Soon after Stravinsky fled Europe in the 1930s and settled in sunny Hollywood, he found himself struggling for money. The royalties which had provided him a steady income in France were not forthcoming in America due to legal ambiguities, and, with his limited command of English, he was unable to find a teaching position. Faced with uncertain finances, Stravinsky wrote a number of works with the explicit intention of making a decent sum.
The Tango (1940) is one such example. In this work, Stravinsky seems to view the atmosphere of a tango as its essence; he virtually ignores the tango's distinctive rhythm, substituting near-constant syncopation in 4/4 time. After a terse, dark introduction, a succession of melodies tinged with blue notes and sighing cadences blossoms forth. A rumbling, dense counterpoint passage seems drawn downward; a major-mode trio section does nothing to dispel the world-weary mood. The opening melodies return, followed by a repetition of the introduction, which closes the piece. The Tango is slight but charming, and its commercial appeal is at once obvious. Seeking maximum return for his efforts, Stravinsky intended to transcribe the Tango, originally written for piano, for several different ensembles, including jazz band. Ultimately, he prepared three arrangements: two for chamber orchestra, and one for violin and piano.