mundo article addressing Gardel’s French nationality, noted that Gardel “did not fight for his native country, but dedicated 'Silence', one of his most moving compositions, to the French mothers who lost their sons in the war.” The tango provides the perfect conduit for expressing the many complex and strong emotions Gardel shared with his contemporaries.
Focused on his artistic career, Gardel enjoyed tremendous success until a terrible accident forever changed the course of Berthe and her son’s destiny. In 1935, Berthe had returned to her hometown in France, which is where she learned of the accidental death of her son in Medellin, Colombia. Berthe lived in terrible grief after her son’s passing. She spent her days listening to her son’s recordings on the radio and attending the cinema to view the several films in which he appeared. She died in Buenos Aires in 1943 and was buried next to her son.
The devolution of Gardel’s, and Berthe’s, world led to my fourth movement, a bouree. Berthe had returned to her roots, her city, her French culture, and in this movement I tried to imagine what it was like for her to be back to France. As I dove into my fifth movement and finale, a toccata subtitled “Gardel en Medellin,” I pictured Berthe enjoying her visit to Toulouse, where her journey first began, before receiving the telegraph that relayed the tragic end of her son’s life: the legend of Berthe’s son reaches a climax and an accidental, yet tragic ending to his journey. I wondered, what was it like for Berthe’s son at the pinnacle of his career to lose it all so suddenly? What was it like for Berthe to be back in her hometown and simultaneously cope with the news that her son had become a legend in the Americas but was forever gone?
This final movement employs diverse elements, from counterpoint to jazz harmonic influences, and a diverse aroma from the Americas.
Orlando Del Greco, Todo Tango-Carlos Gardel Chronicles
Ramy Wurgaft (correspondent) “Gardel’s birth certificate was found and yes he was French”, El Mundo.es
“The Father of Gardel” by authors Carlos Esteban, Monique Ruffié and George Galope, Amerian S.R.L
LEONARDO LE SAN
Celebrated composer and pianist Leonardo Le San has had a distinguished career of
performances, appearances, awards, articles by newspapers, magazines, TV broadcasts
and recordings as an artist. Leonardo studied piano and composition with Chopin master, Orlando Otey. Le San made his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2010. Presenting a solo piano concert in the Weill Recital Hall, Le San performed works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov alongside some of his own compositions and the world premier of his Suite for Piano, The Voices of My Town. Following the concert, The Epoch Times recommended Le San’s concert as one of the newspaper’s “NYC Event Picks.” In 2010, Le San received the prestigious “El Award” by El Diario, La Prensa, the oldest Spanish language newspaper in the United States. Le San has also presented concerts at the Harvard Musical Association in Boston and in various venues in Philadelphia such as the International House Ibrahim Theater. In 2012, Le San performed at the Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Concert Hall in NYC presented by ACE. Le San’s recording of Beethoven released by Ionian Productions has been included in WRTI Classical and Jazz radio station programming in 2013. In 2013, Le San’s Symphony No.1 in Homage to Josef Albers debuted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art curated by Caroline Santa and TSA, and he was invited to perform as soloist at The White House in Washington D.C. The composer and pianist has been written about by music critics in Fanfare Magazine and in other publications such as The Messenger Magazine, World Magazine, RCN TV and more networks in the US. In 2013. In 2014 Le San’s recordings and compositions have aired on Internet-Classical Radio world wide. In the same year Leonardo’s composition was included by Grammy winning producer Kevin Mackie, Grammy nominated producer Alex Otey and Krista Wallhagen as co-producers of radio host Cindy Paulos spoken word album compilation. Le San is currently working on composing his first ballet to be premiered in 2015. For more information please visit www.leonardolesan.com
Recording engineering and mixing by Josh Neubauer-Moonshine Mansion Studios 4619 Cedar Street, Philadelphia PA 19104
Mastering by David V.R Bowles- Swineshead Productions LLC, 722 Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley, CA 94708.
Photography by David Johanson http://www.davidjohanson.com
Album Notes editor: Dell Steckel
Album Design by Caroline Santa
Consultants: Alex Otey and Anthony Milano