Juan D’Arienzo

Juan d’Arienzo was a violonist, composer and influential director of the guardia nueva. Also known as El rey del compas, or king of rhythm, his style of interpretation is characterized by a fast and steady beat which appealed to the youth in the mid 1930’s. With this renewed energetic style he gave a new impulse to tango as a dance and musical genre following the death of Carlos Gardel in 1935.

Juan D’Arienzo was born in the neighborhood of Balvanera to a family of Italian immigrants in 1900. He began studying the violin at the Conservatorio Mascagni when he was 11-years-old and completed his education with professor Fassano at the institute Thiebaud Piazzini. With his friends, Angel d’Agostino (piano) and Carlos Bianchi (bandoneon), he formed his first trio and began performing tango and jazz.

In 1926 Juan D’Arienzo decided to dedicated himself exclusively to tango. He performed in movie theaters with the Orquesta típica Paramount and the sexteto Los Ases. He also began forming his own orchestra and made his first recordings with Electra and the voice of Carlos Dante.

When sound films entered movie theatres in the 1930’s, leaving many musicians out of a job, Juan d’Arienzo was hired to perform with his orchesta típica at the cabaret Chantecler. This is where he spent the best years of his career and became the orchestra director we remember today. This is where he began working with Rodolfo Biagi (piano) and encountered the cheerful style of interpretation which brought tango back to life.

The success of Juan d’Arienzo at the Chanteclerc was sudden and intense. He began recording with RCA Victor and appearing on Radio Mundo. Dance halls and tango orchestras were flourishing around the city. D’Arienzo began traveling to Montevideo and became a regular at Teatro Solis and Café Tupí Nambá. In 1937 he appeared for the first time in a movie, “Melodias porteñas”. This movie was followed by many others including “Yo quiero ser bataclana” (1941), “El cantor del pueblo” (1948), “La voz de mi ciudad” (1953) and “Una ventana al éxito” (1966).

Though he thought singers were responsible for killing tango, taking the focus away from the beat, D’Arienzo worked with many distinguished estribillistas and signers throughout his career including Francisco Fiorentino, Alberto Echague, Hector Mauré and Armando Laborde. All of them were required to to follow the speed of the orchestra as d’Arienzo would never make any compromise on his conception of the music and rhythm.

Juan d’Arienzo is the author of many milongas of the new energetic and urban genre which we can hear in today’s milonga and contributes largely to impose this new genre in the 1930’s. This style of milonga must not be confused with the original milonga campera which pertains to Argentina folk music and contributed to the formation of tango at it’s origins.

While new musical styles were flourishing in the golden age, Juan D’Arienzo went on performing and recording with the same fast paced, rhythmical style. Critics said he had become repetitive and failed to evolve and this idea unfortunately has been repeated many time out of it’s original context. From a historical perpective Juan D’Arienzo was one of the most innovative director of tango history and the original force behind all the changes he has been accused of not following. It’s also important to note that he remains a favourite among dancers throughout the golden age and to this day.

When it became clear that tango dancing was not in style anymore, Juan d’Arienzo finally made some changes to his music and began performing on a more melodic tone in the 1960’s. He went on performing and recording until his death in 1976.

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[1] Tango: Cien anos de historia (Vol. III). Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

[2] Gobello, José. “Juan d’Arienzo” in Tango y Lunfardo. Chivilcoy, 1997. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/32/Juan-DArienzo/

[3] Jara, Fernanda. Hace 42 anos moría Juan D´Arienzo, El rey del compás. Infobae. Online. https://www.infobae.com/cultura/2018/01/14/hace-42-anos-moria-juan-darienzo-el-rey-del-compas/

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