The History of Tango Jalousie - A Global

Jalousie, Tango Tsigane was first performed on 14th September 1925 at the Palads Theatre in Copenhagen in connection with the premiere in Denmark of the silent film Don Q, Son of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Astor. During the playing of the film Gade made use of the theme as accompaniment and at the intermission the tango was performed in its entirety.

Gade himself told how he was inspired to write the melody that was to shape his life: “One day the papers were filled with sensational descriptions of a crime of passion, a jealousy-murder, which made such an impression on me that I could not stop thinking about it. During my morning walk across the fields, however, I came to the sensible conclusion that the horrifying drama was really none of my business, so it faded gradually into the background. Nevertheless the word “jealousy” stuck in my mind as a title to which notes began to attach themselves. When I got home I sat down at my desk and after a few hours Tango Jalousie was finished.” The title Jalousie, Tango Tsigane, spelt in the French manner, emphasizes the international character of the tune. “Tsigane” (Gypsy) refers primarily to the virtuoso introduction for solo violin, which sounds almost improvised. The tango can be regarded as falling into two main parts, the first characterized by the temperamental theme in d minor and the second by the lyrical, refrain-like D major melody which is repeated. Both themes are cast in the rhythm of the tango and distinguished by a strong melodic profile. The instrumentation is the composer’s own and it shows that Jacob Gade, though self-taught as a composer, was a master of his craft.

The tango was published in the same year by Gade & Warny, a publishing firm that Gade had just started with his colleague Jens Warny - a highly esteemed bandleader at the famous Nimb establishment in Copenhagen. Already the following year Jalousie was also published abroad, by Harms in New York and Brull in Paris, among others. Then in the 1930s came radio transmissions and gramophone recordings. Arthur Fiedler’s recording with the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1938 on the Victor label, which in 1952 became the first recording of light orchestral music to pass the magic number of one million sold copies, further consolidated the success of the tango. Innumerable other recordings followed, including one by the famous English singer Vera Lynn, whose performance, using a text written by the American Vera Bloom in 1931, was a hit during the Second World War.

When the war had finally come to an end, it appeared that the melody had been performed more often than any other piece of music with which it could be compared and while Denmark had been occupied a small fortune had accumulated and was waiting to be collected by the composer. Since then the piece has continued to enjoy a phenomenal success, as, for example, when the American singer Frankie Laine’s recording from 1953 also passed the magic number of one million copies sold.

Where does Tango Jalousie belong in the world of music? Does it deserve to be classified as “classical music” or is it “merely” light music? It is not easy to determine: it has been recorded in all conceivable (and some inconceivable) arrangements, but it is noteworthy that on the lables of many of the recordings the names of well-established musicians from the world of classical music are to be found. One can mention, for example, the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler, the violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, Sjællands Symfoniorkester (The Symphony Orchestra of Sealand) with Anton Kontra as soloist and John Frandsen as conductor, Sønderjyllands Symfoniorkester (The Symphony Orchestra of North Slesvig) conducted by Frans Rasmussen, the Spanish tenor Placido Domingo and the Danish “Royal Chamber Singer” Ib Hansen, and of course, since he was eminently qualified for this kind of music in particular, the violinist Wandy Tworek. Jacob Gade himself, to be sure, led the orchestra in several recordings of Tango Jalousie, and there are innumerable others. Not many countries are not represented with orchestras, conductors, violinists, singers and/or choruses on the long list. The world-famous Argentinian tango orchestra Sexteto Mayor should also be mentioned, and among the newer Danish recordings, one by the Ars Nova chorus with Niels Henning Ørsted Petersen and Palle Mikkelborg which lasts no less than nine minutes.

Though originally written as accompaniment to a silent movie, the tune has also been used in more than 100 sound films and TV productions, such as “Paris in Spring” with Ida Lupino (1935), “City for Conquest” with James Cagney (1940), “Anchors Away” with Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson (1945), “Romance on the High Seas” with Doris Day (1948), “Flamingo Road” with Joan Crawford (1949), “Painting the Clouds With Sunshine” with Dennis Morgan and Virginia Mayo (1951), “Sea Chase” with John Wayne (1955), “Bombers B52” with Natalie Wood (1957), “Death on the Nile” with David Niven (1978), Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (1997) and the British film “The Full Monty” (1998). In Denmark it has been used in Niels Malmros’ “Århus by Night” and in the TV series “Matador”. To these may be added some films from recent years in which the tune has been used as background music, as in “Tangobar” by the Argentinian director Marcos Zurinaga (1988) and the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s “Atame!” (1991). Animators too have had use for Tango Jalousie: Jannik Hastrup has produced a music cartoon lasting five minutes in which the piece is played by Sjællands Symfoniorkester (The Symphony Orchestra of Sealand) conducted by John Frandsen and featuring Anton Kontra as violin soloist. In a review in Information Erik Thygesen called it “A distinguished alternative to the tens of thousands of meaningless music videos of today. May it be used frequently and not just at short-film festivals.”

On 15th October 1967 a little ballet entitled Tango Chicane was performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen (and subsequently in the United States and Greenland) by Flemming and Vivi Flindt. The idea and choreography were by Flemming Flindt and the music, by Per Nørgård, was based on Jacob Gade’s Tango Jalousie.

Per Nørgård has told about the making of the music:

“Flemming Flindt and I were commissioned to write a little ballet which was to have its point of departure in Tango Jalousie and it was first performed earlier [in 1967] in the hall at Assens in connection with the Jacob Gade celebrations. We were given free rein and I at once saw the possibilities of the word-play “tsigane-chicane”. I accordingly wrote a piece for orchestra in which I treated [Gade’s] model affectionately but ironically and took advantage of a number of musical resemblances, for example the Tosca-motif suggested by the upward rise at the beginning of the tango melody, and found a way to introduce a quotation from the Beatles’ tune “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Furthermore, Tango Chicane can be heard as a continuation of my ballet The Young Man is Getting Married - the ironic attitude of which my parents, whose living came from selling wedding dresses, had to learn to accept. Tango Chicane was a success, we thought, and I had to make several versions for use in places where a symphony orchestra was not available. Hence I performed it in an arrangement for violin and piano at the Royal Theatre when the orchestra was on vacation. The violinist was Wandy Tworek and later, wearing a moustache and with a palm by my side, we played the music for King Frederik IX. The music was also arranged for chamber orchestra and for a tour in Greenland in 1969 Gunnar Møller Pedersen made an arrangment for trio.”

The annual Performing Rights Society statements show Tango Jalousie to be one of the most often played tunes in the world and the most frequently performed piece of Danish music, especially favoured, apparently, in USA, Japan, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, Argentina and Finland. Fortunately, Jacob Gade lived to experience this world-wide success. During the later years of a long life he was able to enjoy the sweets of fame in the knowledge that he had created one of the most popular and most performed melodies ever written.