Category Archives: Biographies

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.

Jose Gonzalez Castillo

Jose Gonzalez Castillo was a journalist, playwright and lyricist of the early years of the guardia nueva. He is the author of numerous sainetes including “Los dientes del Perro” which showcased the first tango canción, Mi noche triste,” with the orchestra of Roberto Firpo in 1918.

Gonzalez Castillo was born in 1885 in the city of Rosario. Having lost his parents at a young age, he was raised by a priest in the Province of Salta and became a journalist and a playwright.

Following the success of “Mi noche triste” Jose Gonzalez Castillo began writing his own tango songs. The first one of those, “Que has hecho de mi cariño,” was composed for a play entitled “Don Agenor Saladillo” and presented to the public in 1918 with the music or Juan Maglio. Other tangos by him include “Sobre el pucho”, “Organito de la tarde”, “Griseta”, “A Montmartre”, “Bandoneon”, “El porteño” and “Por el camino”.

Jose Gonzalez Casillo is the father of Catúlo Castillo with whom he collaborated on many tangos including “Organito de la tarde”, “Silbando”, “El Aguacero”, “Papel picado” and “El circo se va”. He worked on various films including the silent movie “Nobleza gauchesca” (1915) and “La ley que olvidaron” (1937). He died in Buenos Aires in 1937.

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

[2] Del Greco, Orlando. Gardel y Jose Gonzalez Castillo. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/ficha/296/Jose-Gonzalez-Castillo

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.

Juan Andrés Caruso

Juan Andrés Caruso was a journalist, playwright and prolific tango lyricist of the 1920’s. He wrote his first tango “Cara sucia” for his friend Francisco Canaro in 1918. In the 1920’s he became one of the favourite lyricists of Carlos Gardel who recorded 38 his compositions. In 1930 he wrote the lyrics of one of the greatest classics of the tango repertoire, “Alma de Bohemio” by Roberto Firpo.

Caruso was born in La Plata in the Province of Buenos Aires in 1890. Having lost his parents at a young age he came to Buenos Aires where he worked as a claque in the theaters of avenida Corrientes between other jobs. Soon after, following some incident involving a theft, he moved to the city of Bahia Blanca where he began working in a print shop. This is where he began working a journalist for the local newspaper, Hoja del Pueblo.

Back in Buenos Aires in 1910, Caruso moved to the neighbourhood of San Cristobal where he became friends with Francisco Canaro and other musicians of the guardia vieja including Vicente Greco, Genaro Exposito and Samuel Castriota. [2] This was before Pascual Contursi and the emergence of the tango canción and Caruso was writing estilos, a popular style of song we now regard as folclore. [3]

When a new style of tango poetry emerged in 1917 with Mi noche triste“, Caruso was one of the first song writers to contribute to the emerging repertoire with “Cara sucia” (1918), turning a notoriously obscene tango by Casimiro Alcorta into a decent song. Other compositions by Caruso include “No me escribas”, “El taita ladrón”, “Nobleza de arrabal”, “La ultima copa”, “Sentimiento gaucho” and “Alma de bohemio.

Caruso wrote over 30 plays and sainetes, the first of which was “Nobleza de arrabal” (1919) with Francisco Canaro. He was director of the magazine El Teatro Nacional.

Juan Andrés Caruso died in Buenos Aires in 1931. He was 41-years-old.

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[1] Gobello, Jose. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el Tango. Buenos Aires: Libertador, 2008.

[2] Canaro, Fransicso. Mis memorias: Mis bodas de oro con el tango. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1999. Print.

[3] Pinson, Nestor. Juan Andres Caruso. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/647/Juan-Andres-Caruso/

Roberto Firpo

Roberto Firpo was an influential pianist, composer and director of the guardia vieja. He introduced the piano to the orquesta típica and was among the first musicians to record tango and to introduce it to good houses, theaters, cinema and radio. He performed with the duo Gardel-Razzano, composed the third part of “La cumparsita” and was appointed to perform Mi noche triste as part of the sainete “Los dientes del perro”. Between 1912 and 1959 he recorded an estimated 3000 tracks, 1650 of them in the acoustic area [2]. His most famous work as a composer is “Alma de Bohemio”.

Born in 1884 in Las Flores, in the province of Buenos Aires, Roberto Firpo began working at a young age at his father’s store to help sustain the family. When he was 14-years-old he was sent to Buenos Aires to work and this is where he met his friend Juan Deambroggio and began to study music on his own.

When Firpo turned 19-years old he was able to afford his first piano and began taking lessons. He studied with Alfredo Bevilacqua and began performing in 1906, forming various duos and trios with his friends Juan Deambroggio (bandoneon), Juan Carlos Bazán (clarinette) and Francisco Postiglione (violin).

The success of Roberto Firpo was such that he was a regular at Lo de Hansen by 1907. Around this time came his first compositions, some of which were recorded by Juan Maglio in 1910 and 1911. Soon he was performing everywhere in the city from la Boca to Avenida Corrientes. El Velódromo, El tambito, Bar iglesias, L’Abbaye, Teatro Nacional and Salón San Martín are some of the place where he could be seen early on in his career. He began recording in 1912 for the label Odeon.

Roberto Firpo formed his first orchestra in 1913. To the original trio composed of Eduardo Arola (bandoneon) and Tito Roccatagliatta (violin) he added a second violin (Agesilao Ferrazzano) and other musicians including Leopoldo Thompson (double bass), turning his trio into a cuarteto and a quinteto. His orchestra was the most sophisticated at this point and performed in prestigious venues such as the cabarets Armenonville, Palais de Glace and Royal Pigall. [1] Around that time came some of his most famous compositions including “Sentimiento criollo”, “De pura cepa” and “Alma de bohemio”. [3]

In 1930 Roberto Firpo was determined to quit tango. He bought a ranch and was going to dedicate himself to his estancia when a great flood destroyed his properties. Having lost the rest of his fortune in the stock market, Roberto Firpo was back in Buenos Aires where he continued perform and record tango until he retired in 1959.

Roberto Firpo died in 1969 having had one of the longest and most prolific career of all tango musicians. He was always faithful to the old fashion style of interpretation of the guardia vieja.

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

[2] Taboada, Pablo Darío. Roberto Firpo: Historia de su vida artistica. Investigación tango. Online http://www.investigaciontango.com/inicio/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=203:roberto-firpo&catid=42:orquestas&Itemid=62

[3] Selles, Roberto and Pinsón, Nestor. Roberto Firpo. Todotango. Online. http://www.todotango.com/creadores/biografia/37/Roberto-Firpo/