Category Archives: Music

Don Juan (tango, 1898)

Don Juan is one of the oldest classics of the tango repertoire. There are no primary sources on the circumstances in which it was created but it is generally admitted that it was composed in 1898 by 13 years old violonist Ernesto Ponzio. According to another recount by Azdrúbal Noble it was the result of an improvisation by the same musician  at Lo de Mamita in 1900.

According to guitarist Eusebio Aspiazu, who used to perform with Ponzio at Lo de Hansen, “Don Juan” was originally entiteled El Panzudo” (the fat guy) in honour of a fat club owner. It was later dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello who was a regular at Lo de Hansen. This is the same Don Juan which appears years later in the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá:

Me llaman Don Juan Cabello,  anóteselo en el cuello, y ahí va, y ahí va, asi me quieren ver.

El cafe de Hansen, also known as cafe Tarana, was a restaurant where people used to gather at night to listen to tango musicians such as Angel Villoldo and Ernesto Ponzio in the early years of tango. This is where “Don Juan” became a hit at the end of the 19th century.

Another interesting fact about “Don Juan” is that it was composed in two parts, a structure which was unusual at the time but became a norm later in the 1920’s. It was inspired by an anonymous tango “¡Que polvo con tango viento!” (1890). [4]

Don Juan was recorded for the first time in 1910 by the orquesta tipica criolla  of Vicente Greco. Together with “Rosendo” it was one the first tangos to be recorded by an orquesta típica. Other tangos had been recorded before by solo player or other band but never by an orquestra dedicated to tango. It was recorded again in 1911 Alfredo Gobbi with lyrics of his own under the title of “Mozos guapos”: [3]

Al compas de una marchita, muy marcada y compadrona, a casa de Ña Ramona, me fui un ratito a bailar

Countless recording of Don Juan were made up to this day, mostly in instrumental versions. The  Orquesta típica Victor recorded a version with the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá and the voice of Alberto Gomez with the in 1932. A few other recordings where made with lyrics by solo artists such as Charlo and  Sophía Bozán. [2] Alfredo de Angelis recorded one version with estribillo of unknown author. [1]

Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli and Anibal Troilo all recorded “Don Juan” more then once, leaving many different versons from the 1920´s to the 1960´s. Astor Piazzolla recorded his own version of “Don Juan” with his Quinteto in 1961.

Ernesto Ponzio left no recording of his famous tango but can be seen performing Don Juan with the Orquesta de la Guardia Vieja in the 1933 argentine sound film “Tango”π

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

[2] Selles, Roberto. Historia del tango “Don Juan”. Todotango. Online http://www.todotango.com/historias/cronica/215/Don-Juan-Historia-del-tango-Don-Juan/

[3] Alfredo Gobbi, Don Juan (Mozos Guapos), Disco original de 78 rmp. Youtube, Online.  Alfredo Gobbi – Don Juan (Mozos guapos) – Tango – Disco original de 78 rpm

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

 

Alma de Bohemio (tango,1914)

“Alma de bohemio” is one of the oldest classics of the tango repertoire. It was composed in 1914 by Roberto Firpo for a play by Florencio Parravicini.

Parravicini was a regular at the cabaret Armenonville where Firpo used to perform with his leading edge tango orchestra. He hired Firpo to perform in his play “Alma de bohemio” which was premiered at the Teatro Argentino in 1914. Later Firpo edited it to be performed as a “tango de concierto”. [1]

Though the musical structure of “Alma de bohemio” remains that of a tango of the guardia vieja, it is said that it shows some refinement in the melody. Firpo was an innovative musician, a pioneer of tango and a visionary in many ways.

Like most compositions at that time,  “Alma de bohemio” was originally an instrumental piece. The lyrics we know today were composed well into the era of  the tango canción by Juan Andres Caruso who often wrote lyrics for Carlos Gardel.

Peregrino y soñador, cantar

quiero mi fantasía

y la loca poesía que hay en mi corazón

 

Traveler and dreamer, to sing

I want (to sing) my fantasy

and the mad poetry which is in my heart

[2]

“Alma de bohemio” was recorded many times by Roberto Firpo himself as well as many other orchestras, singers and musicians. These include the Orquesta Tipica Victor, Francisco Canaro, Rodolfo Biagi, Osvaldo Fresedo, Alfredo de Angelis, Ricardo Tanturi,  Osvaldo Pugliese, Ignacio Corsini, Alberto Castillo, Los Tubatango, Hugo Díaz, Astor Piazzolla and Plácido Domingo. “Alma de bohemio” was featured in the movie “Tango in 1933 with the voice of Alberto Gómez.

Alberto Podestá is famous for his interpretation of “Alma de bohemio” with long extensions of the second verse “cantaaaar” as recorded by Pedro Laurenz in 1943. π

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

[2] Paz, Alberto. Alma de Bohemio/Bohemian’s soul. Planet tango, 2011. Online.  https://letrasdetango.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/alma-de-bohemio/

Adios nonino (1959)

“Adios Nonino” is a tango composed by Astor Piazzolla in 1959 as a response to the sudden death of his father, Vicente Piazzolla.

Astor Piazzolla was performing in Puerto Rico with Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves when his father died in an accident in Mar del Plata. This event came at a difficult time of his life when he was struggling to hold onto his musical career, putting aside his own style and vision of tango and performing for money to sustain his family.

When Piazzolla came home after his tour in Puerto Rico he asked be left alone. According to his son, he locked himself up into a room and came out with Adios Nonino. Piazzolla himself says he composed it in one hour and left all the memories he had of his father in that one piece.

Piazzolla had already written a piece called Nonino in 1954, also in honor of his father. The two of them had been very close. Vicente Piazzolla transmitted his love of tango to his son and bought him his first bandoneon in New York when he was only 9 years-old.

Adiós Nonino is perhaps the best and most famous composition of Astor Piazzollaπ

The organito

The organito is a type of portable organ which was built to play music in the streets.  It was very popular in Buenos Aires towards the end of the 19th century and contributed largely to spread tango music in every neighborhood in the city.

Popular tunes which were arranged for the organito were recorded on a cylinder containing about 8 to 12 pieces. The masters were not particularly easy to produce so the organitos tended to repeat the same songs over again. Because tango was a novelty and a popular genre at that time it was included in the repertoire of the organito along with other popular rhythms such as waltz.

At a time when tango was associated to the slums and lower classes, the organito was there to impose it to every soul in the city. Tango tunes which were played over and over again by the organito became familiar even to those who didn’t want to hear it. It is said that tango entered every household through the windows and balconies because of the organito.

As recording technologies evolved and became more accessible in the 1910’s and 20’s the organito became obsolete. It has been evoked with delightful nostalgia in many tangos including “Sobre el pucho” (1922) and “Organito de la tarde” (1924) by José González Castillo, “La musa mistonga” (1926) by Celedonio Flores and “Ventanita de arrabal” (1927) and “El ultimo organito” (1949) by Homero Manzi. [1]

In his memoirs, Francisco Canaro remembers how boys used to dance tango in the streets of Buenos Aires to the sound of the organito. The instrument has been celebrated in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Evaristo Carriego as well. π

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

[2] Etchegaray, Natalio. De Garay a Gardel: La sociedad, el hombre commun y el tango (1580-1917). Buenos Aires, Ediciones Bilioteca nacional. 1998. Foro Argentino de cultura urbana. Online. http://www.facurbana.com/tango.php?cc=101&t=El+Organito+y+Los+Poetas&ss=Costumbres&s=Enciclopedia+del+tango

Orquesta típica Victor

The Orquesta Típica Victor, also known as OTV, was a label orchestra created in 1925 by Victor for promotional purpose. It was composed of a selection of musicians and signers which were affiliated to the record company as a part of other major orchestras.

Each recording sessions brought together a different selection of artists which are often impossible to identify on specific recordings. Yet the orchestra maintained a consistent sound for over 20 years.

The cohesion of the orchestra was ensured by directors Adolfo Carabelli (1925-1936), Federico Scorticati (1936-1943) and Mario Maurano (1943-1944). Some of the most famous musicians who performed for OTV include Pedro Laurenz, Elvino Vardaro and Anibal Troilo. And signers who recorded with OTV include Roberto Diaz, Juan Carlos Delson, Ernesto Fama, Jaimes Moreno and Carlos Lafuente. [2]

As a label orchestras, OTV never performed in public. It left over 444 recordings, still known today for their quality and excellence of interpretation.

The Orquesta Típica Victor is only one of many orchestras assembled by the label Victor for promotional purposes. The others are La Orquesta Victor Popular, La Orquesta Típica los Provincianos, La Orquesta Radio Victor Argentina, La Orquesta Argentina Victor, La Orquesta Victor Internacional, el Cuarteto Victor and the Trio Victorπ

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[1] Pinson, Nestor. “Orquesta Tipica Victor”. Todotango. Web. Sept 2016.

[2] El tango: Un siglo de Historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial Perfil, 1992. Print.

 

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.