Category Archives: Instruments

Bandoneon

The bandoneon is a musical instrument of the family of the concertina which was created in Germany around 1845 as an alternative to the organ for religious services. It is not clear who first invented the bandoneon but it is has been attributed to Carl Zimmermann who sold his manufacture to Ernest Louis Arnold, manufacturer of ELA bandoneons. Ernest Louis Arnold was the father of Alfredo Arnold who later produced the bandoneon “doble A” which are highly praised by tango musicians.

It is not clear exactly when the bandoneon arrived in Argentina. The first documented mention of a bandoneon being played in the Rio de la Plata is from a newspaper article by Jorge Labraña from 1895. According to this article the instrument was brought to Uruguay by a Suiss immigrant in 1863. Other sources indicate that it was imported by an Englishman, Don Tomas, who came to Argentina in 1884. [1]

One of the first musicians to incorporate the bandoneon into tango is Domingo Santa Cruz, a musician who used to perform in the cafes of La Boca and Barracas in the early 1900’s. Other bandoneonistas of the first generation include Genaro Esposito, Vicente Loduca, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio.

The inclusion of the bandoneon into tango bands during the first decade of the 20th century had profound repercussions on the music. Considering that these bands were mostly composed of guitars, flutes and violins, the adition of a bandoneon brought deeper tones and a slower pace of execution. It eventually replaced flutes and became a essential component of the orquesta tipica. [2]

Since the original manufactures in Germany have been closed for over 70 year, bandoneons are now rare and expensive instruments. [3] Artisanal bandoneons have been built lately but the process is long and complex and remains expensive.

The first bandoneon made in Argentina was released in 2000. The bandoneon AZ was built by Argentine luthier Angel Zullo and presented to the public on the day tango was officially declared world heritage by the UNESCO. [4]

It is said that bandoneons were built to last 200 years with proper maintenance.  π

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[1] Zucchi, Oscar. El tango, el bandoneón y sus interpretes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998. Print.

[2] Pesce, Ruben, Oscar del Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[3] “Salvar el bandoneón”. La Nación. Web. June 26, 2009. Online. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/1143843-salvar-el-bandoneon

[4] “Empezó a sonar el primer bandoneón nacional” La Nación. Web. Oct 3, 2009. Online. https://www.lanacion.com.ar/1181690-empezo-a-sonar-el-primer-bandoneon-nacional 

Orquesta típica

The orquesta típica in Argentina is a an orchestra specialized in performing tango. It is composed essentially of a two bandoneones, two violins, piano and double bass.

Before the orquesta típica was fully formed, tango used to be improvised or played by ear on commonly available instruments such as guitars, violins and flutes. The simple structure of the first tangos allowed for musicians to perform them on their own or in small bands of two to four musicians. [1] Tango was also performed by municipal, military and police bands.

The incorporation of the bandoneon in tango instrumentation around 1910 had a profound effect on the sound and feel of tango music. [2] It also creates a distinction between bands which specialized in performing the tango criollo and others which performed other rhythms as well since the bandoneon was not a common instrument and a difficult one to play.

The expression “orquesta típica criolla” first appeared on Columbia labels in 1911. It is is attributed to Vicente Greco who used it to distinguish his orchestra as one which was specialized in tango.

These first orquestas típicas were mostly cuartetos composed of guitars, violins, flutes and bandoneon. [1] The piano and double bass were included shortly after by Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro to complete the creation of the typical sexteto.  π

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[1] Pesce, Ruben. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[2] Zucchi, Oscar. El tango, el bandoneon y sus interpretes. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1998. Print.