Category Archives: Poetry

Catúlo Castillo

Catúlo Castillo was a pianist, composer, director and poet of the guardia nueva. Son of  Jose Gonzalez Castillo, in his youth he distinguished himself 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 because of his political ideas.

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.

During the 1920’s, Catúlo Castillo definitely turned to tango as he traveled Europe with his father and later with his own orchestra. As a composer he produced many tangos 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 politically engaged tango which was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1925.

In the 1930’s and 40’s Catúlo Castillo became increasingly engaged with poetry. With his friend Sebastian Piana and other composers he wrote remarkable pieces such as “Tinta roja” and “Caseron de tejas” (1941). In 1945 he began working with Anibal Troilo with whom he produced his best work as a poet in the 1950’s.

The 1950’s were critical years for tango as rock and roll was taking over in popularity with the youth. The great poets of the golden age were gone or had diminished their activities and it became increasingly difficult for tango orchestras to get work. Feeling perhaps that tango was coming to an end and building on the work of every other authors who came before him from Evaristo Carriego to Enrique Discepolo, Catúlo Castillo took tango poetry to it’s last apogee with titles such as “El ultimo café” and “La ultima curda” where the bandoneon cries in to 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.

Mano a mano (1923)

“Mano a mano” is one of the most famous tangos of Carlos Gardel‘s repertoire. It was originally written by Celedonio Flores with the music of Gardel and Jose Razzano. It was recorded for the first time in 1923.

Like many other tangos of the early 1920’s, “Mano a mano” is a sentimental song about a man who lost a woman. It is based on the personal story of a young singer named Nunciatta who told Celedonio Flores about his last love affair before he died of tuberculosis. Celedonio was moved and turned Nuciatta’s story into a poem which Carlos turned into a tango in the style of  Mi noche triste.

Carlos Gardel was not yet fully associated with tango at the time but “Mano a mano” became one of the highlights of his repertoire. The 1923 acoustic recording by Gardel was followed by another one in 1928 with microphone and electrical technologies.

“Mano a mano” was featured in the series of short films by Carlos Gardel in 1930, turning it one of the first video clips ever produced. [3] Other artists who recorded “Mano a mano” in the 1930’s include Charlo (1934), Francisco Canaro with Roberto Maida (1938) and Hugo del Carril (1939).

Following the prohibition of lunfardo in 1943, Celedonio Flores wrote an alternative version of “Mano a mano” whitout the controversial lunfardo terms. “Rechiflado en mi tristeza” was replaced by “Te recuerdo en mi tristeza” and so on. [2] This new version entitled “Con gomina” was hardly ever used by anyone but it was recorded by Francisco Lomuto with Alberto Rivera in 1944.

Since the prohibition was lifted in the 1950’s, “Mano a mano” has been interpreted by various prominent signers including Ranko Fujisawa (1955), Edmundo Rivero (1962), Julio Sosa (1961) and Roberto Goyeneche (1978). Recent recordings include pop, rock and ranchera versions by Julio Iglesias (1996), Andres Calamaro (2006) and Vicente Fernandez (2014).

Two alternative lyrics have been published to this day, one by Humberto Correa where the woman exposes her point of view and reveals the protagonist of “Mano a mano” was abandoned in the first place. The second is by Chilean Pepe Aguirre who depicts the protagonist as a man who neglected his  woman and got only what he deserved. [1] π

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

[2] Taboada, Pablo. La otra letra de Mano a mano. Investigación tango, 2013. Online http://www.investigaciontango.com/inicio/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=181:mano-a-mano-y-la-censura-lunfarda&catid=41:lunfardo&Itemid=61

[3] Rasore, Alberto. Gardel en los cortometrajes de 1930. Buenos Aires Antiguo, 2006. Online. http://www.buenosairesantiguo.com.ar/carlosgardel22.html

Mi noche triste (1917)

“Mi noche triste” is regarded as the first tango canción or tango song. It was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917 with the lyrics of Pascual Contursi and the music of “Lita” by Samuel Castriota.

The story features a man talking in his imagination to the woman who left him. He tells her how he misses her in little details of everyday life and describes familiar domestic objects which have gone missing or became useless; the guitar isn’t making any sound, the lamp doesn’t produce anymore light and yet he leaves the door open at night in case she comes back.

The style is simple but sets a new standard for tango lyrics in terms of conveying intimate emotions and developing into a complete story line. Before “Mi noche triste“, tango lyrics had been composed by performers of the guardia vieja such as Ángel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi but they were infrequently used and often limited to a refrain which did not allow for  such a deep exploration of the characters and their story.

“Mi noche triste” was first interpreted by Contursi himself in the cabarets of Montevideo where he used to perform at the beginning of his career. It was originally entitled “Pecanta que me amuraste” which in lunfardo means “woman (lover) who isolated (abandoned) me” and corresponds to the now famous first line of the song.

Percanta que ma amuraste en lo mejor de mi vida, 

dejandome el alma herida y espinas en el corazon

When Carlos Gardel came to Montevideo in 1917 he discovered “Percanta que me amuraste” and recorded it in 1917 under the title of “Mi noche triste.” This was the first tango he ever included in his repertoire. Gardel also recommended the song be included in a theatrical piece, a sainete entitled “Los dientes del perro” which was performed at the Teatro Esmeralda with the orchestra of Roberto Firpo. The success of the new tango was such that other authors quickly began composing in that style and Carlos Gardel became the voice of the new  tango canción.  

“Mi noche triste” was not the first tango written by Contursi but is known as the first tango song because of its popularity and the profound impact it had on the evolution of tango. Its success is the first of a chain of events that led to the renovation of tango and the creation of the guardia nueva.

There is a 1952 movie by Lucas Demare entitled “Mi noche triste” based on the life of Pascual Contursi. π

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

[2] Gobelle, José. Mujeres y hombres que hicieron el tango. Librerias Libertador, 2002. Print.