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 of it’s creation but it is generally attributed to 13-years-old violinist Ernesto Ponzio and dated 1898. It was dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello, Don Juan, who was a regular at Lo de Hansen.

As musicians of the guardia vieja had no access to copyrights, they often dedicate their work in  exchange for money or favors. According Eusebio Aspiazu, guitarist who used to perform with Ernesto Ponzio, “Don Juan” was originally entitled “El Panzudo” and dedicated to a nightclub owner. Later it was dedicated to a man named Juan Cabello (Don Juan) who was a client at the prestigious Cafe Tarana, also know as Lo de Hansen

Like most tango of the guardia vieja, Don Juan was an instrumental composition. The lyrics we know today from recordings were written by Ricardo Podestá later in 1914. They evoke Juan Cabello as a guapo enjoying the attention and admiration of everyone in his neighbourhood.

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

“Don Juan” was the first tango to be recorded by an orquesta típica in 1910. The recording was made in the studios of Casa Tagini for Colombia with the so-called orquesta típica of Vicente Greco. It was recorded again in 1911 by Alfredo Gobbi, with now forgotten lyrics of his own, under the title of “Mozos guapos”.

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

Countless recordings of “Don Juan” were made up to this day, most of which are instrumental versions. Francisco Canaro, Juan D’Arienzo, Carlos Di Sarli and Anibal Troilo all recorded “Don Juan” more then once, leaving many different versions each from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Astor Piazzolla recorded his own version of “Don Juan” with his quinteto in 1961. The Orquesta Típica Victor recorded a version with the lyrics of Ricardo Podestá and the voice of Alberto Gomez in 1932.  Solo singers, such as Charlo and Sophía Bozán, also recorded “Don Juan”  with lyrics. Alfredo de Angelis recorded a version with estribillo of unknown author.

We can see Ernesto Ponzio performing “Don Juan” in the 1933 sound film “Tango!” with his Orquesta de la Guardia Vieja.

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

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

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

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.

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. Roberto 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 tango canción by Juan Andres Caruso who often wrote for Carlos Gardel.

Traveler and dreamer, to sing…

I want [to sing] my fantasy

and the mad poetry which lies in my heart

“Alma de bohemio” was recorded many times over by Roberto Firpo himself as well as other orchestras, singers and musicians throughout the history of tango including 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 as recorded by Pedro Laurenz in 1943.

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

Adiós nonino (tango, 1959)

“Adiós Nonino” is a tango of the vanguardia and one of the best and most famous compositions of the tango nuevo genre. It was composed by Ástor Piazzolla following the death of his father, Vicente Piazzolla, in 1959.

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 sustain his family while breaking away from the traditional tango scene. The sudden death of his father in the middle of so much uncertainty caused him to experience powerful emotions and to produce this most extraordinary masterpiece.

It is of common knowledge that when Piazzolla came home after his tour, he asked his family to leave him alone, locked himself up in a room and came out with Adios Nonino. Piazzolla says he composed it in one hour and left all the memories he had of his father in that one piece. Many times he tried to improve it or to write something better but was never able to do so.

Nonino is an affectionate nickname and diminutive of nonno, which means “grandfather” in Italian. Astor Piazzolla had already written a piece called “Nonino” in 1954, also in honor of his father. The two of them had been very close and it’s through his father that Piazzolla learned to love the tango while growing up away from his home country in New York City.

As “Adiós Nonino” became a favourite of his repertoire, Ástor Piazzolla ended up having to perform it a lot more often then he might have wanted to. Yet he always managed to do so with some obvious and genuine emotion.

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 and 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 a product of poor uprooted immigrants living in sketchy neighbourhood in the fast growing city of Buenos Aires, the genre was not particulalrly praised in higher social classes. However the organito contributed to engrave it’s melodies in every soul in the city. The tunes it played over and over again became familiar to all and it is said tango entered every household through the windows and balconies because of the organito.

As recording technologies evolved and became increasingly accessible in the 1910’s and 20’s, the organito became obsolete. It continues to be evoked with delightful nostalgia in many tangos such as “Sobre el pucho” (1922), “La musa mistonga” (1926), “Organito de la tarde” (1924), Ventanita de arrabal” (1927) and “El ultimo organito” (1949). [1]

Francisco Canaro remembers in his memoirs how boys used to dance tango to the sound of the organito in the streets of Buenos Aires.

The organito has been celebrated in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and his now mythical poet Evaristo Carriego.

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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 (OTV)

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

Unlike regular orquestas típicas, the members of OTV were not fixed or predetermined. Each recording sessions brought together a different selection of artists which is often impossible to identify on specific recordings. However the orchestra maintained a remarquably consistent sound for over 20 years.

The cohesion of the orchestra was ensured by a director, first of which was Adolfo Carabelli (1925-1936) followed by Federico Scorticati (1936-1943) and Mario Maurano (1943-1944).

Some of the best tango musicians known to this day have performed for OTV including Pedro Laurenz, Elvino Vardaro and Anibal Troilo. Signers who recorded with OTV include Roberto Diaz, Juan Carlos Delson, Ernesto Fama, Jaimes Moreno and Carlos Lafuente. [2]

The Orquesta Típica Victor only performed in studio and was never been seen in public. It left over 444 recordings, many of which are still very much appreciated today for their quality and excellence of interpretation.

The Orquesta Típica Victor is only one of many orchestras assembled by the label Victor to promote their products. 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 Victor.

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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. 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.