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 violin at the Conservatorio Mascagni when he was 11-years-old and completed his education 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 with 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 gave tango a second youth

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 and tango songs were responsible for killing tango, taking the focus away from the beat, D’Arienzo worked with many distinguished estribillistas and signers throughout his career. Francisco Fiorentino, Alberto Echague, Hector Mauré and Armando Laborde all excelled at singing at the powerful speed and rythm of the orchestra.

An important detail to note is the existence of electric recording device in the 1930’s which allows singers to be heard in the middle of the orchestra. When Carlos Gardel turned tango into a song, giving tango yet another youth, he disposed only of acoustic technologies and a more gentle musical background was required in order for singers to be heard.

Juan d’Arienzo is the author of many milongas of the new urban genre as we know it in today’s milonga. Along with Sebasitian Piani, Homero Manzi and Francisco Canaro he contributed largely to impose this new genre in the 1930’s. This style of milonga must not be confused with the milonga campera, or from the country, which  actually played a part in the creation of tango itself.

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. This idea unfortunately persisted even though it is now completely irrelevant. Juan D’Arienzo obviously is one of the most innovative director of tango history and a visionary we must thank for opening the way to all the refinements of the Golden age he has been accused of not following. It’s also impossible to denie that he remains a favourite among dancers to this day.

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