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Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino was a dancer and Hollywood superstar. He is famous for a scene in the 1921 movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” where he dances the tango with Beatrice Dominguez.

Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella was born in 1895 in Castellaneta, Italy, of a French mother and Italian father. In 1913 he traveled to the United States in search of new opportunities and this is where he learned to dance the tango, possibly with Casimiro Aín.

These were the years when tangomania was taking over New York. Valentino worked as a taxi dancer in restaurants such as Maxim’s Restaurant-Cabaret where dancing tea parties were held in the British fashion. In 1917 he was entangled in a scandal with a married woman which led him to leave the city. This is how he began traveling and working with theatrical companies which took him to the west coast.

After traveling for a few months Valentino settled in Los Angeles where he worked as a dance teacher. He began looking for work as an actor and landed his first major role playing Julio Desnoyers in the silent movie “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, the 1921 movie where we can see him performing the tango in his gaucho attire. [2]

Valentino’s good looks and seductive attitude on the dance floor made a strong impression on the american public and quickly turned him into a superstar. [1] The popularity of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and the so called “latin lover” was such that men were seen wearing gel in their hair and young people were suddenly interested in learning to dance the tango.

With his wife Natacha Rambova, Valentino toured the country to perform the exotic dance in his own particular style. He also pursued his career as a Hollywood actor and was starred in fourteen films including The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle, and The Son of the Sheik before he died in 1926 following a surgery. He was only 31-year-old.  π

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[1] GROPPA, Carlos G. The tango in the United states. Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc. 2004. Print.

[2] QUIN, Eleanor. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). Turner Classic Movies. Online. 

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

Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was a composer and bandoneon player of the vanguardia. He is famous for incorporating elements of classical and jazz music into Argentine tango. He is one of the main creators of a new style of tango known as tango nuevo.

Piazzola was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata. He grew up in New York City where his family moved when he was only 3 years-old. His father loved tango music and when he found a small bandoneon in a shop one day he bought it for him. This is how Piazzolla began playing the bandoneon when he was only 9 years-old.

When Carlos Gardel came to New York City in 1934 he could hardly speak English. Astor Piazzolla became his little friend and interpreter. This is how he ended up playing a small role as a boy in the movie “El dia que me quieras”. Gardel invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour but Piazzolla’s father refused as Piazzola was still very young. Gardel and his entourage died in a plane crash in Columbia one year later.

In 1936 the family returned to Argentina and Piazzolla began playing in traditional tango orchestras in Buenos Aires. He worked with Anibal Troilo for 5 years and with Francisco Fiorentino for two weeks before he formed his own orchestra in 1946 and began composing for movies.

In the early 1950’s Piazzolla decided to distance himself from tango and he went to Paris to study classical music at the Fontainbleau conservatory where he found his true identity as a musician. Back in Buenos Aires, he formed his controversial Octeto Buenos Aires, adding a cello and electric guitar to the traditional orquesta típica.

Piazzolla continued composing and developing his style throughout the 70’s and 80’s in spite of financial difficulties and strong criticism against his work. He is now known as one of the most important musicians of the history of Argentina.

Piazzolla died in 1992 shortly after dictating his memoirs to Natalio Gorin. π

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[1] Gorin, Natalio. Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir. Alba Editoral, 2003. Print.

Guardia nueva

The period of tango history called guardia nueva goes approximately from 1925 to 1955 and can be divided into two phases. A phase of restructuring which fully begins with the transition to the 8X4 rhythm. The second phase is characterized by a peak in creativity and popularity, commonly referred to as the golden age of tango.

According to Horacio Ferrer and the Academia nacional del tango, these two phases would be the Transformación (1925-1940) and the Exaltación (1940-1955).

The first sign of a transition towards the guardia nueva can be traced back to 1917 with the recording of “Mi noche tristeby Carlos Gardel, which establishes a new standard for tango poetry. Tango music also goes through its own renovation process with Julio de Caro and the introduction of the compass of 8/4. De Caro formed his first sexteto in 1924, one year before Carlos Gardel began his solo career, and this is where the transition from the gardia vieja is regarded as completed.

An important figure of the guardia nueva is Juan d’Arienzo whose strong beat and energetic style appealed to the youth of the 1930’s. By engaging a new generation of dancers and putting tango back in fashion, D’Arienzo gave a second life to tango and opened the way to the creations of a new generation of tango orquestras and to the golden age of tango.

During the exaltación phase, tango dance and music both reached their peak in terms of popularity and refinement. Different styles emerged from the work of innovative directors such as Anibal Troilo, Carlos Di Sarli, Rodolfo Biagi and Osvaldo Pugliese. Tango was everywhere during the golden age, not only in the cabarets and dance halls but also in movies, radio programs, carnivals, theaters, streets and homes.

The golden age of tango came to an end around 1955 as rock and roll gained populirity with the youth. Tango continued to evolve into the vanguardia but it was no longer the popular mainstream phenomenon it once was.  It remained alive but somehow became a thing of the past.

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

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

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

Evaristo Carriego

Evaristo Carriego was an obscure young poet of the early 1900’s. His name became associated to the origins of tango through the work of Jorge Luis Borges who saw in him the creator of the urban style of poetry now associated to tango. Though Carriego was never an acclaimed writer nor a man of tango, he became legend and his name gained the power to evoke the spirit of the city, the old neighborhood and the mysterious root and essence tango itself.

Evaristo Francisco Estanislao Carriego was born in the province of Entre Rios in 1883. His family moved to Buenos Aires when he was only four-years-old. The Evaristo Carriego house on Honduras street is where Evaristo grew up and lived until his death in 1912.

Living in late 19th centruy Palermo, Carriego witnessed all of the roughness of life in a neighbourhood populated by poor uprooted immigrants. The cuchilleros and the compadritos, the organito and the so deeply regretted woman, all of these elements now associated to the mythical bajofondo and birthplace of tango were his universe. It was the reality that amazed him and inspired him to write poetry.

Little is know about the life of Evaristo Carriego besides what Jorges Luis Borges wrote about him. [1] Borges knew Carriego personally as a neighbor and a friend of his father. [3] He remember being strongly impressed by the presence of the poet and was deeply touched by his depictions of the Buenos Aires he knew in his childhood.

According to Borges, Carriego was a very sensitive and introvert young man. He used to hang out in literary cafes and marveled at simple facts of everyday life. This plain and simple observation of an humble man’s life in his ordinary and often merciless urban environment became a constant thread of tango poetry. It remains present and continues to build up and evolve through the works as many other authors from Angel Villoldo to Homero Manzi and Horacio Ferrer.

Evaristo Carriego died of tuberculosis in 1912 at age 29. In his short lifetime he left one published book entitled “Misas herejes”. “El alma del suburbio” and “La canción del barrio” where he develops the themes he is known for today were published after his death.

The house where he lived on Honduras street was bought by the city of Buenos Aires in 1977 to host a museum and library. La Bibliotheca Evaristo Carriego was opened to the public in 1981 and became home to over 5 500 documents in print and electronic formats including various collections of poetry. It closed in 2013 for renovations and remains closed to this day. [2]

Other important tributes to the poet include a piece by Astor Piazzolla entitled “Milonga Carrieguera” and a tango by Eduardo Ravira, “A Evaristo Carriego”, recorded by Pugliese in 1969. There is a street in Palermo named after him.

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[1] Borges, Jorge Luis. Evaristo Carriego. Buenos Aires. Emece, 1989. Print.

[2] Ordenan reconstruir la casa donde vivio Evaristo Carriego. La Nacion, March 27, 2014. Online. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1675640-ordenan-reconstruir-la-casa-donde-vivio-evaristo-carriego

[3] Borges, Jorge Luis. El tango: cuatro conferencias. Buenos Aires. Sudamericana, 2016. Print.

[4] Domingo, Luis Hernández. Frontera, llanura, patria: Un otro Borges. Anales de la Literatura Hispanoamericana, 1999. 28: 731-744. Online. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=52363

Lunfardo

The Lunfardo is a popular language or slang characteristic of the Rio de la Plata. It appeared during the second half of the 19th century, just as tango did, as a result the massive immigration and cultural mixing which accompanied the expansion of the city of Buenos Aires. It is mostly composed of italian words from the genoese, toscan, napolitan and sicilian dialects as well as other expressions of afro-brasilian, Spanish, aboriginal and gauchesco origin. [3]

Like any other argots or slang, the lunfardo is not a language in itself but a set of words and expressions which are not a part of the official language. According to Jose Gobello, who was the first to study the phenomenon in the 1950’s, lunfardo expressions were initially meant to be unintelligible or playful. Lunfardo is a voluntary transgression of the official language. [4]

It is often said that the lunfardo was “the language of the thieves” (the word “lunfardo” itself refers to “lombardo” meaning thief) though it was most probably and simply the language of the streets at a time when things could get rough in the suburbs and poor zones of the city center.

As the city of Buenos Aires continued to expanded and develop at the beginning of the 20th century the lunfardo became a part of the new urban culture. It was naturally present in the lyrics of the music which was born of the exact same urban context, the tango. It was immortalized in the rudimentary lyrics of pioneers such as Angel Villoldo as well as those of  Pascual Contursi, Celedonio Esteban Flores and other poets the 1920’s.

During the dictatorship in the 1930’s the lunfardo was banned from all media in Argentina along with other improper language or allusions to undesirable topics. [1] As a result the lunfardo disappeared completely from tango lyrics during the golden age. When the prohibition was lifted in the 50’s it proudly reappeared in popular culture including late tango recordings and Argentine rock songs [2]. The lunfardo had become a symbol of national identity and remains present in everyday language to the point of being integrated to or undistinguished from the official language.

The Academia Portena del Lunfardo was funded in 1962 to document the history and evolution of this phenomenon. Over 6000 lunfardo words and 3000 expressions have been identified from contemporary and historical sources. π

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[1] Fraga, Enrique. La prohibición del lunfardo en la radiodifusión argentina 1933-1953. Buenos Aires: Lajouane, 2006.

[2] Gobello, Jose, and Marcelo H. Oliveri. Tangueces y lunfardismos del rock argentino. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 2001. Print.

[3] Conde, Oscar. El lunfardo es un fenómeno linguístico único. Pagina12. Online. https://www.pagina12.com.ar/105340-el-lunfardo-es-un-fenomeno-linguistico-unico

[4] Entrevista a Jose Gobello. Revista El Abasto.  n .68, Aug 2005. Web. Sept 2016.

Tangomania (New York)

It wasn’t long before tango reached Paris in the 1910’s, soon after it began gaining popularity in Buenos Aires cafes and nightclubs. The tangomania  made it’s way from Paris to other parts of Europe, including London where tango became ultra fashionable with high society around 1913, [3]. From London tangomania made it’s way to New York where it conquered the public for the first time through a British musical presented on Broadway in 1914. [1]

Though there is evidence that tango was present in the US earlier in the 1900’s, it seems like the impact of this first contact was minimal. There is evidence that Los Gobbi came to the Philadephia in 1905 to record for Victor Talking Machine and were back in New York in 1911 to record with Columbia [1] and that El Cachafaz was invited to perform in the US in 1911 but nothing to suggest that their presence made a strong impression on the American public.

The first sign of popular interest for tango in the United States came with the presentation of “The Sunshine Girl”, a British musical  which had been a huge success in London in 1913. The American version presented on Broadway featured a couple of American ballroom dancers, Vernon and Irene Castle, who immediately became a reference for tango dancing and began teaching in the US. [2]

One year later tango was a huge phenomenon in New York. People gathered to dance at “tango teas”, [3] which were held in restaurants and hotels in the London fashion. Tango dancing was a scandal and a sensation at once and there is abundant evidence in newspapers that these gatherings were the object of a strong public controversy. It’s in one of these establishments that Rudolph Valentino worked as a taxi dancer before he made his way to Hollywood were he became a start dancing tango in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”  in 1921.

The tangomania  came to an end in New York around 1918.  π

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[1] Groppa, Carlos G. The tango in the United States. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2004. Print.

[2] Castle, Vernon, and Irene Castle. “Teaching argentine tango in New York, 1914.” Todotango. Web. Aug 2016. Online. http://www.todotango.com/english/history/chronicle/ 99/Teaching-Argentine-Tango-in-New-York-1914/  

[3] Holland, Evangeline. “Tango Teas and tangocitis”. Edwardian Promenade. Web. Aug 2916. Online. http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/dance/tango-teas-and-tangocitis/ 

Tango Argentino (musical)

Tango Argentino is a musical by Claudio Sergovia and Hector Orezzo. It became a huge success in Europe and on Broadway in the 80’s and it contributed to spark the wave of popularity tango dancing is experiencing today around the world.

The premiere of Tango Argentino took place in 1983 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris as a part of the Festival d’automne. It featured many well known dancers, singers and musicians such as Juan Carlos Copes, Maria Nieves, Horacio Salgán, El Sexteto Mayor and Roberto Goyeneche.

Tango dancing had been out of fashion for many years when Claudio Sergovia came up with this project and no one knew what to expect of it upon arriving in Paris. Shortly before the premier only 250 out of 2500 tickets were sold and the director was looking to invite friends to fill up the theater. [2] However the press wrote excellent reviews of the show after seeing the last rehearsal and on the first function Tango Argentino attracted more people then the organizers could handle.

The show ended up a being a huge success in Paris, traveled Europe and appeared on Broadway where it was offered 199 presentations between 1985 and 1986 [3], attracting not only tourists but locals, artists, personalities and a large cultivated audience. [4] After a year in New York the show went on a 3 years sold out tour of the US and stayed in Los Angeles for a few weeks before embarking on an international tour.

Tango Argentino went on traveled the world for a total of almost ten years and became the prototype of many other tango shows. It was  presented for the first time in Argentina in 1992 after touring the world. It was filmed in 1986 to be preserved by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Library and a remake was presented on Broadway in 1999 and 2000 as well as in Buenos Aires in 2006. The show was brought back to life again in 2011 for an open air performance at the Obelisco in Bueno Aires before a crowd of 15000 people. [1] π

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[1] “Claudio Segovia: el señor del tango.” La Nación. Aug 31, 2003. Web. Sept 2016 Online. http://www.lanacion.com.ar/523391-claudio-segovia-el-senor-del-tango  

[2] Gambarotta Lisandro. “Tango Argentino.” El Tangauta. #146, Dec 2006. Web. Sept 2016 http://www.eltangauta.com/nota.asp?id=589&idedicion=0#nota-mas 

[3] “Tango Argentino”. Broadway Database. Web. Sept 2016. Online. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/tango-argentino-4380 

[4] Groppa, Carlos G. The tango in the United States. Print.

[6] Gazenbeek, Antón. Inside Tango Argentino: The story of the Most Important Tango Show of All Time. Enrico Massetti, 2013. Print.