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Mi noche triste (tango, 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 a 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” as in 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 met Pascual Contursi and accepted to include this very peculiar tango to his repertoire and in 1917 he recorded it under the title of “Mi noche triste.” This was the first tango Carlos Gardel ever included in his repertoire. Back in Buenos Aires it was presented as a part of the sainete “Los dientes del perro” and performed at the Teatro Esmeralda by the orchestra of Roberto Firpo.

The success of “Mi noche triste” was such that many other other tangos were composed in that style. A new genre of tango song quickly emerged and gained popularity through other sainetes and through the voice of Carlos Gardel.  

Though “Mi noche triste” was not the first tango to be written by Pascual Contursi, it is known as the first tango song because of its popularity and the profound impact it had on the evolution of tango. The success of Mi noche triste” is a part of a chain of events that led to the renovation of tango and the emergence 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.

First tango recordings

Sound recording and reproduction technologies first appeared and evolved in parallel with tango. The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and the gramophone followed in 1887, allowing to capture sound on a flat surface or disc instead of a cylinder.

The first tango recordings where made on cylinders and 25 cm discs in Europe (1902) and Argentina (1904). [1] These first tango recordings featured various singers, musicians and bands such as Angel Villoldo, Alfredo and Flora Gobbi, Manuel Campoamor and Andree Vivianne. They also include performances by military and police bands. In Argentina these were made on mobile phonographs by Zonophone.

The first recording studio opens in Buenos Aires when Jose Tagini gets a license to record for Columbia in 1911. [2] Tango happened to be an increasingly popular genre in cafes around the city and the bandoneon had just been integrated to orchestras which specialized in performing the “tango criollo”. Tagini contracted Vicente Greco and produced the first recordings by an “orquesta típica criolla“. He also recorded with Eduardo Arolas, Angel Villoldo, Genaro Esposito, los Gobbi and Juan Maglio whose recordings were a huge success in 1912. [3] Tagini also also gave Carlos Gardel his first opportunity to record though none of these early recordings were tango.

Casa Lepage was among the first to import phonographs and gramophones in Argentina along with Casa Tagini. It was sold to Max Glucksmann who signed with the duo Gardel-Razanni under the Odeon label and recorded “Mi noche triste” with Carlos Gardel in 1917. Other labels which produced some of the first tango recordings include Atlanta, Victor, Era, and Pathé. [3]

All early tango recordings made in Argentina were sent abroad to be pressed in the United States, Germany or Brasil. The discs would come back to Argentina six months later to be released. Max Glucksmann’s house was first to produce discs in Argentina in 1919. π

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[1] Luci, H. Lorenzo. “Los payadores y las primeras grabaciones en Buenos Aires.” Todotango. WEB. Aug 2016.

[2] Pesce, Ruben, Oscar el Priore, and Silvestre Byron. La historia del tango: La guardia vieja. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1977. Print.

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

 

Guardia vieja

The period of tango history called guardia vieja can be divided into two stages: in the first, tango emerges as a distinct musical genre or “tango criollo” and, in the second, the initial trios and cuartetos evolve progressively into orquestas típicas.

According to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango, the two phases of evolution of the guardia vieja are:

  1. Eclosión (1895-1909)
  2. Formalización (1910-1925).

During the eclosión phase, tango becomes a historical reality with the first documented mention of a tango criollo in a zarzuela entitled “Justicia Criolla”. In the same period “El entrerriano” by Rosendo Mendizabál becomes the first printed tango partition with a registered author. Other early tangos with printed partitions that contribute to defining the genre at this early stage include “Don Juan“, “El Choclo” and “La Morocha”.

In the early stage of the formalización, the bandoneon is introduced in tango instrumentation and becomes a characteristic element of the first orquestas típicas, such as those of Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio which were dedicated exclusively to tango. The sound of tango evolves substantially as flutes and guitars are left behind and the piano is introduced to tango orchestras by Roberto Firpo in 1912.

Another important figure of the guardia vieja is Francisco Canaro who introduces the double bass to the orquesta típica, completing the creation of a traditional sexteto composed of two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

The guardia vieja is also a phase where tango begins to reach a broader audience in Buenos Aires cafes and nightclubs and abroad where tangomania begins spreading from Paris to other parts of Europe and the United States. Some of the musicians, signers and dancers who first took tango to the old world include Ángel Villoldo, Los Gobbi and Casimiro Ain. π

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[1] Ferrer, Horacio. El Siglo de oro del Tango: compendio ilustrado de su historia. Buenos Aires: Editorial El Mate, 1996. Print.

[2] Amuchastegui, Irene. “El día en que el tango tuvo nombre.” Clarín [Buenos Aires] 28 Sept. 1997. Web, 1 Aug. 2016.

[3] Pesce, Ruben. La Historia del Tango: La Guardia Vieja. Corregidor, 1977. Print.

[4] Zalko, Nardo. Paris / Buenos Aires: Un siglo de tango. Buenos Aires: Corregido, 2001. Print.