Category Archives: Instruments

Bandoneon

The bandoneon is a musical instrument of the family of the concertina. It was introduced in the Rio de la Plata region at the end of the 19th century and became an essential component of the tango orchestra in the early 1900’s. It’s been the most emblematic instrument of tango music ever since.

The concertina was created in Germany around 1845 as an alternative to the organ and it’s original purpose was to be used for religious services. Though it is not clear who build the first bandoneon, the invention has been attributed to Carl Zimmermann, a fabricant who sold his manufacture to Ernest Louis Arnold, creator of ELA bandoneons. Ernest Louis Arnold was the father of Alfredo Arnold, fabricant of the bandoneon “doble A” which became the favorite of tango musicians.

The first documented mention of a bandoneon being played in the Rio de la Plata is from a 1895 newspaper article. According to it’s author, Jorge Labraña, the bandoneon 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.

One of the first musicians to associate the bandoneon with tango music was Domingo Santa Cruz who used to perform in the cafes of La Boca and Barracas in the early 1900’s. Other bandoneonistas of the first generation are Genaro Esposito, Vicente Loduca, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio.

The inclusion of the bandoneon in tango bands had many repercussions. Because it was a rare instrument and a difficult one to master, a clear distinction begins to form betwee tango bands and other formations. The bandoneon replaces the flute, resulting in  deeper tones and a slower pace of execution of tangos. It became an essential component of the orquesta tipica and even a symbol of tango itself.

Because German manufactures have been closed since WWII, bandoneons are now rare and expensive instruments. New artisanal bandoneons have been built in Argentina but the process is 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 introduced to the public on the day tango was officially declared world heritage by the UNESCO.

Bandoneons were built to last 200 years with proper maintenance.

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

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

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

“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

In Argentina, the orquesta típica is an orchestra specialized in performing tango. The classic orquesta típica is a sexteto composed of two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

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

The incorporation of the bandoneon in tango instrumentation around 1910 was an important event in the evolution of tango orchestras. Because it was such a rare an difficult instrument it sets appart tha band dedicated to tango music. It also had a profound effect on the sound and feel of tango music.

The expression “orquesta típica criolla” first appeared on Columbia labels in 1911 to introduce the orchestra of Vicente Greco as a band which specializes in tango.

The first orquestas típicas were mostly cuartetos composed of guitars, violins, flutes and bandoneon. The piano and double bass were introduced by Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro. The classic sexteto and musical structure of the golden age was established as a result of the work of Julio de Caro in the 1920’s.

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

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