Mi noche triste (tango, 1916)

“Mi noche triste” is a 1916 tango song written by Pascual Contursi on the music of “Lita” by Samuel Castriota. It was recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1917 and is regarded as the first tango canción. It was originally entitled “Pecanta que me amuraste“, which in lunfardo means “woman/lover who isolated/abandoned me”

Percanta que ma amuraste en lo mejor de mi vida, dejandome el alma herida y espinas en el corazon.

Pascual Contursi began writing lyrics for himself to perform while living in Montevideo. He did it in a style that was new to tango and mostly without permission from their author. When he met Gardel in 1917, he presented “Pecanta que me amuraste” to  him and for the first time Carlos Gardel included a tango to his repertoire.

Back in Buenos Aires, Carlos Gardel recorded this inovative tango under the title of “Mi noche triste“. He also used his influence to have it included in a sainete entitled “Los dientes del perro” in 1918. The success was such that it opened the way to the creation of a new genre of tango song in the 1920’s. It also marks the beginning of a process of transition towards de creation of the guardia nueva

Strictly speaking, “Mi noche triste” was not the first tango song by Pascual Contursi. But it is known as the first tango canción because of its popularity and the profound impact it had on the evolution of tango.

Before “Mi noche triste“, tango lyrics had been composed by payadores and performers of the guardia vieja such as Ángel Villoldo and Alfredo Gobbi. However these lyrics were infrequently used and often limited to a refrain which did not allow for  a deep exploration of the characters and their story. They were also not of sentimental nature.

Mi noche triste” is about a man missing a woman. It explores in very intimate details his experience of sorrow, describing familiar 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.

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


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

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

Acoustic recordings

In Argentina, the acoustic era of sound recording coincides with the gestation and guardia vieja periods of tango history.

The first tango recordings where made on cylinders and 25 cm discs in Europe (1902) and Argentina (1904). These recordings featured primitive or very early tangos performed by various singers, payadores and musicians such as Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón, Angel Villoldo, Flora and Alfredo Gobbi,  Manuel Campoamor and Andree Vivianne. They also included tangos performed by military and police bands.

The first recording of a tango by an orquesta típica criolla was made by Jose Tagini with Vicente Greco in 1911. Jose Tagini was a sucessful importer of gramophones and discs and his store acted as the first recording studio in Buenos Aires. Casa Tagini had an exclusive contract with Columbia and also recorded with Eduardo Arolas, Angel Villoldo, Genaro Esposito, Alfredo Gobbi and Juan Maglio (Pacho), who became extremely popular in 1912. Tagini also gave Carlos Gardel his first opportunity to record, though Gardel was not a tango signer at that time.

Another important actor in the early history of tango recording was Henri Lapage, owner of a photography store which was also among the first to import phonographs and gramophones in Argentina. Casa Lepage was sold to Max Glucksmann who signed with the duo Gardel-Razanni for Odeon and recorded Carlos Gardel’s first tango, “Mi noche triste“, in 1917.

Early recordings made in Argentina were sent to be pressed in the United States, Germany or Brasil. Discs were shipped back to Argentina six months later to be released. Max Glucksmann was first to produce his own discs in Argentina in 1919.

Acoustic recordings were entirely mechanical processes. They involved collecting the physical air pressure of sound waves into large conical horns. This pressure was used to activate a stylus to scratche an analogue of the sound waves onto a moving medium. 

Cylinders appeared first in 1877 and were associated with phonographs. Gramophones appeared in 1887 along with the first discs. Zonophones were phonographs which were commonly used in Argentina.


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

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

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


Guardia vieja

The period of tango history called guardia vieja can be divided in two stages. One where tango emerges as a distinct musical genre but is still executed by solo performers or casual trios and cuartetos. And a second phase where the traditional orquestas típicas  progressively takes shape.

According to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango, these two phases are the Eclosión phase (1895-1909), which begins with the creation of tango as distinct and documented musical genre, and Formalización phase (1910-1925) which begins with the introduction of the bandoneon and the creation of the first specialized tango orchestras.

During the eclosión phase, tango becomes a historical reality with the first documented mention of a tango criollo in a zarzuela entitled “Justicia Criolla”. At the same time “El entrerriano” by Rosendo Mendizabál becomes the first published tango with printed partitions and a registered author. Other early tangos which were published shortly after and contribute to defining tango as distinct musical genre  are “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. Because the bandoneon is a rare and difficult instrument to master, it becomes the signature of an orchestra dedicated to tango music.

With the introduction of the bandoneon, an important change occurs in the feeling and the sound of tango. Flutes and guitars are left behind and tango begins to take deeper and more melancholic tones. The piano is introduced to tango orchestras by Roberto Firpo in 1912 and the double bass is added by Francisco Canaro. This completes the creation of a traditional sexteto which is composed of two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

During the guardia vieja, tango not only reaches a broader audience in Buenos Aires cafes and nightclubs, but also in Paris where tangomania begins, soon to reach 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.


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

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

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

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