The word ‘tango’ describes a dance, a song and a purely instrumental music form. It was born and developed in the Río de la Plata area and its two most important cities, Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Montevideo (Uruguay), but the center of its activity has always been Buenos Aires. It originated in a process that culminated at the end of the nineteenth century, shaped by different elements: the musical activity of black slaves on the Atlantic coast of South America and the modifications that they made to European music; other genres including the American tango (tango americano), the habanera and the milonga; and popular music melodies of Argentina. Tango built upon these influences but was new in its rhythm, structure and melody.
One of tango’s most original aspects is its choreography. Tango is danced by a couple in a close embrace, with quebradas (swaying hips), cortes (‘cuts,’ pause or interruption in the movement) and more or less consistent choreographic figures, combined and performed in a totally improvised form.
Any tango can be danced, whether it is a song or instrumental. A large number of tango pieces of instrumental origin later included lyrics and many others were composed with lyrics, or began with lyrics around which music was composed. Tangos with lyrics are often called tango canción, though this denomination does not refer to a specific subgenre of tango. Some others are called tango romanza, when they are predominantly instrumental and melodic, and tango milonga, when they are more rhythmically oriented.
The Guardia Vieja (Old Guard), from its origins to 1920. This stage comprises the tango’s beginnings and its consolidation as a differentiated genre. In this stage, the tango was strongly based in its place of origin and also spread worldwide by traveling musicians and later by recordings;
The Golden Age, from 1935 to 1955, in which a large number of high-level orchestras appeared and the popularity of tango dancing and of its performers, singers, instrumentalists and band-leaders was enormous. The most significant developments took place in the 1940s.
The Nuevo Tango (New Tango) period, from 1955 to 1985. This stage began with the avantgarde movement, but the decline of the traditional genre also took place. The common denominator of the genre in these years was a great struggle between the traditionalists and the avant-garde led in an almost univocal form by Astor Piazzolla, along with a general process of decay and diminished popularity that only began to change in the mid-1980s.
It is very difficult to ascertain with accuracy the origin of tango. Various elements contributed to a process that took place during the latter years of the nineteenth century, leading eventually to the emergence of a genre that was given the name ‘tango.’ The single work in the musicological field that explores thoroughly all the precedents that converged into tango is the Antología del Tango Rioplatense, Vol. 1 (ATR-1) (Novati 1980), carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega’ of Argentina, which is followed in this article to explain the origins. This work treats both Montevideo and Buenos Aires as a single geographic area. No serious study can be carried out on tango without bearing in mind this research, either to follow it or to criticize it. The research centered on the analysis of a sample of 700 sheet music pieces and over 500 recordings (78 rpm faces), widely representative of the genre until 1920. The sheet music samples dated from almost 1890 to 1920, when tango was already established as a genre, so analysis was not able to display the process of its origin, but rather the traits that the new genre presented in its notated form.
There is no precise documentation of the nineteenth-century process that resulted in the development of tango in the Rio de la Plata area (in Buenos Aires and Montevideo). The diverse elements mentioned in ATR-1 concerning the origins of tango are: the music of Africa; the musical activity of black Argentinians; the tango americano and the habanera; the tango español or tango andaluz; the milonga; the folk and popular melodic themes and phrases of Argentina. There is some documentation to support theories regarding the influence of the tango americano and habanera, milonga, and folk and popular melodies and music of Argentina, while claims regarding the influence of Andalusian, African and black Argentinian music have proved more difficult to support with tangible evidence.
Given the lack of substantive evidence, there has been some debate regarding the possible influence of African-derived music on the origins of tango. Musicologists who analyzed tango music and dance around 1900, when tango was already popularized, did not find what they considered to be African traits (cf. ATR-1), and scholarly investigation has produced no documented evidence of African roots. Musicologists Carlos Vega (2007 , 32) and Jorge Novati (1980, 2) are among those who do not consider the tango to be of African origin. Further, historical documentation in sources such as newspapers, traveler testimonies and police reports is limited to descriptions of the modification of European patterns such as, the transformations that the contradanza underwent in Cuba (Carpentier 1972, 142), which gave origin to what was alternately called habanera, tango americano or simply tango (Novati 1980, 2–5).
Because of the relatively low number of Afrodescendants in Argentina and the historical processes whereby black Argentinian culture has been marginalized, it may be argued that the absence of documentation of black influences is to be expected and does not necessarily mean there were no black influences. While the number of blacks in Argentina is much smaller than other regions of North and South America, there were times when the black population of the city of Buenos Aires reached 10 percent. In Montevideo, by comparison, by the early nineteenth century the black population was 50 percent. The slave trade began in Argentina in 1590, and 35,000 enslaved Africans were brought between 1590 and 1790 (Novati 1980, 2). However, by the first half of the nineteenth century black and Creole populations diminished, due to the decrease in slave traffic as well as the death of blacks serving in the army (Lobato and Suriano 2000, 93; 208). The first national census in 1869 did not report the ethnic composition of the population, which led to black invisibility and obliteration of black Argentinian culture in the hegemonic discourse (Cirio 2008). The cultural activities of Afro-Argentinians did not cease during this period, but they remained in home-based, private practices that currently are very difficult to recover.
Thus, the idea of the African and/or black Argentinian origin of tango is broadly supported in non-academic publications. One serious, but unconfirmed, theory regarding the possible influence of black music of Argentina on the origins of tango was that in Buenos Aires certain pieces named candombe, of African derivation, are similar melodically and rhythmically to milonga and early tango (Old Guard), and thus may be predecessors (Cirio 2007). Coriún Aharonián (2007, 68) affirms that the music of black slaves probably influenced tango’s origins, at least in Montevideo. In fact, Goldman (2008) studied documents of Afro-Uruguayan societies from the period between 1870 and 1890 in Uruguay and found documentation of the presence of Uruguayans of African descent in the environments where the tango rioplatense was later born, and he noted that music and dance that emerged in the 1870s shared traits with what decades later was consolidated as tango rioplatense. The thesis of African origin may also derive from the fact that the word tango (or tambo) was related from very early times to musical practices of blacks in the Americas. The term’s use has been documented from Rio de la Plata to the Gulf of Mexico with a similar meaning: lodging, sale, party and meeting.
Regarding influence from Andalusia, Argentinian musicologist Carlos Vega developed a hypothesis that holds that a certain Andalusian tango gave birth to the Argentinian tango. The authors of ATR-1 consider this hypothesis poorly documented and invalid, although the ATR-1 authors accept many of Carlos Vega’s other findings on tango (Kohan 2007). Much of Vega’s work on tango was unpublished, though accessible in the files of the INM at the time, but has since been published (Aharonián 2007).
Pablo Kohan (2007) argues that Carlos Vega favored the idea of the Spanish origin of tango because he supported a pro-Hispanic trend (promoted by official sectors that sought to build Argentine national identity with strong links to European models) that was growing at the beginning of the twentieth century in Argentina as a reaction against massive immigration. Vega’s theory, stressing the Spanish origins of Argentinian social dances and minimizing the influence of the music and dance of local populations, is located in the process of the establishment of the emblems of Argentine nationality that began after 1930 when tango had already reached its status as a cultural symbol of Argentina (Garramuño 2007).
The elements for which documented evidence has been clearly identified in the process of the creation of the genre are: (a) the tango americano or habanera; (b) the milonga; and (c) the motives and melodic popular airs of the Rio de la Plata area.
Tango americano or habanera originated in the contradanza, a music-and-dance genre of European origin that came to the Americas with French and Spanish settlers and had developed its own Cuban form by the turn of the eighteenth century. From the contradanza came the habanera (also called tango, but not yet the tango of the Rio de la Plata region), with African influences. The habanera returned as a novelty to Europe, where it took the name tango americano. This tango americano spread widely in Spain and the Americas beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century. In Europe, it bifurcated into two genres: the habanera (a ballroom dance by an embracing couple) and the tango americano (spread mainly in the theater), which had no specific choreography.
The habanera in its European ballroom dance form came from Europe to Rio de la Plata in the first half of the nineteenth century, in two variants: (a) a ballroom dance consecrated in Paris and (b) a version that spread among the popular classes in marginal dancing venues (mainly brothels). This latter version came by ship across the Atlantic, mainly from Cuba to Montevideo, Uruguay, brought by sailors and passengers. Its choreographic style was characterized by a ‘broken’ (quebrado), hip-shaking style of dancing and a close embrace. This habanera, which is considered to be one of the sources for the origin of tango, did not disappear with the emergence of the Rio de la Plata tango, but it did not survive for long.
The milonga already existed around 1880 as a musical entity in its own right both in Argentina and Uruguay. The word was also associated, in both Argentina and Uruguay, with danceable music or a place for dancing, and it was regarded as music of the compadrito or lower-class person (inhabitant of the urban outskirts). The milonga was a dance of the popular classes with no ballroom version. Several of its features were adopted by tango: the displacement of accents, the beginning of themes on upbeats, and the brief and descending melodies. Also, the milonga’s choreography was in the broken (quebrado) style. The milonga spread through the popular theater (género chico), by means of the payadores (vocalists who improvised a recitation or singing with guitar accompaniment) who used it as background for their lyric improvisations. At the circus it was the favorite genre to accompany satirical texts. Around 1890 it was already mentioned in dictionaries (Granada 1890, 282) as dance and as song. It was in vogue until toward the end of the nineteenth century and later it endured as a folk genre in the countryside.
Finally, traditional motives were commonly used, providing evidence of tango’s character as collective cultural asset. These elements include rhythmic designs, melodic movements, cadences and folk melodic airs. The denomination of tango criollo appeared but the difference between the latter and other tangos was purely nominal.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century tango was well developed as an emerging genre and presented the following musical aspects: the habanera rhythm in the accompaniment (dotted eighth note, sixteenth note and two eighth notes) and elements of ‘broken’ rhythm (rests, syncopation, displacements of accents and upbeat phrases). From the listener’s perspective, these characteristic elements were typically employed as unexpected rhythmic devices. The characteristics of early tango can be appreciated in the compilation of recordings published in the ATR-1 that includes recordings from 1907 to 1920. Some interesting recordings also are kept in the Lehman Nietsche collection of the Berlin Museum (García 2006). Once established as a genre, tango developed following its own logic. Its distinctive choreography contributed greatly to its dissemination, both in Rio de la Plata and abroad. The history of tango as dance began in the early years of the twentieth century. By that time tango was already popular, described in Rio de la Plata newspapers as a fashionable piece in Carnival dances. The habanera still was present, but soon thereafter fell into oblivion. The seriousness of the dance (sometimes confused with sadness) became a well-known characteristic.
In addition to the Carnival balls, the dance was practiced beginning around 1890 at recreational societies with their own orchestras called rondallas (comprised of bandurrias, violin and guitar). In brothels, music was performed by the early great pianists/composers of tango, including Manuel Campoamor, Rosendo Mendizábal, Alfredo Bevilacqua and Enrique Saborido. Tango was also found in restaurants or summer resorts, where it was danced at night with small ensembles, in the dance halls (academias) where customers paid to dance and at rather sordid dancing venues in the Palermo district.
Beginning in 1901 there was a profusion of tango sheet music for piano published in Buenos Aires, coinciding with the import of pianos and mechanical playing machines (cylinders and discs). Between 1905 and 1910 tango was described as a common practice and the first criticisms of its social atmosphere appeared, characterizing it in newspapers and magazines as lewd and libertine, when commenting on the dance at Carnival. Other dances, including habanera, polka, mazurka and cuadrilla, disappeared. Tango choreography underwent a double change: it was simplified for the common people, and it became more difficult as a contest dance.
Tango groups began to include the bandoneón, a type of German concertina named after its creator, Heinrich Band. The bandoneón arrived in Argentina around the 1880s and was included in tango’s accompanying instrumental ensemble, the orquesta típica, between 1905 and 1907. In 1907 the first recordings of tangos were performed by military bands and tango singers (not exclusively devoted to the genre), generally singing simple lyrics of costumbristic, humorous or picaresque type. The first recorded orchestral tangos were performed by quartets with bandoneón, violin, flute and guitar, such as the Greco Orchestra that in 1910 made the first recording of an orquesta tipica criolla: the tango ‘Rosendo.’ The international companies that recorded tango in these years were Columbia and Victor. Local labels included Atlantic, Era and Phono D’Art, among others.
Tango’s first international diaspora occurred between 1900 and 1914, resulting from tango dancer Casmiro Ain’s demonstrations in Paris and London in 1903 and the subsequent arrival in 1907 of the first Argentine tango musicians to Paris to make recordings for the ‘Argentine market (Villoldo and Gobbi). At the time, tango was viewed by Europeans asseductive because of its dance style, not its music. Dance academies were founded in Paris and the aristocratic circles of the city become enthusiastic promoters of the genre, although the dance was subjected to several modifications in order to make it more ‘decent.’ In 1910 tango entered the aristocratic Paris dance halls, brought by performing artists of varieté and music hall and by young Argentine elites. Beginning in 1912 tango was very popular, and between 1913 and 1914 there was a true ‘tangomanía’ in Paris. Soon dance teachers proliferated there. In Paris, musicians and publishers preferred to write their own tangos, and the first written codifications of tango’s dance appeared in Paris.
With the prestige of victory in Paris, tango began its journey through the great capitals and cities, including Rome, London, Tokyo and New York (Pelinski 2000; Savigliano 1995). World War I imposed a break, but in 1919 the tango fashion reappeared with renewed energy in Europe. Due to the Parisian success, after 1911 the practice of tango became widespread in Argentina, through sheet music, dance books, records and dancing teachers. The Buenos Aires elite felt compelled to learn it and to answer for its acceptance or rejection. New ensembles appeared, including those of Eduardo Arolas and Roberto Firpo, and the pianola entered the country.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, tango’s musical form was divided in 95 percent of cases into three sections of 16 bars comprised of four phrases each. The third section was also called trio. The different sections displayed neighboring tonalities, whereas the rate of harmonic change was quite slow and concentrated around the tonic, dominant and subdominant, with secondary dominants. At first only a few tangos were sung, because tango was mainly a dance. Therefore melodies were ample and not fit for singing, frequently structured with arpeggios. Tango is musically defined by the motive; the mere stating of a motive represents in advance the character of a tango piece. The motives include accents that contrast with metric convention, entrances on the upbeat and syncopation.
Around 1915 the choreographic panorama of tango was formed by three subspecies: the tango criollo, whose basic characteristics were improvisation and invention along with a variety of figures; the smooth (liso) tango, which altered the tango criollo by suppressing figures; and ballroom tango, the product of local systematizations with European influences.
In the Old Guard period groups did not play written arrangements. Performance practice involved playing according to previous agreements between the musicians. Sections were repeated without variation as many times as necessary to fill the three-minute time allotted for recordings. During this stage there were no differentiated styles and more or less all ensembles played in the same way.
Toward the end of the period some gradual changes took place. The rigid 2/4 formula of dotted eighth note, sixteenth note, two eighth notes, began to alternate with the uniform beat of four eighth notes in 4/8 (that would be standardized in just a short time), although tango was still written in 2/4. On the other hand, some melodies narrowed their scope and new melodic designs appeared that set the conditions for the vocal tango (Kohan 2010).
During the New Guard period, tango matured as a form and distinct stylistic and interpretive schools emerged. By 1920 Orquesta Típica Select, led by bandoneonist Osvaldo Fresedo, inaugurated a more modern sound that announced a new style, exemplified in recordings such as ‘Don Esteban’ (Sir Steven) and ‘El taura’ (The Brave Man), which was already being developed by Eduardo Arolas (see, for example, the Arolas recording ‘Moñito’ [Little Bow]). Recordings from this period demonstrate a clear differentiation of roles between instruments and arrangements that allow the showcasing of each instrument type. The orchestra fronted by Fresedo, along with those led by pianists Juan Carlos Cobián and Carlos Vicente Geroni Flores, experimented with innovations from 1918 to 1924 (see, for example, Fresedo’s recording ‘Los dopados’ [The Doped Ones], Cobián’s ‘Shusheta’ [Playboy] and Flores’ ‘La pecadora’ [The Sinner]). Finally in 1923 Julio De Caro formed a sextet that would define the tango canon of the New Guard, contributing the major orchestral innovation during the New Guard era. De Caro’s style became the basis for the mainstream of progressive tango. De Caro arrangements include instrumental solos, sections in which only the bandoneón or piano play and counterpoint between the violins and bandoneóns. The bandoneóns lead entire sections with the accompaniment of other instruments. The melody is played with an intense rubato. Examples of these features may be heard on De Caro’s recordings of ‘Todo corazón’ (All Heart) and ‘Amurado’ (Forsaken).
New orchestral styles arose, with a basic division between the ‘traditional’ Old Guard style and ‘progressive’ new groups, mainly those conducted by Julio De Caro and Osvaldo Fresedo. The progressive groups incorporated a new and rich instrumental output and had the explicit goal of raising tango to a superior musical level while retaining its popular essence and danceable features. The traditional style, mainly represented by Francisco Canaro and Roberto Firpo, remained tied to the older approach to orchestral performance, including straight, rigid demarcation of four beats and clear exposition of melodic lines in perfectly danceable versions.
Both traditional and progressive tango compositions were still in two or three sections of 16 bars in ABACA or ABCBA forms and all their possible variants but soon the third section disappeared, and the new tangos composed in the 1920s comprised only two sections. For variety, composers used different instrumental combinations, different bridges between sections, and variants in the accompaniment rhythm. In general traditionalists created one instrumental scheme for a section that was repeated each time the section returned. On the other hand, progressivists tended to employ a greater variety of resources.
Typical compositional characteristics of the New Guard era may be heard in the recordings of works by its major orchestras. De Caro, who set the tone for the era, recorded 420 sides of 78-rpm discs from 1924 to 1953. All of them have continued to be available but only a few were reissued by the labels that recorded them (RCA Victor, Brunswick, Odeon, Pathe). For instance, Euro Records have reissued several recordings from the Victor series. These recordings demonstrate how the group never repeated a section with the same instruments, used numerous bridges between sections, added secondary melodies and frequently employed instrumental solos and dynamic variation. The orchestration almost as a rule was varied every two bars. This atomization in the orchestral writing was rich and complex but simultaneously logical, systematically incorporating a series of resources typical of tango: ‘fraseos’ (articulated phrasing) of the violins and bandoneóns (melodic segments in a strongly rubato style), ‘lloros’ of bandoneóns (prolonged clashes of minor seconds), and anticipations and suspensions at phrase endings.
Roberto Firpo recorded about 2,700 sides of 78-rpm discs between 1912 and 1941 for the Odeon label. Not all of those recordings have continued to be available; only about 50 percent are preserved in the hands of collectors. Firpo’s tangos (such as Tata viejo’ [Old Grandpa] and ‘Cuando llora la milonga’ [When the Milonga Cries]) typically displayed slow tempos, with few simple bridges, violins in legato, little use of secondary melodies and the piano in a leading function. The style of Francisco Canaro was still more conservative with four eighth notes to the bar and strict adherence to the published piano sheet music. The use of instruments across sections is repetitive, which may be heard in recordings including ‘Cuesta arriba’ (Uphill) and ‘Yo no se qué me han hecho tus ojos’ (I Don’t Know What Your Eyes Have Done to Me). Canaro recorded 3,700 tracks from 1915 to 1969, a large number of which are still preserved. Neither Canaro nor Firpo has been favored with systematic reissues, and as a general rule only ‘greatest hits’ and pieces so labeled have been made commercially available. By comparison, bandoneonist and bandleader Osvaldo Fresedo’s tangos display a polished orchestral sound, highlighting the violins with few instrumental solos and brief secondary countermelodies and bridges. Generally, he obtained variation with dynamic resources. Fresedo recorded 1,150 sides of 78-rpm discs between 1917 and 1957, and 100 tracks in 33 rpm from 1958 to 1980. The last recordings have been made available, but the huge volume of production from the period between 1917 and 1928 (more than 700 sides) has been reissued more slowly.
Composers Juan Carlos Cobián and Enrique Delfino began to produce new tangos with more singable melodic lines that some specialists describe as tango romanza. A new type of lyric for tango as a song was established, with a plot or story line. The first and model example of this new tango style is ‘Mi noche triste’ (My Sad Night, lyrics by Pascual Contursi and music by Samuel Castriota).
At the same time the figure of the tango singer arose as a star in the singing world. Tango with vocals had two streams. The orchestras used an estribillista (refrain singer, crooner), who sang only one section of the lyrics, generally in the central section of the piece. On the other hand, there were specialized tango singers such as Carlos Gardel or Ignacio Corsini, who sang tangos with orchestra or guitar accompaniment. There were other well-known singers including Charlo or Marambio Catán, but they did not reach the popularity or number of recordings of Gardel or Corsini. During this stage, between 1920 and 1935 alone, the two singers recorded an approximate total of 1,400 songs. All of these records have continued to be available, but only Gardel has been awarded systematically chronological reissues. It was also a period of great female singers who doubled as movie idols, including Rosita Quiroga, Azucena Maizani, Ada Falcón and Mercedes Simone.
The New Guard incorporated larger orchestras with more skilled musicians, and the continued activity provided stability while at the same time avoiding routine and repetition. Repertoires were enlarged and all the orchestras made a great number of recordings.
The orquesta típica developed a standard ensemble of two bandoneóns, two violins, piano and double bass. The orchestration was not performed strictly from written notation. While musicians used a piano score, they added countermelodies, and bandoneóns employed special features such as rubati and anticipations. It was not until about 1932 that professional arrangers such as Julio Rosemberg, Julio Perceval and Gutiérrez del Barrio wrote charts for the renowned orchestras.
In the New Guard tango was no longer a phenomenon of the urban outskirts and was accepted both by popular and aristocratic classes. It was possible to hear it in bars, cabarets, cinemas, theaters and ballrooms. It spread through piano sheet music copies, magazines including lyrics, recordings and radio. In this professionalized stage, managers became necessary and author copyrights were established. Tango’s peak in popularity was evidenced by the great number of concerts and venues for listening and dancing. From 1926 to 1928 tango orchestras made 800 annual recordings, a number never again attained, and in the period 1920–1935 a total of 8,000 recordings were made (of which approximately 20 percent were made by the progressive orchestras).
In 1929 the economic crisis deeply affected the popular masses that supported tango and suddenly the tango vogue disappeared. The recorded output fell dramatically to a level of approximately 150 annual recordings in 1933. The people withdrew from tango; they no longer danced it. In fact, the first written history of tango, published in 1936, regarded tango as something that was coming to an end (Bates 1936). Only the most important orchestras survived. Many musicians organized small groups in the Old Guard style, launching a ‘revival’ that led the public to regard tango as something historical that was no longer in vogue.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, and as the world economic crisis was abating and industrial growth was taking place, tango returned to the dancing venues (clubs and carnival dance halls) with a renewed energy. New cabarets opened, and tango entered what would later be seen as a Golden Age, in which it was established as an easily danceable style. Orchestras grew to an average of 12 musicians, arrangements were very carefully disposed and the work of professional arrangers was considered very important. Singers also grew in importance and sometimes became more famous than the orchestras. Orchestral styles were derived from those in the New Guard. Most important, dancing and hearing tango was now a widespread cultural phenomenon.
Dancers were strongly attracted by a new style with faster tempi and straight demarcation of the beat, provided by Juan D’Arenzio’s orchestra, based at the Chanteclair cabaret. New audiences frequenting cabarets were formed by the emerging bourgeoisie, a result of industrialization. At its peak in the 1940s this tango boom provided work for all the musicians of the last decades as well as a new generation. Under the presidency of Juan Domingo Perón, beginning in 1946, mass culture became industrialized: a national cinema, the radio and the recording industry, all of which has begun in the previous decades, grew significantly in size and were closely linked to tango. Tango’s apex of success and popularity in the 1940s is parallel to the peak of Peronism, although there is no direct relationship between the two. By that time tango was consumed massively by the middle and lower classes.
During this renaissance the traditional sextets gave rise to an enlarged instrumental formation, still named ‘orquestas típicas’: four bandoneóns, four violins, sometimes viola and violoncello, piano and double bass. As Decarean sextets languished around 1935, violinist Juan D’Arienzo, who had led a sextet in 1928, began to develop a new style ideal for dancing (within the traditional trend): simple phrasing and instrumentation and a marked rhythm, four beats to the bar. The simplicity of this style was deplored by admirers of the baroque style of the progressive outfits, but the 1940s would not have been the same for tango without the presence of D’Arienzo’s orchestra and others that adopted his style, including Rodolfo Biagi, Alfredo De Angelis and Héctor Varela. Between 1935 and 1975 D’Arienzomade approximately 1,000 recordings for Victor, almost all of which have been reissued.
D’Arienzo’s orchestra contributed to the formation of a new tango public. Later the orchestras derived from the progressive schools benefitted from this new audience. At the start of the 1940s there were several progressive orchestras: Alfredo Gobbi, Osvaldo Pugliese and Aníbal Troilo were formed based on Decarean aesthetics, along with the orchestras of Pedro Laurenz and Lucio Demare that were already playing with the same style (their recordings have been reissued).
In the progressive field the emblematic figure of the 1940s was Aníbal Troilo, bandoneonist, bandleader and composer. Troilo was the incarnation of bohemia in tango; he was a composer of very well-known tangos and he was also a bandoneón player and leader of his own orquesta típica. The singers of his orchestra were exemplary; passing through the ranks of the Troilo Orchestra assured a singer of the success needed to later begin an independent career. Troilo successively employed vocalists including Francisco Fiorentino, Alberto Marino, Floreal Ruiz and Edmundo Rivero. Troilo’s orchestra is perhaps considered the most important of this era, due to the choice of repertoire for both instrumentalists and vocalists, Troilo’s own compositions and his delicate bandoneón solos. This orchestra pioneered a style that became deeply rooted in tango, contrasting the less complex presentation of D’Arienzo and the other traditionalists.
Thus Troilo became the mainstream of progressive tango, softening the Decarean style but without losing its essence. As a bandoneón player, he cultivated a distinctive style that combined profundity and intimacy, sensuality and drama, without superficial virtuosity and impregnated with sincere emotion. As a composer he wrote classic pieces, especially those written in collaboration with the poets Homero Manzi and Cátulo Castillo. The music and evocative poetry combine to describe landscapes and people of Buenos Aires, as demonstrated in recordings including ‘Garúa’ (Fog), ‘La última curda’ (The Last Drunkenness), ‘Che bandoneón’ (Hey Bandoneon) and ‘Sur’ (South). Between 1938 and 1970 he recorded over 400 songs for RCA, TK and Odeon, and his discography has been completely reissued on CD (in chronological editions).
Pugliese, like Troilo, can be regarded as one of the most outstanding figures in the history of tango. He organized his first orchestra in 1936 but disbanded it shortly afterward. A new attempt in 1939 was successful and his orchestra continued working for 50 years. During the 1940s it was one of the most active and popular, and it toured throughout the world beginning in 1959. With his Decarean orchestra, Pugliese shared with Troilo the vanguard of the new progressive style of the 1940s. His orchestra displays a strong pulse, an extensive use of rubato and divisi of the violins and bandoneóns in rich counterpoint, with arrangements usually conceived by him. He was not a prolific composer; and he devoted himself mainly to instrumental tango. One of his first tangos was ‘Recuerdo’ (Memory) (1923) which became a classic. Afterward he forged a new compositional modality with tangos such as ‘Negracha’ (Black Woman), ‘La Yumba’ (an onomatopoeic term that describes a particular way to accentuate the beat) and ‘Malandraca’ (Little Rascal) developed from brief, reiterated and varied themes. Pugliese recorded more than 400 songs for Odeon, Stentor and Philips between 1943 and the early 1980s, and has been accorded systematic reissues of nearly his entire oeuvre.
Alfredo Gobbi’s orchestra style is Decarean but combined with the Di Sarli style, which was an early influence for Gobbi, especially in its rhythmic aspect. After several attempts, Gobbi launched his own orchestra in 1942 and began to record in 1947 for Victor, ultimately producing around 80 recordings (all of them reissued) within which there are 16 orchestral renditions that are widely considered to be among the best tango recordings of the 1940s. ‘Camandulaje’ (Scoundrels) and ‘El Andariego’ (The Drifter) are his most memorable compositions. He led the orchestra from the violin stand, and his solos displayed a great mastery and perfect command of the effects created by Julio De Caro.
The activity of the genre in the 1940s was very intense. In addition to Troilo, Pugliese, Gobbi and the Decarean orchestras (and also De Caro, who continued with his orchestra until the mid-1950s) and D’Arienzo and other traditional orchestras, the field was marked by the continuation of the progressive line led by Fresedo (and its derivatives, such as Di Sarli) and the continuing traditionalist orchestras of the Old Guard, such as those of Canaro and Firpo.
Fresedo’s orchestra polished its use of nuances, and when he included the arrangements written by Héctor Artola and Argentino Galván he obtained a very interesting orchestral result (see, for example, versions such as ‘Te llama mi violín’ [My Violin Calls You] and ‘Mariposa’ [Butterfly]) based on the timbre of a large ensemble of strings and bandoneóns, and a very prominent use of the piano in rhythms, leading melodies, counterpoints and bridges. Fresedo further polished his melodic and sumptuous orchestrations with the unusual use of harp, drums and vibes to produce special timbral effects. Followers of his school were Carlos Di Sarli and Miguel Caló among others. In the 1940s the most acclaimed vocalists working with his orchestra were Ricardo Ruiz and Oscar Serpa.
Derived from Fresedo’s style, the orchestra fronted by pianist Carlos Di Sarli was highly regarded by dancers because of its beat, which favored medium and slow tempos. Di Sarli’s orchestra also highlighted the strings and the piano rhythms. The orchestra’s notable singers included Roberto Rufino, Jorge Durán, Alberto Podestá and Oscar Serpa. Di Sarli was not a prolific composer. His most memorable compositions are ‘Milonguero Viejo (Fresedo)’ (Old Milonguero) and ‘Bahía Blanca’ (White Bay). In the orchestra his piano had a strong presence and he favored the strings over the bandoneóns. Between 1928 and 1958 he recorded 382 sides of 78-rpm discs for Victor, TK and Philips. Those recorded for Philips (the last ones he made) comprise a good compendium of his style. His discography has not been systematically reissued.
A magnificent synthesis of influences of Troilo and Di Sarli is evidenced in the music of the Fran-cini-Pontier orchestra co-led by violinist Enrique Mario Francini and bandoneonist Armando Pontier. It began its appearances in 1945 and performed until 1955 when the leaders split off to lead their own orchestras. Argentino Galván and, sometimes, Astor Piazzolla were responsible for the arrangements. They recorded approximately 130 tracks on 78-rpm discs, most of which have subsequently been reissued. ‘Tigre viejo’ (Old Tiger) is a good example of their recorded works.
Horacio Salgán began with his orchestra in 1944 and elaborated an unprecedented new language within the Decarean conception. That orchestra folded without making any recordings, and he founded a more successful one in 1950. The piano performed both as soloist and as rhythmical/harmonic support, with syncopation and counterpoint between orchestral units in an essentially tango-based style. Salgán’s recordings were released in a chronologically disjunct fashion and they alternated orchestra, duo and quintet renderings. Many of them have been confusingly reissued. The fact that he recorded every number more than once with the same arrangement contributes to the confusing nature of his whole recording oeuvre (taking into account all his groups, at least 250 recordings). He is also important as a composer; his tango ‘A fuego lento’ (At Slow Fire) is a good example of his style.
During the 1940s the orquestas típicas included only male singers. However, several female singers acted as independent figures. For example, the legendary singer Mercedes Simone, who began in 1925, continued evolving as a soloist. Other singers with great popular acclaim were Libertad Lamarque, Carmen Duval and María de la Fuente, among a large number of outstanding figures in vogue in the decade.
Lyricists of the 1940s made advances in tango’s poetic complexity and lyrical content. Homero Manzi depicted suburban landscapes with simple language but with metaphors of high flight. Some of his masterpieces are ‘Sur’ (South), ‘Milonga triste’ (Sad Milonga), ‘Tal vez será mi alcohol’ (Perhaps It Will Be My Alcohol) and ‘Barrio de tango’ (Neighbourhood of Tango). Enrique Santos Discépolo brought tango to a new reflective dimension and bitingly criticized contemporary society, demonstrating skepticism and hopelessness in his lyrics of deep dramatic quality (‘Cambalache’ [The Junk Shop], ‘Uno’ [One], ‘Cafetín de Buenos Aires’ [Little Buenos Aires Café] and ‘Canción desesperada’ [Desperate Song]). Cátulo Castillo belonged to the so-called Boedo School that valorized the past. Among the most important pieces of his oeuvre are ‘Luna llena’ (Full Moon), ‘Café de los angelitos’ (Café of the Little Angels), ‘Tinta roja’ (Red Ink) ‘Patio mío’ (My Patio), ‘María,’ ‘La última curda’ and ‘A Homero’ (To Homero). Homero Expósito was influenced by the opposing influences of the evocative romanticism of Manzi and the sarcastic dramatic quality of Discépolo. A nonconformist innovator, he scattered his tangos with literary figures, as exemplified by ‘Naranjo en flor’ (Orange in Flower), ‘Absurdo’ (Absurd) and ‘Afiches’ (Posters).
Another fundamental figure, Enrique Cadícamo, began writing tango lyrics in the 1920s and was influenced by Celedonio Flores and later by the school of Boedo. He demonstrated mastery in his descriptions and in both tragic and comic subject matters, as well as in ironic or evocative depiction. Examples of his work include ‘Pompas de jabón’ (Soap Bubbles) ‘Muñeca brava’ (Dazzling Babe), ‘Che papusa oí’ (Hey Babe Listen) and ‘Anclao en París’ (Stuck in Paris). After 1930 he wrote tangos such as ‘Nostalgias,’ ‘La casita de mis viejos’ (The Little House of My Elders), ‘Santa Milonguita’ and ‘Nieblas del Riachuelo’ (Clouds of Riachuelo). Other important lyricists of the time were Horacio Sanguinetti, Jose María Contursi and Francisco García Jiménez.
From around 1950 the opposition of the middle and upper classes to the Perón regime became more noticeable. The middle class moved away from tango because it was something ‘national’ and all that was national was associated with ‘the people’ and Peronism (Matamoro, 215). The working class followed tango faithfully, but the 1950s marked the decline of the great figures of the genre. After 1955, when President Perón was overthrown, tango’s fall was accelerated with the import of mass culture products, including musical ones, made in the United States.
Around 1955 a turning point in the history of tango took place. President Peron’s fall caused deep changes in the cultural policy. The borders were open to industrialized cultural products mainly from the United States. The effect on tango was not immediate, but shortly afterward tango was no longer the most popular music in Argentina.
The amount of activity carried out in connection with tango had become formidable and it was not interrupted all at once. In the late 1950s and early 1960s tango still enjoyed some of the popularity it had experienced in the previous decade. However, a new phase began in the 1960s which was to last until the mid-1980s, characterized by the abandonment of dancing and a transformation of tango music for listening with more intellectualized content, pigeonholed as a marginal manifestation of popular culture. From the mid-1980s on a gradual renaissance took place that in turn led to a sort of peak in the twenty-first century, but tango never recovered its massive popularity.
Three essential streams coexisted in tango in the late 1950s: the surviving orquestas típicas, chamber groups (duets, trios, quartets, etc.) and the vanguard outfits (such as the one led by Astor Piazzolla). The main protagonists were still the orquestas típicas and the greatest singers. Tango continued to be dances assiduously, even though the influence of new foreign dances was felt concurrently. The scene was dominated by the great orchestras of the 1940s: Troilo, those of Pugliese, Gobbi and Salgán. Other orchestras that were less renowned but very accomplished included those of Enrique Francini, Alberto Mancione, Stampone-Federico, Eduardo del Piano and Joaquín Do Reyes. More traditional orchestras, such as those of D’Arienzo or De Angelis, also maintained a presence. By the end of the decade, the singers with the greatest public appeal were Edmundo Rivero, Floreal Ruiz, Alberto Marino and a great number of other singers performed with orchestras or guitar accompaniment.
In 1953 the quartet fronted by Troilo with guitarist Roberto Grela garnered unexpected acclaim. This group was the precedent for a great number of trios and quartets that would be formed in the 1960s because of the increasing difficulty of paying for orchestras. This difficulty was not due to the economic context, which by these years was fairly good, but because the tango public was not large enough to support a full orchestra of 12 musicians through ticket sales alone.
The participation of Astor Piazzolla outside of the mainstream in the late 1950s is important. He abandoned the typical orchestra lineup and established the ensemble that combined solo bandoneón with string orchestra. He evolved as composer and arranger, studied with Nadia Boulanger in France, and thereafter was temporarily based in the United States. Piazzolla’s influence is demonstrated by the role of the bandoneón as a soloist in the orchestra and by the division of the compositions in two-part form: an A-section that emphasizes rhythmic aspects and broken melodic lines, with frequent use of ostinatos and contrapuntal resources and a B-section with a moderate tempo and singable lines. This form precluded the possibility of regarding tango as a danceable piece. Among Piazzolla’s prolific works, this form may clearly be heard in ‘Adios Nonino’ (Goodbye Nonino). Piazzolla was at the core of the nuevo tango and continued using Decarean resources throughout his career, adding academic musical procedures without straying from tango’s essence. He used new timbre combinations as well as unconventional effects and sounds (in some groups he included percussion), electronic instruments and experiments with an electronically amplified bandoneón. Piazzolla’s discography comprises 985 entries (Saito 1988). Nearly all the recordings have been made available on CD, but chronologically haphazard reissuing makes it difficult to follow their progression without a guide.
Between 1955 and 1958 in Buenos Aries Piazzolla created the Octeto Buenos Aires, which elicited a negative reaction from traditional tango followers, because it was very modern in style, but which, for the younger tango musicians and an audience of connoisseurs, was the manifestation of a radical departure from traditional tango. In some way, the vanguard of the 1960s and new tango, as it would later be understood, began with the recordings of the Octeto Buenos Aires. The music of the Octeto was absolutely revolutionary. Contrapuntal textures, aggressive harmony, melodic freedom in arrangements based on traditional tangos and the modification of the harmonic basis shifted the traditional tango in an unprecedented way.
In the early 1960s the name ‘nuevo tango’ (new tango) came into use to distinguish the production of Astor Piazzolla. In a 1961 radio interview Piazzolla stressed that he was developing a music that he denominated nuevo tango and announced the imminent creation of a national movement, of which later there were no specific hints. But the name nuevo tango remained in use to designate the music of Piazzolla and its followers.
In the 1960s the first landmark of importance for the avant-garde movement was the formation of Piazzolla’s quintet. With this group, whose structure was absolutely new, Piazzolla established a model for eventual followers of his aesthetics that could not be absorbed when he introduced the more radical and aggressive Octeto Buenos Aires. The music composed by Astor Piazzolla for this quintet already contained the advanced style that would characterize him throughout his career, without substantial changes. The quintet was his favorite lineup with which he worked most. Piazzolla had demonstrated with his octet that he was able to play a different tango, totally instrumental, abandoning singable versions and danceable music. Now he continued that trajectory, and in so doing he consolidated the nuevo tango, as he called it, beyond the traditional and progressive trends. Drawing on Decarean roots, Piazzolla inaugurated a vanguard that lasted until the 1990s with successive stylistic changes.
Thus at the beginning of the 1960s three main types of tango groups were established: the typical orchestras, the small groups and the vanguard combos. As tango activity declined, the traditional stream, catering almost exclusively to dancers, suffered the most. With the death of the bandleaders who had kept it going, such as Canaro and D’Arienzo, it became more and more relegated to the sidelines and its exponents were practically reduced to only two orchestras that went on playing for many years, the one led by De Angelis and the one headed by Varela, with an increasingly diminished following in only marginal places.
Astor Piazzolla not only led the avant-garde stream but also had a profound influence on the musicians who continued working with and developing tango. However, for musicians and consumers of traditional tango, Piazzolla’s work contained elements of heresy, which resulted in an ongoing controversy about its authenticity. During the 1960s the main orchestras still continued developing their activity, somewhat distancing themselves from Piazzolla’s influence, without doing so entirely (a great number of his compositions were recorded by Troilo, Basso, Fresedo and Francini-Pontier). Other important orchestras were disbanded soon after the beginning of this stage (those of Gobbi, for example) and still others had a very short life, in spite of their importance and recordings (Francini-Pontier, Joaqquín Do Reyes). These orchestras emphasized the orchestral virtues fitting the Decarean or Fresedean stylistic streams while still making danceable versions.
Argentina had been rich in raw materials in the 1940s. Its prosperity began to decline when Europe began its reconstruction after World War II. The massive broadcasting of fashionable foreign music, mainly North American, and the gradual impoverishment of the country’s economy resulted in the identification of this failure with everything connected to national identity. Tango, the music of Buenos Aires, could not avoid guilt by implication. To listen to or to dance to tango music was considered shameful and old-fashioned by 1965. Recording companies canceled the contracts of many tango orchestras. After 1955 the Buenos Aires middle class disowned tango and warmly accepted the music of the Argentine interior, folk music and foreign music.
Derived mainly from the Troilo style, tango orchestras that did not promote dancing began to appear influenced in some aspects by Piazzollian aesthetics. These orchestras adapted to the disappearance of the tango-dancing public and learned instead to play an attractive repertoire for cafe-concert audiences. In their arrangements, the orchestras now alternated danceable sections with others of a greater rhythmic flexibility, and they used slow tempos with space to showcase the instrumental solos. These orchestras were not long-lived, but they appeared in popular venues and they recorded often. The orchestras led by Baffa-Berlingieri and Piro were derived from the Troilean style. The one led by Leopoldo Federico (also Troilean but with Di Sarli’s and Salgán’s influences) stood out because of its rhythmic drive. The one fronted by Berlingieri spotlighted the piano and took some elements such as phrasing and harmonies from jazz.
Some tango singers remained popular, but their songbooks were based almost exclusively on the tango of the 1940s, since not many pieces attained the level of popularity reached in that decade. Edmundo Rivero, Roberto Rufino, Alberto Podestá, Julio Sosa and, especially, Roberto Goyeneche, were some of the stand-out singers, along with the younger voices of Raul Lavié and Rubén Juárez. These new interpreters sang well-known classic numbers but also needed new songwriters able to capture the reality of their time. In the 1960s tangos were written by Héctor Negro, Osvaldo Avena and Juan Carlos Lamadrid. In the 1970s Eladia Blázquez began her prolific tango output, and Horacio Ferrer with Piazzolla released an original series of songs, tangos and ballads. Finally in the 1980s Juanca Tavera with Osvaldo Tarantino and Ferrer with Garello were considered the most outstanding composers in this genre.
The typical tango orchestras were practically extinguished by the 1970s. Only the one led by Pugliese, which made frequent tours abroad, and those headed by Leopoldo Federico and Atilio Stampone regularly appeared at the tourist nightclubs. Tango orchestras (orquestas tipicas) were hard to maintain and did not reach a wide following. The Orquesta del Tango de Buenos Aires (initially conducted by Carlos García and Raúl Garello) and the Juan de Dios Filiberto Orchestra were funded by the Municipality of Buenos Aires. The main record labels reissued the hits of the 1940s, and the criteria were almost always commercial since many remarkable recordings were never published in LP. The radio broadcasters, in general, followed these criteria.
The tango mainstream moved toward small ensembles (sextets, quintets, quartets and trios). In this type of group the bandoneón is never absent (except for rare exceptions such as the 1966 Osvaldo Manzi trio with piano, electric guitar and double bass). Also present are violins, piano and double bass, and frequently electric guitar. This same quintet framework was adopted by Salgán in 1960 with the Quinteto Real, when he expanded the piano-electric guitar duo he had shared with De Lio. First they added a violin (Enrique Mario Francini) and a double bass (Rafael Ferro) and finally Pedro Laurenz joined them on bandoneón.
As for the trios, bandoneón, piano and double bass are quite frequent (examples include Trío Contemporáneo, founded in 1968, Federico-Berlingieri-Cabarco, founded in 1971, Vanguatrío, founded in 1971 and Mosalini-Beytelman-Caratini, founded in 1983). There is also bandoneón, guitar and bass (e.g., Eduardo Rovira’s trio, founded in 1966); guitar trios (such as the Palermo Trio, founded in 1967) or the combination of bandoneón, guitar and piano (e.g., Los Tres de Buenos Aires, founded in 1962).
There were quartets of diverse combinations: bandoneón; violin, cello or guitar; piano or guitar; and double bass: Cuarteto Reynaldo Nichele ( established in 1961), Eduardo Rovira (est. 1975), Osvaldo Requena (est. 1979), Cuarteto Colángelo (est. 1971) and Cuarteto Orlando Trípodi (est. 1974). In this relocation of tango in chamber versions, the Decarean stream adopted a lineup very close to the typical orchestra: a sextet with two bandoneóns, two violins, piano and double bass.
With regard to the sextets, one of the finest was the Sexteto Tango that branched off from the Pugliese Orchestra in 1968. Its style was quite similar to Pugliese’s, and all of its members were arrangers and composers. The Sexteto Mayor began to appear in 1973, also within the progressive style.
Beginning in 1960 various groups with a similar lineup and a similar aesthetic view about the treatment of tango appeared under the influence of Astor Piazzolla Nuevo Tango: the groups led by Eduardo Rovira, Rodolfo Mederos, Dino Saluzzi, Hugo Baralis, Néstor Marconi, Juan Carlos Cirigliano and Raúl Cosentino. Few of these contributed something new to the genre, despite the fact that their recordings had great musicality and interpretive quality. Two leaders/composers, however, deserve to be highlighted: Rovira and Mederos.
Eduardo Rovira, renowned as a remarkable musician, was influenced by Piazzolla but also followed his personal style, with a greater inclination toward academic language and forms. For that reason some of his compositions were perceived as lacking the strength and persuasion considered inherent in tango. His ensembles included: his tango orchestra (1950s); Octeto de la Plata (founded 1957); Agrupación de Tango Moderno (founded 1960); his trio (founded 1965) and a quartet (founded 1974).
Rodolfo Mederos, also considered an outstanding musician, was much more influenced by Piazzolla’s musical personality but always strived to demonstrate his different approach, alternately including and discarding influences from other musical sources, especially rock. Among his most important works is ‘Las veredas de Saturno’ (The Paths of Saturn), based on Eduardo Arolas’s oeuvre; his rendition of Gardel’s tangos for bandoneón and string orchestra (1990) and his quintet (1992).
Another important bandleader and composer of the 1960s and 1970s was Atilio Stampone. He began as a pianist in Piazzolla’s tango orchestra of the 1940s and the octet in 1955. He later formed an important orchestra that he co-led with Leopoldo Federico and whose main arranger was Argentino Galván. In 1961 he fronted a new orchestra with outstanding instrumentalists in which the influences of Horacio Salgán, Anibal Troilo and Piazzolla were combined. In the 1970s Stampone attempted to modify his style by adopting academic forms and techniques from different schools and times (Impressionism, Baroque) along with phrasings, chords and rhythms from jazz in order to mix them with the language of traditional tango. But the general result was hybrid and heterogeneous, because all these elements were not well integrated into the tango language.
In the 1980s there were still some venues for dancing, but they were considered marginal. Danceable tango was presented as a show, with professional dancers and more or less elaborated choreographies. Tango also was used by many choreographers of contemporary ballets. Due to the international acclaim of the ‘Tango Argentino’ show, a musical play featuring tango music and dance staged by Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzolli which was performed to great acclaim in Paris (1983), on Broadway (1985–86) and around the world, interest in the theatrical version of tango revived worldwide and new dance halls opened in Buenos Aires. However, this new fan-base for tango did not include the popular classes, and the dance halls were patronized by the cultured middle class.
Between the 1960s and 1990s the number of musicians devoted to the genre decreased. Performers, old or young, seemed unable to attract a new public. In the 1980s there was deep concern about the lack of new bandoneón players to learn tango’s special features, performance nuances and other secrets from the apparent last generation of instrumentalists. Tango may be performed without a bandoneón, but the genre with the total absence of bandoneóns is not considered possible. While the threat of a tango without bandoneón players did not come to fruition, a generational breach of about 20 years does exist.
Meanwhile the Piazzolla-influenced vanguard trend continued with a small output never surpassing its model or establishing a style that moved away from the original. During the years in which tango was nearly hibernating, only a few institutions and individuals preserved tradition. Very important is the work of the Escuela de Música Popular de Avellaneda where Rodolfo Mederos teaches, along with the bandoneonists Daniel Binelli, Nestor Marconi and Julio Pane.
Partly due to the success of ‘Tango Argentino’s intensification of worldwide interest in tango and its reopening of the international market for tango musicians, and partly because a new generation of musicians gradually began to be attracted by a language that was being lost but which they considered to be their own, a renaissance finally arrived by the mid-1990s. Little by little, new performers and composers with new ideas arose, who, in general, did not subscribe to Piazzolla’s aesthetics. New singers also emerged. The new interpreters tended to avoid the solution brought by the Piazzollean vanguard and focused on traditional tango songbooks or on the tango styles that prevailed between the 1930s and the 1950s. They aspired to follow the classic tango model and eschewed changes of the general sound.
In the early twenty-first century there are several schools: one continues the Piazzollean line with groups including the quintet La Camorra, and those led by Marcelo Nisinman and Sonia Posetti. Another trend within modern tango accepts certain Piazzollean premises but is closer to the type of harmonic and formal elaboration of the quartets and quintets of the 1970s. A third stream, very interesting and promising, is derived from the Pugliese style but pushed to an extreme and radicalized in its rougher aspects. In this stream there are groups such as the Orquesta Típica Fernández Fierro and Astillero sextet. Onstage, their attitude and appearance is influenced more by rock than by traditional tango, appealing to tango fans as well as a rock audience. There are also some eclectic groups, such as Quasimodo Trio, that combine free composition with strongly tango-based traits.
Finally, it is important to mention the international migrations of tango, which have been important because they have contributed to the resurgence of tango in its place of origin. The first time that tango relocated was before World War I, as previously stated, giving birth to a dance hall tango (either European or North American) that throughout time has followed a path almost independent of the Argentine tango. In the 1970s a great number of musicians began to be exiled (for economic or political reasons) and, with them, tango relocated to European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and also to Tokyo, New York and Montreal. The tango resulting from these musicians’ relocation includes copies of sub-styles; new versions of the classic tango; and its stylistic fusion, generally combining jazz, erudite music and tango (Pelinski 2000).
With regard to discography, approximately 24,000 tango tracks were recorded between 1907 and 2010. Some editions are hard to find, even in Argentina. Others have a wider distribution, such as Piazzolla’s recordings. With some previously cited exceptions, major recording labels have not been systematic about the global reissuing of the material. Some semicommercial labels, including those run by Akihito Baba and Yoshihira Oiwa (Japan), El Bandoneon label, located in Barcelona, Spain, and Euro Records, a label established in Buenos Aires, are filling the gaps in reissues of the main repertoire. In 2010 what was commercially available could be found on the internet, while old recordings that had not been reissued were less available because they were still managed by collectors, both in Buenos Aires and Montevideo.
While tango’s origin and early development was primarily Argentinian, and its principal production site was in Buenos Aires, tango is situated more broadly in the Rio de la Plata area (see Enrique Haba in Binda 2005). In particular, Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, has long constituted a tango scene (Cohen 1999) that paralleled that of Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, since tango production was so prolific in Buenos Aires, it is very common to speak of an ‘Argentinian tango’ (tango argentino). In fact, while the Uruguayan and Argentinian markets were always unified as a record-buying public for tango, almost all of the records were produced by Argentinian musicians (Binda 2005). However, both cities are part of a sociocultural region, and tango belongs to that region. Referring to the tango as ‘Argentinian,’ then, obscures the fact that an important part of the history of tango took place in Uruguay (Aharonian 2007). Thus, rather than an Argentinian tango, a tango rioplatense may be said to exist.
In Uruguay, by 1890 there was a tango ‘orillero’ (from the urban outskirts) in Montevideo suburbs, similar to that of Buenos Aires (Ayestaran 1967). The practice of tango unfolded similarly in Buenos Aires and Montevideo between 1890 and 1900, in marginal (suburban) venues. By 1910 the genre was accepted by Montevideo’s middle class. Instrumental groups of three or four people played tango in cafes, and some orchestras performed it more seriously (not necessarily in a strictly popular style) in Carnival balls (Fornaro, Ilarraz and Agustoni 2002). However, it was difficult for Uruguayans to organize and maintain tango orchestras without the participation of Argentinian musicians, since specialized tango musicians were not yet living in Uruguay. In fact, it was not until 1916 that Alberto Alonso organized the first Uruguayan tango quartet. In addition, only three Uruguayan tango orchestras recorded in the early twentieth century, between 1917 and 1929: Alonso-Minotto (in 1917) including the tango ‘La cumparsita’ (The Little Band), Minotto (in 1922), including the tango ‘Fruta prohibida’ (Forbidden Fruit) and Donato-Zerrillo (in 1929), including ‘Se va la vida’ (Life Goes On).
Between 1930 and 1950 there was a great boom in tango’s popularity in Uruguay, similar to what was occurring in Argentina, with an intense presence of Argentinian orchestras. After that period, the public for the genre declined, only to resurface by 1990, again in parallel with Buenos Aires. Tango remains very popular in Uruguay, with a strong presence of the genre on the radio (even more than in Argentina). Tango dance is also very popular in Uruguay.
The main icons of tango in Uruguay are Carlos Gardel, Enrique Matos Rodríguez, Francisco Canaro and Julio Sosa. Despite the fact that Gardel was raised in Buenos Aires and launched his early career in Argentina, he is a local hero for Uruguayans. While Uruguayans claim that Gardel was born in Uruguay, Argentinians believe that he was born in France, and recent research confirms this theory (Barsky and Barsky 2005). Uruguayan Enrique Matos Rodríguez, born in Uruguay, was the composer of ‘La Cumparsita,’ one of the most famous tangos. Francisco Canaro also was born in Uruguay, and was one of the most prominent musicians, composers, bandleaders and promoters of tango. He established his career in Argentina and became a citizen of Argentina in 1940. Finally, Julio Sosa was a Uruguayan tango singer who became an idol both in Argentina and Uruguay between 1960 and 1964. He lived and worked in Buenos Aires, where he died in 1964 in a car accident.
The tango, in its literary and musical aspect, has generated many interpretations and analysis. They include panegyrics, monographic essays, and numerous biographies and autobiographies of composers, writers, musicians and singers. It is only recently that tango has become an academic subject, addressed by sociologists, historians and anthropologists. Strictly musical analysis is the least developed. Most studies and other publications are published in Argentina, but important works have also emerged outside Argentina, in many cases by Argentinian researchers living abroad (Cámara 2002; Savigliano 1995; Pelinski 2000).
The first history of tango was written in 1936 by two journalists, Héctor and Luis J. Bates. While this volume is not very well documented and includes mistakes that were repeatedly reproduced by many writers, its great value is that it includes several interviews with the leading composers, musicians and singers of early tango. A pioneer in tango studies was Argentinian musicologist Carlos Vega (1898–1966) who introduced early studies of urban popular music in Argentina (Vega 1966) and whose uncompleted research on tango was published post-humously (2007). Another important early resource, as stated earlier, is the first volume of Antologia del tango rioplatense, which studies tango’s origins and early development up to 1920. The second volume, which covers the period from 1920 to 1935, is being completed by a group of researchers at the Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega’ in Argentina. Pablo Kohan (2010) published a study of the music styles of tango composers between 1920 and 1935, while Binda and Lamas (2008) is a well-documented account of early tango and society. A comprehensive series of entries is included in the Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana (1999–2002), providing an overview of the history, schools and main composers and directors of tango. Nuevo tango is studied in a compilation of articles about Piazzolla’s music (García Brunelli 2008) and contemporary tango has generated several monographs, some of which were compiled (Liska 2012) or published in specialized musicological reviews. Recent approaches include performance studies (Cecconi 2009; Liska 2009; García Brunelli 2012).
In addition to the musicological literature, there are many popular works about tango and gender, tango dance, tango and society and tango lyrics. In fact, publishing about tango is a very profitable industry, with about 200 books published yearly in Argentina about tango and related themes (Marchini 2007), few of which are considered academic sources. Among the nonacademic sources, Horacio Ferrer’s dictionary (1980) and history (1960) provides an overview of the history and style of the genre. The extensive Historia del tango, with specialized works collected by Pampin (1976–2012), sometimes lacks accuracy but is considered in other ways to be a good first resource. An extensive study of bandoneonists who have worked in the genre beginning in 1910 was published by Zucchi in four volumes (1998–2008). Still a work in progress, Zucchi’s study is considered very useful and well documented, including discographical information, interviews and discussions of style. Regarding the biographical works, worth mentioning are the autobiographies of Francisco Canaro (1999) and Julio De Caro (1964) for their historical and documentary value, and Astor Piazzolla’s (Collier and Azzi 2000) and Carlos Gardel’s (Barsky and Barsky 2004; Collier 1986) among other biographies. Finally, a bibliographic dictionary of musicians from Argentina has been edited by Donozo (2007).
Two interesting articles by Aharonian (2007) and Fornaro and Agustoni (2002) focus on tango in Uruguay. The latter includes references to additional bibliographic sources, including a book about Uruguayan folk music (Ayestaran 1967) and a comprehensive essay about tango by Daniel Vidart (1967). A recent work by Goldman (2008) studies the relationship between the dances and music practiced by Afro-Uruguayans between 1870 and 1890 and the tango rioplatense established in 1900.
Discographical sources include several publications by Nicolás Lefcovich (1980, 1981 and so on), which provide information about recordings (label, record and matrix numbers, dates, authors and genres), including the recordings of the principal orchestras and singers from 1920 to 1960. A brief guide to tango recordings and their availability has been published by García Brunelli (2010). The website Todotango (
) provides short biographical articles about musicians in Spanish and English, along with scores and recordings.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century the tango renaissance is in the hands of perhaps less than a hundred young musicians, only a few more than those that shaped its origin (Ferrer 1999). In spite of tango’s prolonged history of crisis, it remains in vogue as an inevitable component of the identity of Uruguayans and Argentinians. In the twenty-first century historical styles are being recovered, generating positive expectations about future developments. Local demand has encouraged the recruitment of musicians and international interest has assured a sufficient market to maintain musicians’ activity. With a dynamic definitively anchored in its place of origin and generating more or less related spinoff versions in other places of the world, tango has endured as one of the best-known and complex popular music forms (instrumental, sung or danced) in the world.
Binda, Enrique. 2005. ‘¿Tango rioplatense o tango argentino?’ [Argentine Tango or Tango from Rio de la Plata?]. Online at:
Cámara, Enrique. 2002. ‘Hybridization in the Tango: Objects, Process, and Considerations’. In Songs of the Minotaur: Hybridity and Popular Music in the Era of Globalization. A Comparative Analysis of Rebetika, Tango, Rai, Flñamenco, Sardana, and English Urban Folk , ed. Gerhard Steingress. London: Lit Verlag.
Cirio, Norberto Pablo. 2007. ¿Cómo suena la música afroporteña hoy? Hacia una genealogía del patrimonio musical negro de Buenos Aires [How Does Afroporteña Music Sound Today? Toward a Genealogy of Black Musical Patronage of Buenos Aires]. Revista del Instituto de Investigación Musicológica ‘Carlos Vega ’ 21(21): 86–101.
Donozo, Leandro. 2007. Diccionario bibliográfico de la música Argentina (y de la música en la Argentina) [Bibliographic Dictionary of Argentine Music, and of Music in Argentina]. Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical.
Fornaro, Marita, Ilarraz, Leonor, and Agustoni, Nilda. 2002. ‘Tango (I). II Uruguay’. In Diccionario de la Música Española e Hispanoamericana [Dictionary of the Music of Spain and Hispanic America]. Vol. 10, ed. Emilo Casares Rodicio et al. Madrid: SGAE, 153.
García, Miguel. 2006. Una narrativa canónica de la música popular: A 100 años de las grabaciones de Robert Lehmann-Nietsche [A Canonic Narrative of Popular Music: 100 Years of the Recordings of Robert Lehmann-Nietsche]. Buenos Aires: Revista Argentina de Musicología, Asociación Argentina de Musicología.
García Brunelli, Omar. 2010. Discografía básica del tango (1905–2010): Su historia a través de las grabaciones [Basic Discography of Tango (1905–2010): Its History Through the Recordings]. Buenos Aires: Gourmet Musical.
Kohan, Pablo. 2007. Carlos Vega y la teoría hispanista del origen del tango [Carlos Vega and the Hispanist Theory of the Origin of the Tango]. Buenos Aires: Espacios de Cultura y Producción, Facultad de Flosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires (June), 34.
Marchini, Jorge. 2008. El tango en la economía de la ciudad de Buenos Aires [Tango in the Economy of the City of Buenos Aires]. Buenos Aires: Observatorio de Industrias Culturales de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Subsecretaría de Industrias Culturales, Ministerio de Producción, Gobierno de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires.
Novati, Jorge, ed. 1980. Antología del tango rioplatense Vol. 1 (Desde sus comienzos hasta 1920) [Anthology of the Rioplatense Tango, Vol. 1 (From its Origins to 1920)]. Buenos Aires: Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega’.
Pelinski, Ramón, ed. 2000. ‘Diásporas del tango rioplatense’ [Diaspora of the Tango Rioplatense]. In Invitación a la etnomusicología. Quince fragmentos y un tango [Invitation to Ethnomusicology. Fifteen Fragments and a Tango]. Madrid: Akal (Also published in Buenos Aires: Corregidor.)
Saito, Mitsumasa. 2008. ‘Discografía de Astor Piazzolla’. In Estudios sobre la música de Astor Piazzolla [Studies of the Music of Astor Piazzolla], ed. Omar García Brunelli. Buenos Aires, Gourmet Musical Ediciones, 263–300.
Vega, Carlos. 2007. Estudios para los origenes del tango argentino [Studies of the Origins of the Argentine Tango], ed. Coriun Aharonian. Buenos Aires: Educa. Editorial de la Unversidad Católica Argentina.
Música popular y aborigen . Field recordings by Robert Lehmann Nitsche, 1905–1909, ed. Miguel A. García. Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv - Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. 2009: Germany.
Academia Nacional del Tango (Argentina) Library:
Instituto Nacional de Musicología ‘Carlos Vega’ (Argentina). Library: