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notes on tango history

Sainete

The sainete is a type of short theatrical play from Spain which includes musical parts. It was usually performed during interludes until it was integrated to another type of short play, the genero chico, in the 19th century. In Argentina it continued to exist as an independent genre and evolved into the sainete criollo which played an important part in the history of tango.

In the early 17th century Spain, the sainete was a very short comedy of popular tone. It usually featured a sentimental affair between two main characters surrounded by other stereotyped characters. The purpose of the sainete was to create a diversion between acts of a longer play or to be performed at the end of a function. It typically included musical parts and singing.

When the economical context in Spain called for the creation shorter plays in the mid 19th century, the zarzuelas were divided between the genero grande (long genre) and the genero chico (short genre). At this point the sainete was used to create short plays of about 45 minutes and assimilated to the genero chico.

In Argentina, the sainete continued to develop as an independent genre. There it was compbined with elements of the circo criollo (circus) and evolved into the sainte criollo.

The sainte criollo usually presented scenes of ordinary life in the conventillos, the shared houses where modest families of immigrants used to live in close proximity to each other in Buenos Aires. Unlike the original sainete, these were not pure comedies anymore and included elements of drama.

In the 1920’s, the sainete criollo played an important part in the emergence of the tango canción, the kind of tango songs which were promoted by Carlos Gardel. The so called first tango song, “Mi noche triste, was popularized by the sainete “Los dientes del Perro” by  José González Castillo and Alberto Weisbach.

Following the phenomenal success of  “Mi noche triste”, many other tango songs were written for sainetes. These new tango songs were interpreted by the actors such as Tita Merello and Sofia Bozan as well as signers such as Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini and contributed to create a transition between the guardia vieja and the guardia nueva.

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1 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino. La emancipación cultural (1884-1930). Buenos Aires: Galerna, 2002.

2 Pellettieri, Osvaldo. El sainete y el grotesco criollo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 2008.

Zarzuela

The zarzuela is a form of musical theater from Spain which has the particularity of alternating between dialogues and musical parts. It played an important role in the genesis of tango by introducing the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires.

The first documented mentions of a zarzuela goes back to 1657 with the premier of “El golfo de las sirenas” by Calderon de la Barca. The term zarzuela comes from the name of the royal theater in Madrid where this type of musical play first appeared. In the 19th century a short version of the zarzuela was created, the genero chico, which was more affordable to produce and attend and became popular in Latin american countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina.

A zarzuela  of the genero chico is a essentially a short comedy composed of one act which lasts for an hour or less. These short plays revolved around popular themes and usually unfold on a single set. They were often inspired by sainetes, another genre of short musical play realted to the genero chico .

One of the ways in which the zarzuela influenced on the evolution of tango is by the introduction of the tango andaluz to the city of Buenos Aires. Theaters were an important vehicle through which songs were popularized as people learned and repeated the songs they heard in popular plays. These tangos andaluces soon inspired new local songs which reflected the reality of life in the rapidly growing city of Buenos Aires. Thought these very first tangos criollos did not yet constitute a new distinct musical genre, they are regarded as a very primitive forms of Argentine tango. This is the case for example of Andate a la Recoleta” (1800), which was inspired by a tango andaluz.

Another way in which the zarzuela played a role in the evolution of tango is through providing a space to present and promote the new local tango as a fully formed and recognized entity. The first documented use of the word “tango” in the sense of tango porteño was found in “Justicia Criolla”, a local zarzuela which proudly features the new tango music, dance and culture.

“Justicia Criolla” was premiered at the theater Olimpo in 1897, the same year El entrerriano was composed by Rosendo Mendizabal.

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[1] Pellettieri, Osvaldo. Historia del teatro Argentino en Buenos Aires. Editorial Galerna, 2002. Print.

[2] “El dia que el tango tuvo nombre”. Clarín. Online. https://www.clarin.com/espectaculos/dia-tango-nombre_0_S1luFxZRKx.html

 

Andate a la Recoleta

“Andate a la Recoleta” is a primitive, anonymous tango of andaluz influence. It was composed around 1880, long before El entrerriano by Rosendo Mendizabal (1897). It is sometimes attributed to Juan Pérez and was regarded by musicologist Carlos Vega as the oldest Argentine tango.

Like other early tangos which were composed in the 1880’s, “Andate a la Recoleta” is little more then a tango andaluz with adapted lyrics reflecting the local expressions and reality of life in Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. These lyrics were transmitted to us through oral tradition and their interpretation seems to be difficult and uncertain. They also seem to vary according to different sources.

The prevailing interpretation perhaps is that “Andate a la Recoleta”  was a song about the expansion of the railways toward the northern neighbourhood of Recoleta and an allusion to a strike or strong protest about poor working conditions such a those described in “El cochero de tramway” by Angel Villoldo.

Andate a la Recoleta, decile al recoletero que prepare una boveda para este pobre cochero. Sí, sí, sí, que Gaudencio se va a fundir. No, no, no, que Gaudencio ya se fundió. Y ven a los mayorales parados en los estribos con un letrero que dice: “calle de Estados Unidos”.

Others have pointed out that “going to la Recoleta” means going to party as the area around the cemetery of Recoleta is where the disreputable nightlife and tango dancing were happening in those days. According to this analysis, “Andate a la Recoleta” was rather a lighthearted allusion to nocturnal escapades in the neighbourhood of Recoleta. (Yes yes yes, tonight is my turn, no no no, tomorrow is yours)

Si, Si, Si, que esta noche me toca a mi. No, no, no, que mañana te toca a vos.

Another version shows how familiar “Andate a la Recoleta” must have been in those days as it goes “yes yes yes, son of a bitch”.

Si, si, si, la puta que te pario. No, no, no, que Gaudencio ya se fundio

Yet another version entitled “Vamos a la Plata” was about the foundation of the city of la Plata. This one describes the new city as a place to go in search of a better life where there is soup, women available for marriage, money and no need to work.

“Vamos a La Plata / la nueva capital / allí se come sopa / y puchero sin sal / Si, si, si, / que La Plata se va a fundar / No, no, no / que La Plata ya se fundó / Vamos a La Plata, / que hay mucho que ver / que se casa un hombre / con una mujer / Vamos a La Plata / que hay mucho que ver / hombres a caballo / mujeres de a pie / Me voy a La Plata / la nueva capital / que allí se gana plata / y no hay que trabajar”

These were all inspired by the “Tango de la casera”, the tango andaluz also known as “Senora casera” or “Tango de los merengazos”.

“Señora casera / ¿qué es lo que s’arquila? / Sala y antesala, / comedó y cocina / ¿Cuánto vale esto? / Vale cinco duros./ Dígale al amo / que les den por…/

“Si, si, si, / A mí me gustan los merengazos / No, no, no, / que a ti te gustan los medios vasos / Si, si, si, / a ti te gustan los pío nonos / No, no. no, / que ya te he dicho que no los como”

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[1] Matamoro, Blas. “Orígenes musicales.” In La historia del tango: sus orígenes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1976. Print.

[2] Horvat, Ricardo. Esos malditos tangos: apuntes para la otra historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 2006. Print.

Tango andaluz

The tango andaluz is one of the main musical genres which came into the creation of Argentine tango. It became popular in Buenos Aires in the middle of the 19th century through Spanish theater and inspired the creation of local songs which evolved into one of the primitive form of tango criollo.

The history of the tango andaluz is complex and raises many difficult questions including that of the origin and meaning of the the term “tango”. According to the Argentine musicologist Carlos Vega, (1) when Spanish sailors came to South America at the end of the 18th century, they discovered afro-american rhythms which were integrated into their musical tradition along with the word “tango”. This is the origin of the tango flamenco which in itself has little or nothing to do with Argentine tango.

When the tango flamenco was integrated into Spanish theater in the 19th century it went through a process of transformation which led to the creation of the tango andaluz. Because theaters worked with piano and orchestra rather then guitars, the tango flamenco began to incorporate elements of the habanera, a Cuban rhythm which was very popular in Hispanic countries at that time and better adapted to orchestra instruments. This blend of tango flamenco and habanera is at the origin of the tango andaluz which entered Buenos Aires through the genero chico, a short genre of musical play or zarzuela.

In those days when there was no radio, movies or sound recording of any kind, theater was an important vehicle through which new songs were made popular. This is how the tango andaluz entered Buenos Aires where local versions were invented to better reflect the life situations and linguistic expressions of the Porteños. Many of those tangos acriollados were directly based on an original tango andaluz as Carlos Vega pointed out comparing the “Tango de la casera” with “Andate a la recoleta” (1880). Another example of an early tango which is little more then an adaptation of a tango andaluz is “Ay, qué gusto que placer” (1897) which can be compared to “Ar sal’i los nazarenos”.

Other primitive tangos of andaluz influence include “Bartolo” (1900), “El cochero de tramway” (1900), “La morocha” (1905), “Cuidado con los cincuenta” (1907), “Hotel Victoria” (1906) and “El caburé” (19). These are the tangos which were popularized by interpreters such as Angel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi. They contributed to the creation of other genres of  tango criollo and disapeared around 1910 in favour of another current related to the milonga.

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

[2] Matamoro, Blas. “Orígenes musicales.” In La historia del tango: sus orígenes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1976. Print.

[3] Horvat, Ricardo. Esos malditos tangos: apuntes para la otra historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblos, 2006. Print.

Manuel O. Campoamor

Manuel O. Campoamor was a pianist and composer of the early days of tango. In his youth, he performed in private parties and houses as well as in casas de baile were tango was becoming popular at the end of the 19th century. He was one of the first artists to record in Argentina both as a soloist and as accompaniment of other pioneers including Linda Thelma, Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón and Ángel Villoldo.

Manuel Oscar Campoamor was born in Montevideo in 1877. He was only 7 years old when his family moved to Buenos Aires. There he learned to play piano on his own while working as a telegraphist. In 1897 he was hired at the luxurious department store of Gath y Chaves where he remained for 25 years, working his way from the accounting department to a management position.

While Campoamor relied on these jobs all his life for to make a living, he also began performing in public as a pianist. He made his debut at la Casa Suisa when he was 17 years old [2] and quickly made a name for himself, performing in private parties and houses where tango was not yet admitted. Then he began performing in casas de baile such as la Casa de Maria la Vasca and Lo de Hansen. He composed his first tango “Sargento Cabral” in 1899, followed by “El séptimo cielo” (1900), “La c…ara de la l…una” (1901), “La metralla” (1902), “La franela” (1903) and “Mi capitan” (1905).

The tangos of Campoamor are the fast paced, lighthearted and often naughty tanguitos of the 1890’s. These are among the very first compositions which can be fully distinguished from other musical genres that came into the creation of argentine tango such as the tango andaluz and the milonga.

By the time tango was beginning to gain popularity in Buenos Aires around 1910, Campoamor already felt that his music was going out of fashion and significantly reduced his musical activity. He returned to tango in the early 1920’s, forming a cuarteto with Raimundo Petillo. The cuarteto turned into a sexteto and together they went on performing tango in their own old fashion manner as other musicians were already moving into the guardia nueva.

Manuel O. Campoamor died in died in 1941, never adhering to any of the various currents of renovation tango had been through during his lifetime. He did no express any resentment about the musical evolution of tango and simply said he did not identify with it. He is remembered as one of the great pioneers and proponent of the guardia vieja.

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[1] Selles, Roberto. El tango y sus dos primeras décadas (1880-1900). La historia del tango. Corregidor, 1977. Print.

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

[3] Silbido, Juan. Manuel Campoamor. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/507/Manuel-Campoamor/

 

Rodolfo Biagi

Rodolfo Biagi was a pianist, composer and director of the golden age. He is particularly known for his bold, rhythmical style of interpretation, which takes the piano out of the background and into the spotlight. His nickname, Manos Brujas, means “sorcerer’s hands”. He is also the author of many popular tangos such as “Indiferencia”, “Humillacion” and “Campo afuera”.

Rodolfo Biagi was born in Buenos Aires in 1906. Growing up in the neighbourhood of San Telmo, in a humble family where he was the first musician, he had difficulty convincing his parents to buy him an instrument. However his conviction was so strong and he insisted so much that they agreed to buy him a violin.

While studying at the conservatory of La Prensa, Biagi discovered his preference for the piano. He began working as a pianist at the Cine Colon when he was 13 years old. This is where Juan Maglio discovered him and asked him to join his famous orquesta típica. Together they performed at the Cafe Nacional for two years before they moved on to Bar Dominguez on Avenida Corrientes. Then he worked with the orchestra of Miguel Orlando at the Maipu Pigall, alternating with Elvino Vardaro, Cayetano Puglisi and Juan Bautista Guido. In 1930, he recorded with Carlos Gardel in the studios of Max Gluksmann.

After refusing an offer to travel to Spain with Carlos Gardel, Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan Bautista Guido and performed at the Cine Real and Cine Suipacha. There he missed the pleasure of performing for a more engaged public so he went back to the Pigall and Casanova with the orchestra of Juan Canaro.

In 1935, Biagi joined the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo who was performing at the cabaret ChanteclerTogether they worked for 4 years and began forging their own unique styles until Biagi went on to form his own orchestra in 1939 to fully express himself as a musician, taking his instrument another step beyond the simple role accompaniment which was usually reserved to the piano in orquestas tipicas.

Biagi made his debut as a director at the cabaret Marabu and Radio Belgrano where he was remained for 20 years and received his surname of Mano BrujasSingers he worked with at the beginning of his career as a director are Teofilo Ibanez and Andres Falgas. In the 40s he worked with Jorge Ortiz, Alberto Lago, Alberto Amor, Carlos Acuna and Carlos Saavedra. Finally, in the 1950’s and 60’s, he worked with Carlos Heredia, Carlos Almagro and Hugo Duval. He appeared in the show Glostora tango club of Radio el Mundo and became the star of the television program Casino Philips on Canal 13.

Rodolfo Biagi died on september 24 1969 leaving 187 recordings as a director with the labels Odeon, Columbia and Music Hall. He can be seen performing with the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo in the 1937 movie “Melodias portenas”.

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[1] Gobello, José. Mujeres y hombre que hicieron el tango. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de Cultura Argentina, 2002. Print.

[2] Alvarez, Carlos. ”Biagi: Entrevista a Rodolfo Biagi en 1960”. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/286/Biagi-Entrevista-a-Rodolfo-Biagi-en-1960/

Chantecler

El Chantecler was a luxurious Buenos Aires cabaret located on Parana 440, between avenida Corrientes and Lavalle. It was initially owned by a french man named Charles Seguin, who was also owner of the Casino and Tabari. It was briefly named Vieux Paris in the 1930s.

Built and designed chanteclerin 1924 to be a cabaret, the Chantecler featured a driveway for automobiles to drop guests at the door, 3 dance floors and a large theater with VIP boxes which were equipped with telephones for the guests to place orders at the bar. It also featured an interior pool where beautiful young people could be seen swimming and playing games. The doorman and host of the house was Ángel Sánchez Carreño, also known as El principe cubano. Another well-known character of the mythical cabaret Chantecler was Giovanna Ritana, or Jeannette, who managed the place with her husbands after the death of Charles Seguin. [1]

For more then 30 years, El Chantecler attracted tourists and wealthy locals to eat, drink, dance and enjoy some of the finest entertainment in the city. It was inaugurated by the Sexteto Julio de Caro which was composed of Julio de Caro himself, his brothers Emilio and Francisco de Caro, Pedro Laurenz, Pedro Maffia and Leopoldo Thompson. In the 1930’S it became the primary scene of Juan D’Arienzo who gave a second life to tango dance and music with his cheerful and rhythmical style of interpretation. This is where D’Arienzo began working with Rodolfo Biagi in 1935 and met Pablo Osvaldo Valle, director of Radio el Mundo.

Like other Buenos Aires cabarets, the Chantecler became inactive as tango fell out of fashion with the youth of the 1950’s. It was demolished in 1960. Two tangos were composed to celebrate it, “Adiós Chantecler” by Enrique Cadicamo and “Glorioso Chantecler” by Juan Polito. A 1948 movie, “El cantor del pueblo”, was filmed inside allowing us to see couples dancing to the orchestra of Juan d’Arienzo. [3] A musical entitled “Chantecler Tango” was produced in 2015 by Mora Godoy.

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[1] Parise, Eduardo. El templo de la vieja noche porteña. Clarín, mayo 2015. Online.  https://www.clarin.com/ciudades/secreta-buenos_aires-chantecler_0_rkEDoFYDml.html(1)

[2] Palacio, Jorge. Los cabarets de los anos cuarenta. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/163/Los-cabarets-de-los-anos-cuarenta/

[3] Juan D’Arienzo performing at the Chantecler. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAEeBRbwhJk