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Tango Orchestra Biographies

Below are articles on some of the most famous Tango orchestras including biographies, videos and their most popular songs:

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Guardia Nueva: 1925 to 1935

"La Guardia Nueva" (The New Guard) period lasted from approximately 1925 to 1935. The new musicians developing during this period would be known as "The 1925 Generation."

This period saw:

  • Introduction of "El Cuatro" The Four
  • Julio de Caro introduce a new style
  • Tango for dancers decline
  • Tango become a popular subject for films
  • Tango performed live on the radio
  • The introduction of quality microphones.

El Cuatro (The Four)
During this period, the habanera influence began to fade and the tempo of the music slowed down. In "Tango: The Art History of Love," tango guitarist Ubaldo de Lío says, "The earliest form of tango was a type of habanera. The tango-milonga then followed. After that came 'the four,' four quarter-notes per measure. We still ask ourselves who invented 'the four.' Some say Canaro, others say Firpo, a few claim de Caro." "The four" consists of 4 equal quarter notes (beats) with 2 strong beats (down beats) and 2 weak beats (up beats). In dancing, we usually step on beats 1 and 3 (the down beats) and not 2 and 4 (the up beats) unless we using traspíe or double-timing.

From Robert Farris Thompson's "Tango: The Art History of Love:"

"The four" arrived in force in the 1920s, with Firpo, Canaro, and de Caro. Important changes in harmony and phrasing came with it: polyphony and counterpoint emerged with de Caro. Tango was in a state of creative ferment. Black swing and black imporvisatin met innovations evolving within the Western-oriented tradition. The black composer Mendizábal, we recall, had designed the early structure of tango, involving a first and third part of sixteen bars each with a bridge of thirty-two bars in between. Now de Caro and his peers swept this away: 'After 1925 nobody writes [tangos] in three parts any more; sometimes introductions, bridge passages, and codas are added.' The trend was now to structure in two parts, doubled in execution: A B A B.

 

In the late 20s and early 30s, more classically trained musicians began to join and form orchestras and were influencing the largely self-taught musicians of the previous generation. Some of the older generation would say things such as "They have turned tango into church music," because they were working more with melody and harmony than rhythm.

Julio de Caro
The most famous of these was the violinist Julio de Caro who put together an orchestra  which included the bandoneonista Pedro Laurenz. He still retained an element of tango's street beginnings, but with more elegance and complex structure. He also slowed tango down even more. This new style combined with Tango Cancíon and the popularity of records meant that a larger "listening" audience was growing rather than a "dancing" audience. Orchestras no longer had to depend on dancers to pay the bills and began creating music that was not popular with dancers and tango as a dance sharply declined.

After this period, most orchestras were from one of two camps, the traditionalists or evolutionists. The traditionalists would consist of orchestras such as Francisco Canaro, Juan D'Arienzo, Edgardo Donato and Rodolfo Biagi. The evolutionists would consist of orchestras such as of Osvaldo Pugliese, Aníbal Troilo, Carlos di Sarli, Osvaldo Fresedo and Pedro Laurenz. Not that the traditionalists did not evolve as well, they just did not take it as far.

With the advent of silent films, the best tango musicians were sought after to play for the movies. For less popular films, one pianist would do, but for more popular films sometimes a trio, quartet or a sexteto típico would be employed.

Tangos were also a popular subject for films and the tango stars of the day, including Gardel, often starred or made appearances in them.

Tango orchestras were also very much in demand for the new medium of radio and would often play live and have their own weekly shows.

In the 1910s, as orchestras became more in demand to play large dances and festivals, their sizes ballooned to more than 1 dozen musicians. For a festival in 1921, Francisco Canaro presented an orchestra of 12 bandoneons, 12 violins, 2 cellos, 2 double-basses, 2 pianos, 1 flute and 1 clarinet. By the mid-1920s, the popularity of the microphone had made it so that most orchestras took the form of sextetos típicos.

 Luckily some orchestras were still playing music for dancers such as Canaro, Fresedo, Donato and Orchesta Tipica Victor. Listen to the songs below for some good examples from this time period. Most of these songs would be great for dancing the older style of tango known as Canyengue, but de Caro's "Flores Negras" would be a perfect example of what would have turned dancers off during this period.
 
Especially listen to Orchesta Brunswick's "Fruta Prohibida," it makes use of a musical saw which was used in several orchestra's during this time period. Most record labels had their own "house" orchestra like Orchesta Brunswick and Orchesta Tipica Victor.
 

 

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Guardia Vieja II: 1910 to 1925

The second part of the Guardia Vieja period lasted from approximately 1910 to 1935. I say approximately because the styles and changes of this period blended very smoothly with the preceding and following periods. It is not as if on January 1, 1910 people started composing and playing differently.

This period saw:

  • Tangomania sweep Europe and the US
  • Greater acceptance by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires
  • The formation of the Orquesta Tîpica
  • Carnivals
  • Tango-canción take off with Carlos Gardel
  • The advent of the women's orquestas.


Tangomania
Up until the early 1910s, tango had largely been a past time of the lower classes. It had been played and danced in cafés, bordellos, restaurants, conventillos but not in the salons of the elite. After Tangomania swept Europe and the US, this all changed and tango began to be embraced by the middle and upper classes of Buenos Aires. It is impossible to understate the popularity of Tango in Europe. It was the rage of the salons and made headlines in newspapers.

Enrique Saborido, the composer of many tangos including "La Morocha," also travelled to Europe to teach people how to properly play tango and ended up also teaching people to dance:

"The marquise Reské, widow of the famous tenor Jean Reské, was willing to popularize Argentine tango among the French. It was around 1911 and I accepted such formal invitation; when in Paris, at the beginning I devoted to teaching tango playing, so that it would be correctly performed. As I had spare time and I had noticed that the high society people were really interested in it, I taught them how to dance it.
One night at the marquise palace where a reception was held I organized, with the approval of the attendance, a pericón (traditional Argentine dance) whose steps proved to be very attractive for everybody and were warmly applauded.
On another occasion I was appointed referee to demonstrate that the forlana was not more decent than tango; the dissent was even reflected in the chronicles at the papers and the Catholic paper "Le Gaulois" finally regarded tango as a beautiful graceful dance.
Thereafter the outbreak of war forced me to come back to Buenos Aires."

Acceptance
It is also impossible to understate the influence that Europe's acceptance, particularly France's, had on Buenos Aires. It is joked that, porteños were Italians that spoke Spanish, thought they were British and wished they were French. Anyone who visits Buenos Aires cannot deny the influence of French architecture.

Orquesta Tîpicas
In 1911, Vincente Greco was asked to record some tangos by Columbia and he created the first Orquesta Típica Criolla. Over time the "criolla" was dropped from the name. The original Orquesta Tîpicas were sextets which consisted of two bandoneons, two violins, a double bass and a piano (sometimes a guitar or flute were substituted).  Eventually they grew to include a string section (with violins, viola, and cello), a bandoneón section (with 3 or more bandoneons), and a rhythmic section (with piano and double bass). The piano was first added by Roberto Firpo in 1913 and the double bass by Francisco Canaro in 1917.

Around 1916, Firpo re-wrote a march by Gerardo Mattos Rodriguez as a tango. It would become the most famous of all tangos, "La Cumparsita."

"La Cumparsita" (1916) by Roberto Firpo

Carnivals
Carnivals were huge events where massive amounts of people would come to hear the most popular orquestas of the day. Orquestas would save their best new pieces to debut them at the carnivals. Carnivals were very popular with dancers. Many dance academias would advertise to dancers, "Come and learn the best new figures for the carnival." 

Tango Canción
Up to this point, tango lyrics had been dark, but humorous.  In 1917, Carlos Gardel recorded Pascual Contursi's "Mi Noche Triste." Now Contursi could have meant the lyrics to be ironic but Gardel sang the song with melodramatic longing and sadness. This song struck a cord with the newly arrived immigrants, who were missing their countries, families and wives and was hugely successful, launching a new genre "tango-canción." Tango-canción was full of drama, sentimentality, sadness and nostalgia.

"Mi Noche Triste" (1917) by Carlos Gardel

Sheet Music Cover for MilonguitaIn 1920, the first tango written as a song, "Milonguita." Up until that time, tangos had been written as music first and then lyrics added later. This was the first time that a song was written as lyrics first.  It was turned into a movie in 1922 and was the first to feature the theme of the poor, country girl who leaves home to go to the big city of Buenos Aires and becomes a prostitute.

  

Women's Orquestas
Paquita Bernardo was the first professional female bandoneon player and Carlos Gardel said she was, "the only woman who has mastered the macho character of the bandoneon." The debuted her sextet in 1921. There were many women's orquestas and they were popular between 1920 and into the early 1930s. They often played in confiterías, cafés, bars, for weddings and parties. To the best of my knowledge, no women's Orquesta was ever recorded, but there is some film footage of one from the 1933 film, "Tango!"

 

Francisco Canaro - Early Orquesta“Cara Sucia” (1917)
Composer: Francisco Canaro y 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta
Performed by: Francisco Canaro

Some song titles and lyrics were changed because the originals were so vulgar. "Concha Sucia" was a traditional song believed to have been composed by 'El Negro' Casimiro Alcorta, a black violin player from the earliest days of tango. The title literally translates to "Dirty Shell," but concha (shell) was a common, obscene term for vagina. Canaro registered this tango, under his own name, and changed the song title to "Cara Sucia" in 1916.  Canaro is believed to have done this with several of the old tangos. The name change was probably to conform to the changing audience of tango, which was including more women and the middle class.

More on Francisco Canaro: http://www.todotango.com/...

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Osvaldo Pugliese

Osvaldo Pugliese at Piano

Osvaldo Pedro Pugliese (Buenos Aires, December 2, 1905 – July 25, 1995) was an orchestra leader, composer and pianist.

He was known for his dramatic and passionate arrangements while still keeping the strong walking beat of salon tango. His music walked a fine line between the dance hall and concert hall. The greatest musicians of the time wanted to work with Pugliese.

One could speak, with total justice, of compositions before and after Pugliese's "Recuerdo" and the instrumentalists before and after "Recuerdo." - Horacio Ferrer

He composed his first tango "Recuerdo" in 1924 when he was only 19 years old. The title was originally "Recuerdo para mis amigos" (Memory for my friends) and was an homage to his friends that he used to hang out with in the cafe. This song is often described as a milestone of tango composition for its melodic structure and its complex density. "Recuerdo" shows Pugliese's knowledge of European classical music and his commitment to the streets of Buenos Aires, as de Caro had previously. It is no wonder that de Caro was the first orchestra to record the song.

Pugliese is often played later in the evening when the dancers want to dance more slowly, impressionistically and intimately. While being able to dance well to Pugliese's music is the mark of a truly accomplished dancer, his music is very challenging for new dancers.

Osvaldo Pugliese in CafePugliese was outspoken in his political opinions and was a communist. These sympathies often brought him into conflict with the government and police. His orchestra was banned from being played on the radio on several occasions. In 1955, Perón had him jailed for six months. He was also jailed by the previous government and later governments. Whenever he was arrested his band would place a red carnation or rose on his piano as a "symbol of absence (símbolo de ausencia)." He was threatened many times during the dark days of the Proceso (1976 to 1983) but as Juan Carlos Copes explains, "he was simply too popular" to "disappear."

 During the Golden Age, many dancers would follow their favorite orchestras around like soccer fans of today. No fans were more dedicated than Pugliese's, some of whom would copy his haircut, glasses and suits. For some reason, some would wear band-aids forming a cross on their right cheeks. The women who followed Pugliese often wore Shanghai inspired dresses with slits cut on both sides along with anklets and high heels.

 "La Yumba" was another of Pugliese's major hits. It was recorded in 1946 and showed his respect for the early black musicians of tango. As mentioned before, Pugliese took tango to a new level but did not discard its roots in the streets of BA. He stated once that he was inspired to write "La Yumba" by a young black pianist, "I kept my ears open. I remember, around 1930, a young black pianist who used to hang with us. He played by ear in tango dance halls. He was marvelous. We loved this black guy. Me and him used to play, four hands on a keyboard. In Ki-Kongo, where many of the blacks of BA came from, yumba meant "to dance!" Candombe musicians and artists would yell "Oyeye yumba!" (Sing it! Dance it!).

 

 

 

Live Perfomances:

 

Popular Songs:

 

Learn more about Osvaldo Pugliese:

 

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Juan d'Arienzo

Juan D'ArienzoThe Basics
Juan d’Arienzo (December 14, 1900-January 14, 1976) was a violinist, pianist, band leader and composer. His nickname was “El Rey del Compas” (The King of the Beat). D’Arienzo was born on 14 December 1900 in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Balvanera. His orchestra  is considered one of the "Big Four" orchestras of Argentine tango, along with: Carlos di Sarli, Anibal Troilo, and Osvaldo Pugliese. They recorded over 1,000 tangos, valses, and milongas. He worked with the following key singers: Alberto Echagüe, Héctor Mauré, Alberto Reynal, Armando Laborde, Jorge Valdez, and Mario Bustos.

D'Arienzo began by playing jazz, at the age of 15, but was beginning to play tangos by the age of 18. He was a member of a youth orchestra which also featured Ángel d'Agostino on piano. In his early years, he played, as did many musicians of that period, in theaters playing music for silent films and in the cabarets including: Abdullah, Palais de Glace, Florida, Bambú, Marabú, Empire, Chantecler, Armenonville. He played in many small orchestras, and loved the nightlife. He once wrote, "We were beginning to live only at four in the morning... At the cabarets, you played all night through, people danced, had fun, they stayed til sunrise and the muscicians strained themselves."

1928 to 1935

In 1928, his orchestra was playing at the Florida Cabaret. They had replaced Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra and it is here that the famous announcer, Príncipe Cubano (The Cuban Prince) (pictured left), anointed d'Arienzo "El Rey del Compás (The King of the Beat)." As d'Arienzo explained it, 

"Mine was always a tough orchestra, with a very swinging, much nervous, vibrant beat. And it was that way because tango, for me, has three things: beat, impact and nuances. An orchestra ought to have, above all, life. That is why mine lasted more than fifty years. And when the Prince gave me that title I thought that it was OK, that he was right."

In 1928, he recorded for the first time with his own orchestra, Juan D'Arienzo y Los Siete Ases del Tango. They recorded 44 sides, with the estribillistas: Carlos Dante, Francisco Fiorentino, and, the female singer, Raquel Notar. Other notable members of the orchestra were Ciriaco Ortiz (bandoneon) and Luis Visca (piano). The beat that Príncipe Cubano was commenting on was evident in these recordings and was a return to the beat of the Guardia Vieja period, which many orchestras had abandoned. The beat of the Guardia Vieja movement had a strong driving staccato dance rhythm, D'arienzo's adherence to this would place him in the Canaro school of tango.

"Acordate Lo Que Fuiste" by Juan d'Arienzo (1928)

In 1933, he appears playing violin with his orchestra in the movie, "Tango." This was the first Argentine film recorded with sound. 

1935 to 1939 - The D'Arienzo Revolution

In order to understand, why d'Arienzo was such a big deal, we have to look at what had been going on in regards to tango music at that time.

Major Orchestras and Schools of Argentine Tango MusicThe Tango Cancíon and Guardia Nueva Movements
In the mid-1920s, tango music had experienced a change with the emergence of the Guardia Nueva (New Guard) movement. During this period, more classically trained musicians began to join and form orchestras, and were influencing the largely self-taught musicians of the previous generation. Some of the older generation would say things such as "They have turned tango into church music," because they were working more with melody and harmony than rhythm. They were more avante-guard, focusing on robust, complex arrangments and a slower tempo, than that of the Guardia Vieja period.

This, along with the Tango Cancíon (Singing Tango) movement from the 1910s, meant that tango could depend on a larger audience than just tango dancers. They could play at concert halls and sell records without worrying about dancers. Tango dancing did not "die" during this time period, but it did decrease in stature and many people abandoned dancing tango, because most of the music being produced did not facilitate dancing. To understand this, let's listen to some music.

First is a typical song in the Guardia Vieja style, Francisco Canaro's "Viejo Ciego." Technically it was recorded in 1928, during the Guardia Nueva Period, but it is in the style of the Guardia Vieja period. These periods did not have sharp lines, where everyone just changed suddenly and some orchestras such as Canaro, Donato, and OTV continued playing music in the Guardia Vieja style even during the Guardia Nueva period.

"Viejo Ciego" by Francisco Canaro (1928)

Another popular style of tango at this time was Tango Cancíon, which featured the singer over the music. Tango Cancion was born, in 1917, with Gardel's recording of "Mi Noche Triste." It usually consisted of just a guitar and a singer, featuring melodramatic and sad lyrics. Dancers were not the primary concern with Tango Cancíon. Here is an example by Carlos Gardel called "Caminito" from 1926.

"Caminito" by Carlos Gardel (1926)

And finally, here is an example of a typical song from the Guardia Nueva period, by Julio de Caro called, "Flores Negras." As you can hear, it is very complicated and with no clear rhythmic beat for dancing. It is beautiful music and great for listening, but not at all for dancing tango. This caused a serious decline in tango dancing during this period.

"Flores Negras" by Julio de Caro (1927)

1935 to 1939 - The D'Arienzo Revolution
In the early 1930s, d'Arienzo's return to the clear, staccato rhythms of the Guardia Vieja period, gained him a following. And, in 1935, he returns to the recording studio and was a huge success. In later years, d'Arienzo would comment on the Guardia Nueva movement, by writing:

"Young people like me. They like my tangos because they are rhythmic, nervous up-tempos. Youth is after that: happiness, movement. If you play for them a melodic tango and out of beat, surely they won't like it. That's what happens. Now there are good musicians and great orchestras that think that what they play is tango. But it is not so. If they don't have timing there's no tango. They think they can make popular a new style and perhaps they can be lucky, but I keep on thinking that if there is no beat there is no tango. As professionals I have respect for them all. But what they dig is not tango."

Also, on the Tango Cancíon movement:

"In my point of view, tango is, above all, rhythm, nerve, strength and character. Early tango, that of the old stream (guardia vieja), had all that, and we must try not to ever lose it. Because we forgot that, Argentine tango entered into a crisis some years ago. Putting aside modesty, I did all was possible to make it reappear. In my opinion, a good part of the blame for tango decline is on the singers. There was a time when a tango orchestra was nothing else but a mere pretext for the singers. The players, including the leader, were no more than accompanists of a somewhat popular star…

Furthermore, I tried to rescue for tango its masculine strength, which it had been losing through successive circumstances. In that way in my interpretations I stamped the rhythm, the nerve, the strength and the character which distinguished it in the music world."

From these two quotes, you can clearly tell how he felts about these movements, and also, what a modest person he was ;-). He once said, "With me one hundred thousand tango orchestras and neighborhood clubs flourished."

Of course, d'Arienzo did work with many great singers such as Hector Maure, Alberto Echague and Jorge Valdez and sometimes did put them out front. He also made himself somewhat of a star and loved to enthusiastically direct the orchestra during live performances. Below are some live videos of his orchestra from the 1960s. D'Arienzo said of his direction:

"When I direct I am justifiably natural. And I transform. As I direct I take what I feel. Simultaneously I pass on my feelings to the musicians and they, to the public... Before I directed with the baton, now with my own hands: they are more expressive.

Do not think that this is just for the public to see - it is used as a defence by me. I use it well. A look implies a mistake by someone, something that is not played well. They are used by me as a course when I see a loose element, or someone is distracted. I encourage and demand that you be aware, and encourage you with enthusiasm."

Of course, not everyone liked d'Arienzo. Many of the devotees of these movements, saw this turn to the strong beat, as simplistic, regressive and as a serious step backwards for tango music. But the dancer's loved it and between 1935 and 1939, he recorded 116 sides and sold more than Canaro and Troilo combined. In fact, his records were so popular that people were buying little else. Supposedly, some record stores required that you buy something else, in order to by one of his records.

Unfortunately, no masters from that period remain. Everything we listen to today are recordings of 78s and LPs. So, let's listen to "Hotel Victoria." It was recorded during his first recoding session, in July of 1935. Lidio Fasoli is on piano. It is a solid song and clearly shows a return to the Guardia Vieja rhythm, but is nothing "special." But, contrast this to "Flores Negras" and you can see why dancer's responded to d'Arienzo.

"Hotel Victoria" by Juan d'Arienzo (1935)

Juan D'Arienzo and Rodolfo Biagi

D'Arienzo and Biagi
The defining moment of d'Arienzo's career came in 1935 when he added Rodolfo Biagi as the pianist for his Orchestra. Biagi had just returned from working overseas and d'Arienzo had grown tired of Fasoli showing up late.

Together d'Arienzo and Biagi created his signature driving staccato sound. Soon after, Biagi began writing new arrangements of the songs, creating an even more staccato, uptempo sound than that of the Guardia Vieja. They also increased the orchestra size by increasing both the violins and bandoneons to five each. This filled the songs with a, thus unparalled, aggressive energy that dancers and listeners loved. Let's listen to their first recording together "Nueve de Julio."

"Nueve de Julio" by Juan d'Arienzo (1935)

Ok, so a style is developing, but what makes Biagi so special, as a piano player? Why was he given the nickname "Manos Brujas (Witchy/Magical Hands). Let's listen to another song from two years later, their interpretation of the seminal piece "El Choclo." Here, we will hear his magical hands at work connecting the phrases and adding little accents.

"El Choclo" by Juan d'Arienzo (1937)

Orchestra Picture from 1937 featuring D'Arienzo and BiagiBy 1938, d"Arienzo's orchestra was at the height of its popularity. He was just 35 years old, one less than Julio de Caro, but stylistically at the other end of the musical spectrum of tango. His records were selling and they were regularly playing on radio shows. But remember, above, when I made the joke about d'Arienzo being modest? Well, audiences had been becoming bigger and bigger fans of Biagi, and at a concert later that year, after a performance of “Lágrimas and Sonrisas,” the audience clapped until Biagi finally stood up and took a bow. As the story goes, d'Arienzo walked over to him and said, “I’m the only star of this orchestra. You’re fired.”

"Lagrimas y Sonrisas" by Juan d'Arienzo (1936)

Some doubt the story surrounding Biagi's firing, and it very well may not be true, but I do find it interesting that Biagi recorded a far superior version of "Lágrimas y Sonrisas" three years later featuring some "standing ovation" worthy piano playing.

"Lagrimas y Sonrisas" by Rodolfo Biagi (1941)

However, this split did not seem to slow either of them down. In just two short months, Biagi put together a full orchestra and signed a record contract and a radio contract. D'Arienzo replaced Biagi with Juan Polito, and was back in the recording studio just two weeks later. D'Arienzo often said, "The foundation of my orchestra is the piano. I regard it as irreplaceable." Juan Polito might not have been Biagi, but he was pretty close and D'Arienzo continued down the path that he and Biagi had developed. Then two years later, Polito would be replaced with Fulvio Salamanca. Here are the major piano players that played with d'Arienzo.

Piano Players in d'Arienzo's Orchetra

Pianist Years in Orchestra Recordings
Lidio Fasoli 1935 10
Rodolfo Biagi 1935-1938 66
Juan Polito 1938-1940 40
Fulvio Salamanca 1940-1957 200+

 

Some of Clint and Shelley's Performances and Classes to D'Arienzo:

Popular Songs:

 

Resources for this Article:

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Carlos di Sarli

Carlos Di Sarlis

Carlos di Sarli (January 7, 1903 – January 12, 1960) was an Argentine tango musician, orchestra leader, composer and pianist. He was born in the town of Bahía Blanca and later wrote one of the most famous tangos of all time of the same name. He composed his first tango in 1919, "Meditación" which was never recorded.

In 1923, he moved to Buenos Aires and started his career playing in Osvaldo Fresedo's orchestra. By 1927, di Sarli started his first sextet. He paid homage to Fresedo by composing the song, "Milonguero Viejo" and dedicating it to Fresedo.

He is known for his smooth, clean-sound and yet powerful arrangements. His songs are often played in Tango classes and at Milongas because of their easy, danceable rhythm while being complex enough for advanced dancers to enjoy. He respected both the melody and the rhythm of Tango. His music has also been described as lyrical and playful.

The rhythms of an orchestra tell dancers how to move. d'Arienzo inspires you to make flashy figures. [But] dancing to di Sarli, you'll walk and you'll stop, making elegant pauses, because the sound of di Sarli is "downtown." - Néstor Fernández

The peak of his career was in the 1940s, but he was always well respected and popular until his death in 1960 as demonstrated by his nickname, "El Señor del Tango" (The Lord of Tango). He worked with some of the greatest voices of Tango: Roberto Rufino, Alberto Podestá, Jorge Durán, Oscar Serpa and Carlos Acuña.

"Di Sarli always avoided the extremes of the evocative traditional tango and the avant-garde, preferring to forge his own style without concession to the fashions of the day."

Popular Recordings:

 

Learn more about Carlos di Sarli:

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The Golden Age of Argentine Tango: 1935 to 1955

The "Golden Age of Tango" is generally accepted as being from 1935 to 1955. Most of the music played at milongas are from the Golden Age. It is important to note that a few historians consider 1925 to be beginning of "The Golden Age of Tango" and that it can be broken down into two periods, La Guardia Nueva: I (1925-1940) and La Guardia Nueva II (1940-1955)." I am choosing to go with the majority and to begin the Golden Age with Juan D'Arienzo.

This period saw:

  • Buenos Aires rejuvenated by its 400th Anniversary
  • D'Arienzo bring the dance beat back
  • The orchestras grow
  • Huge crowds go to salons and clubs to listen and dance to tango
  • Orchestras incorporating singers into the band
  • The height of the craze.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the whole world had been in an economic slump and this included Argentina. But in 1935 Buenos Aires was preparing for the 400th anniversary if its founding as a city. This included building of a 72-meter high Obelisk and the opening of the avenida 9 de Julio. This brought a new energy and optimism to the city.

Tango had suffered in the last decade from the popularity of movies and other popular music genres such as Jazz taking over the radio. Tango music had also been becoming more complex and difficult to dance to.

In mid-1930s, Juan d'Arienzo exploded onto the scene returning to the driving beat of the Guardia Vieja. D'Arienzo was seen as a step backwards by many tango musicians and fans of the music, but the dancer's loved him and responded by returning to the dance floor and packing the dance salons. D'Arienzo issued in a return to emphasizing rhythm over melody and harmony and was given the nickname, “El Rey del Compas” (King of the Beat). Listen to his song, "Nueve de Julio" below.

The orchestras grew again during this period. De Caro grew to thirteen and many orchestras were adding symphonic instruments such as wind instruments, percussion and even harps and vibraphones.

A new partnership was forged, during this time, between the orchestras and the singers. Orchestra leaders figured out a way to incorporate in the singers without putting them in front and sacrificing the rhythm for dancers. Ángel d'Agostino and the singer Ángel Vargas is a good example of this relationship. Listen to their song, "Tres Esquinas" below.

In 1937, Aníbal Troilo's orchestra debuted with Francisco Fiorentino as the singer. Troilo was a large man and had the nickname "Pichuco." He was an innovator and kept pushing tango into new areas especially once he hired a young bandoneon player named Astor Piazzolla and made him arranger for his orchestra. Troilo was popular with both dancers and the listening public. To this day, his pictures are hanging all over Buenos Aires cafés and restaurants. Listen to his song, "Tinta Roja" below.

Other famous orchestras from the Golden Age are: Carlos di Sarli, Osavaldo Pugliese, Osvaldo Fresedo, Miguel Caló, Rodolfo Biagi, Francisco Canaro, Lucio Demare, Edgardo Donato, Roberto Firpo, Pedro Laurenz, Francisco Lomuto, Alfredo de Angelis and Enrique Rodríguez. Click here for detailed articles on each of the major orchestras of tango.

By the mid to late 1940s, tango was at its height. There were 50 or so orchestras and countless ensembles playing around the city at salons, cafés, cabarets, confiterías and social and sports clubs. They were also playing around the country and traveling internationally.

Each district of the city had its own social and sports club such as River Plate, Huracán, Atlanta, Independiente. This is where many younger people came to learn to dance and socialize. They would also hold dances at night.

Orchestras would often play at several venus per night and their hardcore fans would follow them around from club to club.

Popular hits of the Golden Age: