I want to learn to play tango piano better and so I'm working on transcribing this version of Malena by Lucio Demare. Most often I see this song notated in 2/4 but I'm having trouble notating the rhythm for his playing. If I'm hearing it right, the first 20 seconds in particular seem to be in a rubato that stretches and contracts time greatly adding extra subdivisions to the beat. Is there any specific logic to this rubato approach to help me interpret the playing? I come from jazz and most often when you stretch time you come back where you were. (I'm thinking like Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing.)

I assume this version of Demare's is more of a performance version and not meant for dancing and so he is just taking more liberties with time?

2 Answers 2


It's lovely. Very expressive. It's like a sort of meditation on the tune. No - you couldn't dance to it !

I'm not sure why printed versions might render it in 2/4. 4/4 or 'cut common' seem more appropriate to me. (When I refer to bar-numbers below I'm thinking in 4 to a bar.)

In those first bars he is just reminding himself of the tune; feeling his way into it. I think this is an ancient practice, similar to (though certainly not influenced by) the alap of North Indian classical music: 'unmetered, improvised and unaccompanied'. In Europe no doubt similar mental processes led to the development of the toccata: the need of the lutenist to check his tuning and try and remember the tune someone's requested! It's certainly unmetered, and those bars are sort of unaccompanied: it's two-part writing really, with no chords in the right hand and only broken chords in the left.

Yes - those first few bars would be hard to notate in in any time signature. In Sibelius you would need to use considerable jiggery-pokery. It would be easier to notate them by hand because you could indicate how rapidly the notes were to be played graphically by putting as many of them as you liked into each bar and bunching them up closely or less closely. This is called space time notation, normal note values being replaced by the horizontal spacing of note heads on the staff. (Cage and Lutosławski do this sometimes. Sibelius doesn't!)

You're right about rubato. There are two types: your jazz type, where the stolen time gets repaid, and the type where everyone slows down or speeds up together and there is no catching up. Malena is the second type.

But no, there's no logic to his use of rubato. We could say he's interested in the expressive potential of the piece and that where the notes of the melody are poignant, or where the harmony is richer (the Fm6 for example), he finds more scope for invention. Where he can't see much potential he moves on quickly. In bar 8 [ignoring the intro bar] where a - somewhat ordinary - Cm is expected, he adds a b9 to the C7 and brings it forward to the beginning of the bar, keeping up the emotional energy. Repose is only allowed where it will provide contrast. And he's interested in the contrast between the major-key stuff (which is like a flashback to happier times) and the minor key of the main tune.

Those seem to be the 'rules'. There are really only suggestions of tango, aren't there? Rather fleeting ones. You've probably noticed there are bars of 3/4 in there occasionally. They're not rubato: they're 3/4!

If I were writing it out in order to learn it I wouldn't worry too much what it looked like, and it'd be full of instructions like 'Move on' and 'Hold back', á la Copland. And I'd include a reminder to use hardly any pedal: his use of it is amazingly subtle, isn't it?

Good luck. And thanks - I'm glad to have got to know that piece.

  • Thanks. Good to have a second ear to know I'm not going crazy. I'll probably just write it as makes sense so I can refer back to it and not try to fit it into something rigid.
    – Rozgonyi
    Dec 14, 2019 at 2:40
  • You're welcome. Yes - I think that's what I'd do. Dec 15, 2019 at 10:37

From me, an old opera player: putting forward going arrows above the notes(= faster) or backward going arrows above the notes( = slowing down) or a sign wave kind of thing over the notes (which to me means a kind of blah blah blah: something is going on here, watch out). I wish someone could tell me where the rubatos in tangos tend to happen (like the info to play the off beats in a Strauss waltz with the 2nd beat slightly anticipated and the 3rd beat slightly delayed.) Ah well ....above the notes

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