Archive for the ‘Elvino Vardaro’ Tag

The archetype of the instrumental tango   1 comment

The archetype of the instrumental tango

Halfway through the decade of the ‘20s, the period of renovation headed by Julio De Caro, the veterans of the old guard felt the shakedown provoked by what they perceived as the transformation of the tango into “church music.” Meanwhile, the youngsters were treasuring the copies of the new arrangements, the solos, the counter melodies that emanated from the creative talents of Pedro Maffia, Julio De Caro and Francisco De Caro.Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo, who were the major exponents of the traditional style 2×4 hot tango of the Old Guard attempted to counteract the popularity of the new generation of trained musicians by opening up their orchestras to young talent like Cayetano Puglisi, Ciriaco Ortiz and Osvaldo Pugliese.

However, around 1924, an entrepreneur with long range vision, began to hire six piece tango ensembles, the typical orchestras modeled after Julio De Caro’s Sexteto Tipico, to provide musical background for silent movies. For the next six years, the movie houses became the cathedrals where the tango was workshiped. Lacking other sources of affordable entertainment, the working class families of Buenos Aires made these movie houses their favorite places to spend their free time. Thus, a large number of the population became exposed to the tango music of Pedro Maffia, Julio De Caro, Francisco Lomuto, Cayetano Puglisi, Osvaldo Pugliese, Elvino Vardaro and many others.

It was in one of those movie houses, that a chubby fifteen year old kid heard for the first time the mastery of the bandoneon of Pedro Maffia, not imagining then that many years later, he himself, Anibal Troilo, would be called the premier bandoneon of Buenos Aires. Troilo would later say, “before Pedro Maffia, there was nobody.”

With a solid reputation as a pianist and a composer, Osvaldo Pugliese was only eighteen when he wrote Recuerdo, the tango that many experts consider the birth certificate of the instrumental tango of greater importance in style and renovation that has ever been written. Because he was not yet of a legal age, the tango was originally registered under his father’s name, Adolfo Pugliese, who had been a flute player at the turn of the century. When Osvaldo reached the age of twenty-one, Recuerdo was published once more with his signature.

The tango was bold and advanced for its time. With a rare melody, extremely beautiful in its harmony and counterpoints, Recuerdo has a variation for bandoneon that it is very difficult to play as it is written. It requires gifted fingering, sound technique and a sense of virtuosity capable of extracting the best out of the possibilities of the music.

The sounds of Recuerdo were first heard in a cafe in the neighborhood of Villa Crespo, played by a modest quartet that was not equipped with the acceptable suitability of execution to extol its musical values. Its premiere went totally unnoticed and it was even retired from the repertoire for lack of interest by the public that frequented the establishment.

By the winter of 1925, the quartet of the bandoneonist Enrique Pollet with Emilio Marchiano and Bernardo Perrone on violins, and Osvaldo Pugliese on the piano, occupied the orchestra pit of cafe A.B.C. With that quartet’s version, Recuerdo would finally reach its true artistic relevance as the archetype of the instrumental tango.

By 1926, the quartet of Pollet changed venues and format, becoming a typical sextet of two bandoneons, two violins, Pugliese on piano and a counterbass. Recuerdo was high in the repertoire of the new orchestra and it was wildly acclaimed by both the public and the tango musicians who night after night dropped by to listen to the excellent interpretations of the Pollet sextet. The public repeatedly demanded the execution of Recuerdo, almost in every set played by the orchestra.

One night Pedro Laurenz was among the selected audience and he requested a handwritten copy of Recuerdo to bring to Julio De Caro, who received it with great enthusiasm. It is widely accepted that De Caro’s recording on November 9, 1926, is the definitive version of Recuerdo, never surpassed, only equaled by Osvaldo Pugliese himself, who in 1944 incorporated Recuerdo into the repertoire of his legendary orchestra with exactly the same instrumentation that De Caro had used eighteen years earlier. Not a single note was changed, and Pugliese even kept the temperamental tempo that De Caro had immortalized in 1926.

Sixty years later, on the stage of the Teatro Colon, towards the end of his glorious career, Osvaldo Pugliese used a new arrangement of Recuerdo when his fabulous orchestra was joined by many musicians that had played for him over a span of forty years. The arrangement and the interpretation recorded in 1986 are a musical tribute to the genius and inspiration of the late Maestro who pushed the envelope of modernization of the Argentine Tango without ever severing its roots.

OSVALDO PUGLIESE TEATRO COLON

THE GLORIOUS YEARS OF THE SEXTETO TIPICO   3 comments

The decade that followed the establishment of the Sexteto Tipico as the standard formation for all tango orchestras, was a period of greatness for the evolutionary development of the tango, primarily as music to be listened to as well as danced. A reading of most chronicles of the time clearly indicates a condescending bias with regards to the dance aspect of the tango. In a pontificating, elitist discourse, the general consensus among many published “historians” associate the dance of tango with a lackluster, monotonous, uninspired way to play the tango by groups lacking the artistic motivation to explore further than the dancer’s feet.

Juan Carlos Cobian's interests in traveling led to him walking out on his orchestra. This gave Julio de Caro the opportunity to take over and change the sound of tango

For the “academics” of tango (who positively never ventured into the world of the dance as practitioners), the evolutionary period that started in the mid nineteen twenties when Julio De Caro took over the six piece orchestra led by Juan Carlos Cobian, was a period of splendor and renaissance for tango music. A newer generation of well trained musicians displaced the orejeros (those who played by ear without a hint of musical training) from the countless sextets that could be heard everywhere. It is arguably said that in the Sexteto Tipico resided the most genuine form of expressing the tango in an instrumental manner.

Originally the tango was a popular dance manifestation. It attracted later the upper class to the cabaret, the new institution imported from Paris. Now, an entire new generation of public also enjoyed tangos sitting in reverential silence at cafes and movie houses all over the city of Buenos Aires. Musicians enjoyed full employment in an unsurpassed period of prosperity for the musical genre that identified itself with the pulse of a growing and changing population. In a parallel dimension, a whole strata of the middle and lower class population followed with fascination the successes of singer Carlos Gardel, who, save on rare occasions, preferred to sing tangos with the accompaniment of guitars, shunning away from the orchestras.

The multi dimensional depth and density of the tango as an art form is sometimes overlooked from a historical point of view, because up until now, no serious writing or retrospective accounts of its history has been undertaken from the point of view of the dancer. But it is today’s dancer who on a nightly basis explores a rich body of music that spans various generations of composers and musicians. As dancers take to the dance floor, they re-write in every step new chapters of history and give a more equitable and fair credit to everyone who ever created great music over a distinctive rhythm which is the roux of the tango. A gumbo without a roux is just another soup, and a tango without a rhythm is just another piece of music.

The Vicente Greco orchestra became the first Orquesta Tipica Criolla in 1911 when Casa Tagini decided to record tangos to promote the incipient phonograph industry

There is no doubt that dancing continued during the decade that led to the first major crisis of the tango. The aristocracy found the cabaret a natural habitat to enjoy night life. Buenos Aires became a replica of Paris and Montmartre with cabarets named Armenonville, Royal Pigall, Maxim’s, Tabarin, Montmartre, etc. Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro, Eduardo Arolas, Vicente Greco and Juan Maglio “Pacho” occupied their stage boxes, soon to be joined by the names from a new generation of musicians: Osvaldo Fresedo, Julio De Caro, Pedro Maffia and many more.

At cafes in every neighborhood of the city, the most celebrated sextets competed for the reverent silent listening of a growing number of tango aficionados. Graciano de Leone at Cafe Dominguez, Arturo Berstein at El Parque, Emilio de Caro at Los Andes, are just the tip of a Titanic dimension iceberg of musicians who found a period of an employment bonanza as the Tango was sung, danced and listened to.

Savvy entrepreneurs took on many of the popular theaters of the city for their carnival balls whereupon Francisco Canaro, Julio de Caro, Francisco Lomuto, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Maffia, Roberto Firpo, Edgardo Donato, Arturo De Bassi, etc. led legions of excellent musicians in an annual celebration of Tango dancing at its best.

Max Glucksman Enterprises, owners of the Nacional-Odeon record label, began yearly tango contests in 1924 which encouraged the composition of many new tangos to be entered into these contests. Roberto Firpo was hired to play the entries at the first contest, including the winners, Canaro’s Sentimiento gaucho, Catulo and Gonzalez Castillo’s Organito de la tarde, and Filiberto’s Amigazo. In successive years, other orchestras including Francisco Canaro’s took part in the equivalent of “Tango Grammies,” augmenting the size of the orchestra with already, or soon to become, famous virtuoso-like violinists Cayetano Puglisi and Elvino Vardaro; clarinetist Juan Carlos Bazan and bandoneon players Juan Bautista Guido and Jose Servidio.

Enrique Delfino, the immortal author of Milonguita, introduced the concept of tango recitals featuring soloists with artistic talents, capable of attracting and maintaining the listening interest of a public, with the proper seriousness of an evolutionary musical manifestation. Delfino himself on piano, with one of the most technical violinists of the time, Agelisao Ferrazzano, opened the cycle in the foyer of the Teatro Opera during intermission.

Left to right: Elvino Vardaro, Julio de Caro, Ciriaco Ortiz, Carlos Marcucci and Francisco de Caro. A magazine poll in 1936 named them Los virtuosos

The response to this first attempt to play tango music with a musical intention totally devoid of the demands of the rhythm essentially required for dancing, was overwhelming, and attracted not only the most qualified soloists, but opened the doors for Enrique Delfino, Osvaldo Fresedo and Tito Roccatagliata to travel to the United States to record about fifty titles for the Victor label, under the name of Orquesta Tipica Select. The quintet was completed by Luis Alberto Infantas, an Argentine violinist residing in New York, and an American violoncello player named Herman Mayer. This happened in 1920, a mere three years after the little dog Nipper, above the central hole of the Victor label, listened faithfully to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band‘s first ever Jazz recording, rather than to His Master’s Voice.

The success of this venture led the three musicians to add a second violin, Agelisao Ferrazzano, shortly after returning to Buenos Aires, calling the four piece combo, Cuarteto de Maestros. If success breeds imitation, it also encourages dissent. Soon, Delfino walked out and formed a second Master’s Quartet with Julio de Caro and Manlio Francia on violins and Roque Biafore on bandoneon. Meanwhile, Fresedo, Roccatagliata and Ferrazzano called on Juan Carlos Cobian to sit at the piano! This was an incredible period for the music of tango. A true renaissance and a fertile ground where the seeds of the future of the music reached deep into the soil to set the roots that would sustain the robust branches that would reach out to the world twenty years ahead.

All along, in the crowded tenements and working class abodes alike, families and neighbors gathered on the communal patios to celebrate many occasions by dancing tangos. The music emanated either from a Victrola, or from the instruments of trios and quartets. The Victor Company of Camden, New Jersey was instrumental, among other record companies, in fostering the spread of the tango across social lines, because first, it had invented the phonograph (and called it Victrola) and second, it wanted to sell records. To that extent it sponsored a stable ensemble of the best local musicians to produce tango records.

When Osvaldo Fresedo jumped ship and joined Max Glucksman’s Odeon label, Adolfo Carabelli, the artistic director of the Victor label decided to form a stable typical orchestra exclusively for recording purposes only. On November of 1925 the Orquesta Tipica Victor was born. Its style was essentially traditional (as opposed to the evolutionary style of De Caro et al.), faithful to the original music score, with an accentuated rhythm aimed to please the dancers, but with an adequate structure to highlight the soloist virtuosity of the many musicians that formed part of the orchestra during the fifteen years of its existence.

With the advent of the radio, the first stations in Buenos Aires filled the airwaves with tango music as well. However, it was the only media that did not offer a steady source of employment to tango musicians. The cafes, cabarets and night clubs along with the movie houses were the artistic scenarios for the tango. Particularly the movie houses where the public would ignore the silent images flickering on the silver screen, and cheer the tangos played by the most notable Sexteto Tipicos led by Julio de Caro, Pedro Maffia, Anselmo Aieta, Francisco Lomuto, Roberto Firpo, Cayetano Puglisi, Juan B. Guido, Ciriaco Ortiz, Francisco Pracanico, Carlos Marcucci, just to briefly name those who may be recognized today because of the recordings available commercially.

Meanwhile, legendary cafes with names like Nacional, Marzotto, Germinal, Los Andes, Chantecler, Maipu Pigall, Folies Bergere, and Charleston, offered a permanent rotation of talent, the innovative music of up and coming musicians Anselmo Aieta, Carlos Di Sarli, Juan Polito, Antonio Bonavena, Juan Canaro, Enrique Pollet (with a young pianist named Osvaldo Pugliese) and the aging Juan Maglio “Pacho.”

Elvino Vardaro's sextet in 1934. Left to right, Hugo Baralis, Jorge Fernandez, Pedro Caraciolo, Jose Pascual and Anibal Troilo

In 1933, Elvino Vardaro, possibly the most notable instrumentalist of all times, after having played violin for almost every existent orchestra for over ten years, picked up where Julio de Caro’s early innovation had left off, and gathered a young cadre of musicians that consisted of, possibly one of the most admirable instrumental ensembles: Jose Pascual on piano, Anibal Troilo and Jorge Fernandez on bandoneons, Hugo Baralis on second violin and Pedro Caracciolo on contrabass. The winds of the times were blowing in another direction though, and what is considered by the experts as one of the most interesting and talented orchestras ever, Vardaro et al was never recorded because the recording companies did not consider them commercially viable. Which brings to light a fact that the fate and of tango always rode the crest of the commercial interests of the recording companies.

The immense success of the tango in the decade of the nineteen twenties, which for many who deplore the way D’Arienzo brought about the Golden Years of the tango (dancing), was the true pinnacle of evolution and the Camelot for the fulfillment of De Caro’s prophecy that tango was also music. All came to a halting crash when the first talking movies appeared on the screens of Buenos Aires movie houses. The music that was coming with the films needed to be sold to a new generation of consumers. The orchestras lost an important venue and retreated to the cafes. But the influx of pizzerias and Automats was also getting rid of that traditional Buenos Aires institution. It was an unmerciful assault on many fronts that primarily decimated the sources of employment for the orchestras, severely damaged already, because of their loss of contact with the public through recordings, which now were full fledged promoters of the foreign repertoires influenced by the movie industry.

1930's publicity mug shot of Elvino Vardaro (left) and Osvaldo Pugliese

From a historical point of view, the tango faced its first major collapse when it fell catastrophically out of the favor of a new public blind sided by foreign entertainment propositions. This happened in the earlier part of the nineteen thirties.
The last orchestra to survive the onslaught at the movie houses was the unforgettable Sexteto Tipico Vardaro-Pugliese that played at the Metropol theater on Lavalle Street. There are only oral testimonies reported in written chronicles of the time that remember with nostalgic admiration the sound of the last ensemble that closed with its demise a brilliant itinerary of glory for the tango. They were Elvino Vardaro and Alfredo Gobbi on violins, Ciriaco Ortiz and Anibal Troilo on bandoneons, Luis Adesso on contrabass, and Osvaldo Pugliese on piano, a young group of musicians that would be called years later to have their names imprinted with capital letters in the best history of the tango ever told.