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Saudades by DAVID BRUCE


Saudade (singular) or saudades (plural): vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist (Portuguese).

It seems that for almost as long as the tango has existed it has been characterised by the romanticising or exoticising either the past or a place or person that is no longer accessible. As Michelle Aynesworth writes, in a fastinating article on the relationship between the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges and the Tango, "Tangos are perhaps more than anything an expression of saudade, dreams of days long past or better days to come, a life, a love imagined."

Borges's own saudade seems to take two distinct forms - firstly for the city of Buenos Aires, a city which, even as he stands on its street corner he seems to long for; and secondly and more perversely, for what he saw as the 'manly' origins of the tango in the proud, street-fighting gauchos of the 19th century as they stood outside the bordellos.

As someone coming to the tango tradition from 'outside', it appealed to me to think that tangos are themselves often dreams of long-lost traditions which may or may not have ever existed. It seemed to give me some kind of justification - my piece is, as it were, a dream of a dream.

I was drawn to two of Borges's poems as inspiration for this commission; the first 'Street with a Pink Corner Store' depicts the 'long-suffering street' of Buenos Aires in the moments before dawn, the street is silent but somehow filled with intensity, the darkness puncuated only by the bright light of a corner store.

The second poem 'A Blade in the Northside' conjurs the romantic knife-fighting past, with the image of a blade that must have slipped into many a 'Christian breast' and now lies unused in an old box.

Street with a Pink Corner Store
By Jorge Louis Borges

Gone into night are all the eyes from every intersection
and it's like a drought anticipating rain.
Now all roads are near,
even the road of miracles.
The wind brings with it a slow, befuddled dawn.
Dawn is our fear of doing different things and it comes over us.
All the blessed night I have been walking
and its restlessness has left me
on this street, which could be any street.
Here again the certainty of the plains
on the horizon
and the barren terrain that fades into weeds and wire
and the store as bright as last night's new moon.
The corner is familiar like a memory
with those spacious squares and the promise of a courtyard.
How lovely to attest to you, street of forever, since my own days have
witnessed so few things!
Light draws streaks in the air.
My years have run down roads of earth and water
and you are all I feel, strong rosy street.
I think it is your walls that conceived sunrise,
store so bright in the depth of night.
I think, and the confession of my poverty
is given voice before these houses:
I have seen nothing of mountain ranges, rivers, or the sea,
but the light of Buenos Aires made itself my friend
and I shape the lines of my life and my death with that light of the street.
Big long-suffering street,
you are the only music my life has understood.

A Blade in the Northside
By Jorge Louis Borges

Down there along Maldonado
That today runs blind and hidden,
Down there in the gray barrio
That poor Carriego has sung and written,

Beyond a door that is half open
And looks upon the grapevine arbor,
Where the long evenings listened to
A lone guitar's delighted ardor,

Will be a box, and at the bottom,
With a rough luster that does not fade,
Will sleep, among those things that time
Has learned how to forget, a blade.

It belonged to that Saverio Suárez,
Better known as el Chileno,
Who always proved himself the best
In the election and casino.

The little boys, who are the devil,
Will look for it when they are not watched
And try its metal in the yolk
For places where the edge is notched.

How many times it must have slipped
Into a Christian's mortal breast
And now it lies alone, neglected,
And waiting for a desperate fist,

Which is dust. Behind the glass
That has been lent a golden hue
By a yellow sun, through years and houses,
Blade, I am beholding you.

Press / Latest Reviews


for 2 Tango-inspired works for clarinet, accordion and strings

Bb clarinet (doubling Bass clarinet)
Button Accordion

Duration 15mins
Composed March 2010
First performance Chroma, June 25th 2010, Iford Manor, Bath, UK
Commissioned by Chroma


Past Performances

  • Jun 25 2010
    Iford Manor, Bath, UK (Chroma) (world premiere)

  • Jul 11 2010
    Quaker Meeting House, Berkhamsted, UK (Chroma)

  • Apr 15 2011
    Rust Belt Salon (Rust Belt Salon)

  • Apr 18 2011
    Royal Holloway, University of London (Chroma)

  • Mar 6 2016
    Kings Arms, Berkhamsted (Chroma)

Related Posts

 • Tango in Iford (6/30/2010)
 • Saudades in Bath and Berkamsted (6/10/2010)


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