||(Written by the composer) With this work Fine accomplished two important goals: he sublimated his anger over America’s war policies, and he completed his reconstruction and elaboration of his early song The End. That this was done in the form of a tango is also significant; Fine admitted in his program notes for its premiere that the style, being one of the most polyphonic of dance forms, “should have commended itself to my attention long ago”. (And Fine’s appreciation of tango polyphony is fulfilled in the fugal recapitulation.)
The Tango in Time of War is actually the first-fruits of Fine’s discovery of tango writing, which Fine would continue in the next two works (Milagro del Amor and Milonga Para Salina) and would also have used for the finale of the mature Viola Concerto had he completed it. Elements of the tango are also present in the dirge-like coda for the slow movement of his sketched-out Fourth Symphony. Fine’s acquaintance with the tango style can be accurately dated to the summer of 2001, when Penn’s Woods’s new Music Director Gerardo Edelstein did an all-tango program was played which included the Piazzolla Bandoneon Concerto. The bandoneon soloist, Raul Jaurena, praised Fine’s ability to play in the style de-spite his lack of acquaintance with it (his fluency in it was only indirectly derived from his youth as a rock musician).
Subsequently one of his friends at the festival, the flutist Diane Gold Toulson, asked Fine to write a tango for her (the result was the Milagro del Amor, his second tango). At first he considered writing for mixed sextet (Gold Toulson, her husband and Penn’s Woods clarinet colleague Smith Toulson, a string trio to include Fine and his friend Melinda Daetsch, and piano), and after a difficult period absorbing the elements of Piazzolla’s nuevo tango (and its intensified anger and passion) completed this version in March 2002. But he retained this version, and started over with the Milagro.
Meanwhile, Fine had submitted the torso of the original in mid-March to Michael Stern, his conductor in IRIS, in hopes of being able to orchestrate it for performance by them. Stern accepted the work even in its incomplete form, whereupon Fine completed the orchestration in three weeks in May. (This also explains why Fine retained the original sextet version, for in doing so Fine revised some of his row-forms to better harmonize with his tango material, and apparently never had a chance to incorporate these revisions into the sextet version.)
Equally as important as the assimilation of tango style is the welter of influences from Fine’s youth and even early childhood, integrated here as a peculiar variety of therapy. The connection of the Tango in Time of War with The End is so intimate that the song’s tone-row incessantly finds its way into the tango, generally in the bridges between themes. The cello and viola solos have a curious derivation, which is explained in Unresolved Dissonance as Fine’s own scream of terror while running from a bee, imitated by his father. In addition Fine includes in the tango (twice) an in-joke among violists: he harmonizes five bars from the Hindemith op. 25 #1, counterpointing it with his tango themes as well.
The premiere took place in Germantown on January 25, 2003, and was a tumultuous success--Fine’s next-to-last before the mysterious catastrophes that befell him thereafter. Yet up to the premiere Fine had misgivings about the work. After completing it he wrote Paul Pellay that “it does not seem like a dance. It is more like a concert movement, somewhat like the Capriccio from the Second Viola Sonata, which depends on tango rhythms for its get up and go, and sounds angry besides under the influence of 9/11.” The premiere resolved all his doubts about the work, which has since been regarded--among those that had so far been performed, to be fair--as Fine’s best. Moreover, it led directly to IRIS’s commissioning of A Flower of the Infinite Garden in 2004