Category Archives: Composers

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/

 

Eduardo Arolas

Eduardo Arolas, also known as El tigre del bandoneon, was an influential bandoneon player, composer and director of the early days of the guardia vieja. He is the author of over 100 tangos including classics such as “Derecho viejo”, “La cachila”, “Retintin” and “Comme il faut”. With his inovative compositions and quality of interpretation, he contributed largely to define tango in it’s early stage. Many distinguished musicians of the guardia vieja made their debuts in his orchestra including Juan Carlos Cobian, Julio de Caro and Luis Bernstein.

Lorenzo Arola was born in Buenos Aires in 1892. He grew up in the neighbourhood of Barracas where his father owned a store. With his older brother he learned to play the guitar when he was 8-years-old and began playing in the cafes of la Boca. This is how he met Ricardo Gonzalez who first thought him to play the bandoneon. Together they performed as a duo until Eduardo decided to go his own way.

By the time he was 19-years-old Eduardo Arolas was and fully dedicated to music. He studied with Jose Bombig and opened a café called “Una noche de garufa” where he performed on his own. This is where he composed his first tango, which bears the same name as the cafe.

Like many tango musicians of the first generation, Eduardo Arolas couldn’t read or write music. But he was nonetheless a brilliant, prolific and innovative composer. He was also appreciated for his style of interpretation and phrasing, which was more fluid then other bandeonistas of that time and sets new standards for musicians.

With his talent as a composer and interpreter, Eduardo Arolas quickly became popular around the city. With Leopoldo Thompson (guitarra) and Ernesto Ponzio (violin), he began performing at Café La Turca and traveled to Montevideo. Back in Buenos Aires he formed another trio with Agustín Bardi (piano) and Tito Roccatagliatta (violin) and later on a cuarteto with flute. He was invited to perform at the prestigious cabaret Armenonville with Roberto Firpo in 1913 and then began forming his own orchestra.

With his orquestra típica, Eduardo Arolas continued performing in prestigious venues and cabarets such as El Estribo, L’Abbaye and Montmartre. He performed at Café Botafogo and Royal Pigall in In 1916 and Café Apolo in 1917. In those years he composed some of his most famous pieces and left recordings in which we can hear him play solo or with his orchestra.

During the last years of his life, Eduardo Arolas suffered from depression and alcoholism. He traveled extensively to Montevideo where he was a star at the carnavals of 1920 and to Paris where he performed at prestigious venues such as the Cabaret Parisien and Ermitage, contributing to the popularization of tango in the old world. He died in Paris in 1924. He was only 32-years-old.

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

[2] García Blaya, Ricardo. Eduardo Arolas. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/23/Eduardo-Arolas/

Anibal Troilo

Aníbal Troilo, also known as Pichuco, Gordo or El bandoneon mayor de Buenos Aires, was a renown musician, composer and director of the golden age. With his personal charisma, sensitivity and excellence of interpretation he became one of the major figures of tango history. As a composer he left 60 pieces, many of which are classics such as “Barrio de tango” (1942), “Garúa” (1943), “María” (1945), “Romance de bario” (1947), “Sur” (1948), “Che bandoneon” (1950), “Responso” (1951), “La ultima curda” (1956), and ”Nocturno a mi barrio” (1969).

Aníbal Carmelo Troilo was born in 1914 to a modest family in the neighbourhood of Abasto in Buenos Aires. His father was a butcher who died when he was only 8-years-old. As a child he was fascinated by the bandoneon and he was 10-years-old when he convinced his mother to buy him one.

Anibal Troilo’s experience as a musician in his youth was rich and diverse. In 1925 he began performing in public in a bar next to the mercado Abasto. In 1928 he formed his first quinteto and performed with Juan Maglio at the Café Germinal in 1929. He played with Ciriaco Ortiz for the Sexteto Vardaro-Pugliese and the Orquesta los provincianos in 1930. In 1932 he joined the orchestra of Julio de Caro and worked with other major orchestras in the 1930’s including those of Angel D’Agostino, Alfredo Gobbi, La Típica Victor, Juan d’Arienzo, Luis Petrucelli and Juan Carlos Cobian.

When Toilo finally formed his own orchestra in 1937 he was only 23-years-old. He made his debut as a director in the cabaret el Marabú and was immediately hired to perform at the Café Germinal. These were the years when tango was coming back into fashion because of the success and influence of Juan d’Arienzo and tango orchestras were needed all over the city.

One year after his debut in 1938, Troilo signed a contract with the label Odeon. Unfortunately he was requested to record only two tracks under this label so “Comme il faut” and “Tinta verde” are the only recordings he have from his early years as a director. In 1941 Troilo began recording with RCA Victor.

In 1942 Anibal Troilo was hired to perform with his orchestra at the Tibidabo, a cabaret located on Avenida Corrientes 1244. There he performed with Francisco Fiorentino and Orlando Goñi, turning the place into one of the hot spots of the golden age where poets and musicians such as Homero Manzi, Pascual Contursi, Catúlo Castillo, César Vedani and José Razzano used to hang out.

Anibal Troilo was the star of the Tibidabo for over 10 years. He appeared on popular radio programs such as Ronda de ases throughout the 1940’s. In 1953 he left el Tibidabo to perform with Roberto Grela in the musical “El patio de la Morocha”. The Tibiado was demolished two years later as cabarets began closing and tango orchestras were dismembered in the 1950’s.

Though tango was going through a profound crisis in the 1960’s and 70’s, Troilo continued inovating and experimenting with small bands, duos and giant orchestras. Along with Astor Piazzolla he became one of the pillars of the Vanguardia and continued performing until his death in 1975. He left 449 recordings with his orchesta típica and many more with other other bands and orchestras. From 1948 to 1976 he appeared in various movies including “El tango vuelve a Paris”, “Mi noche triste”, and “Tango Argentino”.

An important contribution of Anibal Troilo was to give a second life to tango poetry and singing during the golden age. This aspect of tango was loosing ground following the death of Carlos Gardel in 1935 and Troilo was the first director to fully incorporate tango singers to his orchestra. He worked with some of the greatest interpreters including Fransisco Fiorentino, Alberto Marino, Floreal Ruiz, Edmundo Rivero, Roberto Rufino, Raúl Berón and Roberto Goyeneche.

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

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

Catúlo Castillo

Catúlo Castillo was a pianist, composer, director and poet of the guardia nueva. Son of a well-known playwrite and poet Jose Gonzalez Castillo, in his youth he distinguished himself mostly as a musician and composer. After the death of his friend Homero Manzi in the 1950’s, he revealed himself as the last great poet of the golden age.

Ovidio Catúlo Gonzalez Castillo was born in Buenos Aires in 1906. He grew up in Chile where his father José Gonzalez Castillo exiled himself until 1913 for political reasons.

Back in Buenos Aires the family moved to Boedo where Catúlo began learning the violin with Juan Cianciarullo. By age 17 he was an accomplished musician and boxer. He won the national championship of lightweight in Argentina and almost reached the Olympic games of 1924. That same year he won the third place in a contest organized by Max Glucksmann with his tango Organito de la tarde.

Later in the 1920’s, Catúlo Castillo traveled Europe with his father and formed his own orchestra. From then on he would dedicate himself only to tango. As a composer he produced many pieces including Organito de la tarde, “Silbando”, “El Aguacero”, “Papel picado” and “El circo se va” with the lyrics of his father Jose Gonzalez Catillo, “La violeta” (1930) with Nicolás Olivari and “Viejo ciego” (1926) with his friends Sebastian Piana and Homero Manzi. He is the author of both music and lyrics of “Caminito del taller” (way to the shop), a socially engaged tango which was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1925.

In the 1930’s and 40’s Catúlo Castillo became increasingly absorbed with poetry. With his friend Sebastian Piana and other composers he worked on remarkable pieces such as “Tinta roja” and “Caseron de tejas” (1941). In 1945 he began writing for Anibal Troilo with whom he produced his best work as a poet in the 1950’s.

The 50’s were critical years for tango as rock and roll was taking over the youth. Feeling perhaps that this was the end of an era, Catúlo Castillo took tango poetry to it’s last apogee. He wrote master pieces such as “El ultimo café” and La ultima curda“, a deeply heart breaking tango where the bandoneon cries in the lonely man’s imagination: “life is an absurd wound”.

Other tangos of that period by Catúlo Castillo include “Domani”, “La calesita”, “El cafe de los Angelitos” and “El patio de la Morocha”.

Besides his activities as a lyricist, Catúlo Castillo had an active professional life. In the 1950’s he became President of the SAIDAC and president of the Comisión Nacional de Cultura . He was declared Ciudadano Illustre of the City of Buenos Aires in 1974 and died the following year at age 69.

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

[2] Baccarelli, Nicolás Sosa. Catúlo Castillo o el existencialismo en la poesia del tango. Correveidile. Online. http://www.correveidile.com.ar/2014/11/12/catulo-castillo-o-el-existencialismo-en-la-poesia-del-tango/

[3] Tálice, Roberto A. “Evocación y ubicación de José Gonzalez Castillo”. In La historia del tango: Los poetas (I). Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977.

Rosendo Mendizábal

Rosendo Mendizábal was a pianist and composer of the early guardia vieja. He contributed to popularize tango at the end of the 19th century and to define it’s musical structure. He is the author ofEl entrerriano (1897), which is regarded as the first tango in history.

Anselmo Rosendo Mendizábal was born in Buenos Aires in 1868 to a wealthy afro-argentine family. His father Horacio Mendizábal was an educated man and author of two published collections of poetry. Rosendo’s father died in 1871, leaving him with a house on calle Pilar (now Montevideo) and a fortune of 300.000 pesos. [1]

In his youth Rosendo Mendizábal studied the piano at a conservatory. Soon enough he dilapidated his inheritance and went on making a living with as a musician, teaching the piano in good houses and performing in cafes and nightclubs for the rest of his life.

Little is known about Rosendo’s life but at the end of the 19th century he was a regular in many establishments where tango was becoming popular. Lo de Hansen, Lo de la vieja Eustaquia, La parda Adelina, lo de Harguindegui and La casita de la calle Mexico are some of the places where he used to perform. He was particularly well known at Lo de Laura and at La casa de María la Vasca where his tango “El entrerrianowas presented to the public for the first time. [2]

Rosendo usually performed alone. He was occasionally seen with other musicians such as Luis Teisseire (flauta), Juan Carlos Bassan (Clarinette) and Vicente Ponzio (violin). [1] It was common at the end of the 19h century for tango to be performed by solo musicians or small bands with commonly available instruments such as guitars, flutes and violins.

“El entrerriano” was not the first tango strictly speaking. Many other tangos were composed and popularized before but “El entrerriano” was the first one to appear on partitions with registered author. Therefore it is the fort tango in historical terms. It is also the oldest tango still present in today’s repertoire.

Other tangos composed by Rosendo Mendizábal include “Don Padilla”, “Don Enrique”, “Tres Arroyos”, “El oriental”, “Matilde”, “El descanso”, “Le Petit Parisien”, “El final de una garufa”, “Ahí esta la cosa”, “A la luz de los faroles”, “Polilla” and “La entrerriana”. All his work was published under his artistic pseudonym “A. Rosendo”.

When recording technologies became available in Argentina around 1910, Rosendo Mendizábal was already suffering from paralysis. He died in 1913 at age 45 leaving no recordings.

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

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

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

Ernesto Ponzio

Ernesto Ponzio was a popular violonist, director and composer of the early years of the guardia vieja. He was only a teenager when he began performing in houses such as El Tambito and Lo de Maria La Vasca were the girls were available to dance for 3 pesos per hours. He is the author of Don Juan, one of the oldest and most popular tunes of the tango repertoire.

Ernesto Ponzio was born in Buenos Aires in 1885 to a modest family of immigrants from Italy and Uruguay. His father, Antonio Ponzio, was a harpist who used to perform in cafes and nightclubs for a living. Having lost his father when he was 11-years-old, Ernesto lived with his uncle Vicente Ponzio who was also a musician and thought him to play the violin.

Soon enough “El Pibe” began making a living as a musician as well, performing in trains and other public places. He was only 13-years-old when he began performing with his uncle in infamous nightclubs and houses where tango was popular at the end of the 19th century. This is how he got this nickname “El Pibe” which means “the kid” and stuck to him for the rest of his life.

Ponzio was very much appreciated for his style of interpretation and quickly became a popular musician. With his friends Juan Carlos Bazán (clarinette), Eusedio Aspiazú (guitar), El tano Vicente Pecci (flauta) and other musicians, he began forming various trios and cuartetos and performed in various casas de baile including Lo de Hansen, El tambito, La casa de Laura, Lo de Mamita and La casa de Maria La Vasca.

Violent altercations were not unusual in this setting and Ernesto Ponzio was shot in the leg at La milonga de Pantaleón in 1903. Also he was condemned to 20 years of prison in 1912 for killing a man in a brawl in the city of Rosario.

Back in Buenos Aires after serving his time in prison, El Pibe Ernesto resumed his career as a musician. By the time he was back in 1928 tango had evolved a great deal but Ponzio never embraced the new tango. With his friend Juan Carlos Bazán he formed La orquesta de la Guardia Vieja and worked with Julio De Caro at the cine Lavalle, giving De Caro a privileged insight into the old style of interpreting tango.

In 1933 Ponzio performed in “De Gabino a Gardel” at the Teatro nacional. He was also featured in the sound film “Tango!” interpreting Don Juan and “El entrerriano with his Orquesta de la guardia vieja.

Besides “Don Juan” Ponzio is the author of a dozen of tangos and milongas including “Ataniche”, “Quiero Papita”, “Viejo Taura”, “Avellaneda” and “Culpas ajenas” which was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1929 with the lyrics of Jorge Curi.

Ernesto Ponzio died suddenly in 1934 at age 49. He left no recordings besides those of the 1933 movie “Tango”.

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

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

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

Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was a composer and bandoneon player of the vanguardia. He is famous for incorporating elements of classical and jazz music into Argentine tango. He is one of the main creators of a new style of tango known as tango nuevo.

Piazzola was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata. He grew up in New York City where his family moved when he was only 3 years-old. His father loved tango music and when he found a small bandoneon in a shop one day he bought it for him. This is how Piazzolla began playing the bandoneon when he was only 9 years-old.

When Carlos Gardel came to New York City in 1934 he could hardly speak English. Astor Piazzolla became his little friend and interpreter. This is how he ended up playing a small role as a boy in the movie “El dia que me quieras”. Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour but Piazzolla’s father refused as Piazzola was still very young. Gardel and his entourage died in a plane crash in Columbia one year later.

In 1936 the family returned to Argentina and Piazzolla began playing in traditional tango orchestras in Buenos Aires. He worked with Anibal Troilo for 5 years and with Francisco Fiorentino for two weeks before he formed his own orchestra in 1946 and began composing for movies.

In the early 1950’s Piazzolla decided to distance himself from tango and he went to Paris to study classical music at the Fontainbleau conservatory where he found his true identity as a musician. Back in Buenos Aires, he formed his controversial Octeto Buenos Aires, adding a cello and electric guitar to the traditional orquesta típica.

Piazzolla continued composing and developing his style throughout the 70’s and 80’s in spite of financial difficulties and strong criticism against his work. He is now known as one of the most important musicians of the history of Argentina.

Piazzolla died in 1992 shortly after dictating his memoirs to Natalio Gorin. π

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[1] Gorin, Natalio. Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir. Alba Editoral, 2003. Print.