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September 29, 2008

Letters from Buenos Aires #3

Letters from Buenos Aires
Beatriz Dujovne

I head towards Avenida de Mayo today Thursday September 25th 2008. More precisely to Professor Enrique Binda’s second class at the National Academy of Tango. Teacher and students do not kiss in his class, we do not seat in a circle either. But I have another class before this one with a different teacher; in his class we seat in a circle and we do kiss.

Always a little shocked by cultural differences when I return to my first culture, I relish all this kissing. It happens like this: if I am the first one to arrive, each student who comes after me kisses me and whoever else is there. When the teacher arrives, he kisses all of us. The last to arrive bends down seat by seat to look us in the eye and kiss us. The kissing continues with each new arrival until the teacher begins the class. Anyone coming late is greeted by the teacher who interrupts himself to extend a welcome: “Hola Ricardo, como estas?”. Small nuances like the looking at each other in the eye before kissing, the kissing itself, and the self- interruption of the teacher, remind me why the eminently connecting tango was born and has been sustained by this interpersonally glue-making culture.

Enough about kissing. So, I am here going to share the notes from the non-kissing class. Last week, Binda had “proved” to us, with musical selections, that many “innovations” attributed to Julio De Caro (i.e. introduction of solo instrumentals, “contracantos” of violins) were already present in Firpo’s 1913 and Fresedo’s1922 recordings.

Binda is a researcher who does not hesitate to contradict the “official” history when his data show otherwise.

Today’s class will covers some highlights of music and singing developments from 1922 to 1924.

From a vintage edition of a De Caro’s book, Professor Binda shows us the picture of the orquesta Minotto where De Caro made his debut as the first violinist. We listen to “Fruta Prohibida” by Delfino, recorded by Victor in 1922. We notice the music to be rather repetitive. Without the variations, the subtleties or the expressivity that we had heard in the Fresedo orquesta last week. The Minotto orquesta had no particular characteristics, De Caro’s presence in it did not add anything, Binda says.

From 1922 we listen to “Viaje al Norte”, by Cobian’s sexteto, with its characteristic Cobian’s melody, with Petrucelli and Maffia in bandoneons, and Julio De Caro on violin. Binda and the knowledgeable members of this class find Cobian’s orquesta considerably less interesting than the rich Fresedo’s. (Anecdote: Cobian recorded this piece before he left for the United States in 1924, thus the title: “Trip to the North” [1924 is Binda’s research date, as opposed to the 1923 date find in publications]). Under his boss Cobian, Julio De Caro composed a tango named “Fresedo”, an expression of admiration and gratitude to the man who, since the 1910s had been the leading tango composer, arranger, and director. De Caro composed this tribute not to his boss Cobian, but to Fresedo.

Binda tells us anecdotes about De Caro’s early days as an orquesta director. He was hardly able to get good paying gigs and, to keep his orquesta together, paid his musicians out of his own pocket (without their knowledge); they performed at a bar a few blocks from the Academy of Tango in Avenida de Mayo. After about a month, when he was running out of money, a foreign impresario hired him to play at the luxurious Palais de Glace with a very high salary to play at dancing teas and dinners for the aristocracy. This unexpected success opened the door to recordings with the Victor company. This company had traditionally recorded cream of the crop musicians, while Odeon was less discriminating. To be recorded by Victor was, thus, a major step for De Caro.

“Todo Corazon” from August 1924 by De Caro’s sextet featured two bandoneons (Petrucelli [first bandoneon] and Maffia), and Francisco De Caro on piano. This is the only recording with these two bandoneon players. Petrucelli left soon thereafter and Laurenz joined. De Caro’s orquesta had far more liveliness than Cobian’s.

After listening to De Caro we listened again to “Sollozos” (1922), the Fresedo piece played during the previous class, with Cobian on piano, Roccatagliata in violin, and solos of bandoneon.

Binda reminds us that these great musicians were "practically children" between ages 22 and 24!

We spend some time appreciating how slow the development of singing was during the late 1910s and the 1920s. Singing lagged far behind the fast developing music.

In the rather mediocre voice of Ignacio Corsini, an actor who found his way into singing, we noticed his difficulties sustaining certain notes in “Patotero Sentimental” (1922).
On the other hand, Rosita Quiroga, the “Gardel” female of tango song, recorded “De mi barrio” in 1923. She was a fully mature singer by that time. She sang with expressiveness, invitingly, almost a cappella. The orquesta was background to her voice.

“Mia”, one of the first tangos that Azucena Maizani recorded in 1924, shows us that it would take Maizani several years to achieve the quality that Rosita Quiroga had reached a year earlier. With this recording Professor Binda closed the evening.

Impressed by my fellow students’ knowledge of tango music and history, I observed when Binda played specific songs (at times they dialogued with the teacher). I asked three of the men (as we descended down the white marble stairway hugging the turn of the century elevator) why were they attending this class if they knew so much. They had some “holes” in their knowledge and this teacher knows so much that it brings it all together for them, I was told. I was amazed one of them had identified “Almita Herida” during the two seconds Binda (by mistake) put it in the recorder and quickly removed it. Already in Avenida de Mayo at 9:30 PM, I asked him about his background. He was not a musician, not even a dancer, he replied. He had a “good ear”, a wide collection of recordings and loved tango. And you, they asked, what brings you to this class? “I come from dancing….” They seemed pleased and almost in unison they said: there is only one tango that cannot be separated: “music, dance, poetry and singing”.

Posted by beatriz at September 29, 2008 08:49 PM


>>there is only one tango that cannot be separated: “music, dance, poetry and singing”.

It takes some time to learn much about any one of these aspects. One can truly devote a lifetime to tango. What a rich and rewarding art!


Posted by: joe grohens [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 30, 2008 02:02 PM

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