Don Juan (tango, 1898)

Don Juan is one of the oldest classics of the tango repertoire. There are no primary sources on the circumstances in which it was created but it is generally admitted that it was composed in 1898 by 13 years old violonist Ernesto Ponzio. According to another recount by Azdrúbal Noble it was the result of an improvisation by the same musician  at Lo de Mamita in 1900.

According to guitarist Eusebio Aspiazu, who used to perform with Ponzio at Lo de Hansen, “Don Juan” was originally entiteled El Panzudo” (the fat guy) in honour of a fat club owner. It was later dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello who was a regular at Lo de Hansen. This is the same Don Juan which appears years later in the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá:

Me llaman Don Juan Cabello,  anóteselo en el cuello, y ahí va, y ahí va, asi me quieren ver.

El cafe de Hansen, also known as cafe Tarana, was a restaurant where people used to gather at night to listen to tango musicians such as Angel Villoldo and Ernesto Ponzio in the early years of tango. This is where “Don Juan” became a hit at the end of the 19th century.

Another interesting fact about “Don Juan” is that it was composed in two parts, a structure which was unusual at the time but became a norm later in the 1920’s. It was inspired by an anonymous tango “¡Que polvo con tango viento!” (1890). [4]

Don Juan was recorded for the first time in 1910 by the orquesta tipica criolla  of Vicente Greco. Together with “Rosendo” it was one the first tangos to be recorded by an orquesta típica. Other tangos had been recorded before by solo player or other band but never by an orquestra dedicated to tango. It was recorded again in 1911 Alfredo Gobbi with lyrics of his own under the title of “Mozos guapos”: [3]

Al compas de una marchita, muy marcada y compadrona, a casa de Ña Ramona, me fui un ratito a bailar

Countless recording of Don Juan were made up to this day, mostly in instrumental versions. The  Orquesta típica Victor recorded a version with the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá and the voice of Alberto Gomez with the in 1932. A few other recordings where made with lyrics by solo artists such as Charlo and  Sophía Bozán. [2] Alfredo de Angelis recorded one version with estribillo of unknown author. [1]

Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli and Anibal Troilo all recorded “Don Juan” more then once, leaving many different versons from the 1920´s to the 1960´s. Astor Piazzolla recorded his own version of “Don Juan” with his Quinteto in 1961.

Ernesto Ponzio left no recording of his famous tango but can be seen performing Don Juan with the Orquesta de la Guardia Vieja in the 1933 argentine sound film “Tango”π


[1] Del Priore, Oscar, and Irene Amachástegui. Cien tangos fundamentales. Buenos Aires: Aguilar, 1998.

[2] Selles, Roberto. Historia del tango “Don Juan”. Todotango. Online

[3] Alfredo Gobbi, Don Juan (Mozos Guapos), Disco original de 78 rmp. Youtube, Online.  Alfredo Gobbi – Don Juan (Mozos guapos) – Tango – Disco original de 78 rpm

[4] Selles, Roberto. “El tango y sus dos primeras decadas (1880- 1900)” in La historia del tango: Primera epoca. Buenos Aires: Corregidor. 1977. Print.


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