Fresedo’s favourite song – inspired by Chopin

EDIT: There has been some discussion about the right recording belonging to the track title below. There are two recordings, one of which is posted below, but they seem registered with different composers. According to Michael Lavocah, the ”Tristezas” mentioned by Fresedo might be a different song altogether, which was perhaps never recorded. But it would be hard to draw any definite conclusions.

Most tango dancers today probably associate the major orchestras with a small amount of very famous recordings: for example, Canaro is often identified with classics such as Poema, Invierno and Alma de bandoneón, and when you think of Biagi, great hits like Quiero verte una vez más and Golgota presumably come to mind. But, how about the favourite songs of those orchestra leaders themselves? Let’s look at a little piece of evidence below. By the way, before we start, I recommend a similar article about Canaro.

In the article below, from the early 1940s, Osvaldo Fresedo talks about his favourite piece, which may come a true surprise to anyone familiar with his music. Sure, probably the number one song by Fresedo, for people nowadays, is Buscándote, probably closely followed by a number of very popular tracks with Roberto Ray, his champion singer from the late 30s. However: interestingly, as we shall see, Fresedo’s own preferences are not as obvious as our modern-day perspectives suggest.

But first, we need to discuss a small caveat. Fresedo is asked about his favourite ‘piece’, which may either mean any tango song he adapted, played and possibly recorded with his orchestra, or a tango song he fully composed himself. Many people don’t realize the following: many famous tangos were not composed by major tango musicians themselves, but by individual composers who either worked in tango orchestras, or on their own. In any case, sometimes their creations became popular and were adapted by orchestras that played all kinds of songs at the same time. These composers often collaborated with lyricists and poets to produce successful songs, that could perhaps become immensely popular as ”a hit of the moment”.

To cut a long story short: if we could ask Fresedo the same question with a slightly different choice of words, like ”What is the best general song you ever recorded?”, he may or may not have answered Buscándote, for instance. But even then, even if we just look at his favourite own compositions, it is quite remarkable that he mentions a completely unknown song from 1927, Tristezas (”Tristezas/Sorrows is my tango, the one I prefer above all others”), from a distant era when tango music was much less sophisticated than in the Golden Age. But, don’t forget that Fresedo was a real tango veteran with a very long career, even though most people nowadays probably don’t realise that. So, why did he choose Tristezas?

In the text below, Fresedo explains that he found inspiration in the work of classical music genius Chopin. At some point in the year 1922, Fresedo found himself suffering from a flu at home, yet his doctor allowed him to play the piano and practise, and so he did. On a misty afternoon, he started composing this song, Tristezas, inspired by the ”sweet, absorbing sadness” of Chopins music, who by the way also inspired Donato’s famous song La melodía del corazón. I am not very familiar with Chopins music, but the sadness in his compositions indeed mirrors so much of the melancholy we find in tango music, even though (!!!) we will never exactly know how much of it was indeed inspired by classical compositions.

In any case, just this one tango is very revealing in the sense that it shows a bit of Fresedo’s soul and passion, and even though nobody can say, because Fresedo is obviously not there anymore to ask, we may conclude that some of his more famous, later music may have been inspired by Chopin too. Now, in case you are a seasoned listener of classical music, it’s up to you to speculate on the question whether such an influence may indeed be widespread in the rest of Fresedo’s music.


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Roberto Flores and his violinists

In my analysis, Roberto Flores should be regarded as one of the major representatives of a (sadly) lost part of tango dance music. But first, what does that ”lost part” mean? The recordings we now dance to, only give us a limited insight into the splendid creativity of this genre’s Golden Age. Some famous orchestras failed to record much or anything during key years, like Troilo (1938-1940) and Tanturi (late 30s). Other popular orchestras barely recorded anything, or nothing, in fact, for a variety of reasons, partly beyond their control. But so much tango music is lost forever, or maybe until we invent literal time machines to go back to the great concerts and radio shows of an epic age.

So what does all of this have to do with Roberto Flores? He was the first singer who successfully and sustainably went solo after working for an important orchestra (Rodriguez), but ultimately decided to focus on dance music, instead of the usual Gardel-like singers who disregarded dancers, and just wanted to let their voice shine. According to late Michael Krugman, this new orchestra made a number of important appearances, like providing the main act for Carnaval at Boca Juniors in 1942. And remember, not everyone was just as successful in such a competitive environment, during tango’s zenith.

After 1943, it is unclear what happened with Flores and his orchestra, but he ended up successfully touring other Latin American countries, until he settled down in Medellín, Colombia, a somewhat odd epicentre of tango enthusiasts far from Argentina. However, even though you could say Flores has been quite succesful in his endeavours, he left only four recordings, the most important of which is Tristeza Marina, a song that he himself composed, but is generally only known as a Di Sarli and a García recording. Take a moment to listen to his exquisite own recording, which is dance music indeed, and that is an understatement (the bandoneons, violins and piano in this song are amazing!). Even though I personally think there are better singers than Flores, we are also listening to him as a successful orchestra director. And it’s an almost entirely lost orchestra! Lost forever!

There are so many aspects of this genre tango fans today (including me) have absolutely no clue about, because luck has not always been on our side. Another reminder to celebrate how much material we actually have, even though it’s quite limited in comparison to what was actually being played, throughout a fervorous Buenos Aires in tango’s best years. A photo like mine below, at least shows a tiny bit of how that ”lost” music was created, by whom, with in this case a proud Roberto Flores standing next to his violinists in the studios of Radio Argentina. They too, were a part of the magic you are (partially) still dancing to, today.


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Troilo playing on Argentina’s first native bandoneon

This photo shows Aníbal Troilo not with his own legendary bandoneon, but playing on Argentina’s first completely locally produced bandoneon. Some background info: the bandoneon is a German instrument, originally supposed to be a ”handheld church organ”, but it randomly, and fascinatingly, ended up to be the cornerstone of Argentine tango music. According to the legends, the bandoneon originally arrived in that rather distant corner of the world because of either Germans or Italians (in Northern Italy, these instruments were popular too) bringing it along on their voyages. The rest is history.  Usually, bandoneons were produced in Germany, and imported to Argentina.

However, according to the caption of this picture below, a certain company called ”Luis Mariani & son” produced the first Argentine bandoneon in 1943, and it was premiered by none other than Troilo at a concert. Afterwards, the producer gave it to SADAIC, Argentina’s rights organisation for artists, whose president was… Francisco Lomuto. The photo is also interesting because it also features singers Francisco Fiorentino (left) and a very young Alberto Marino (center), as well as ”Kicho” Díaz, Troilo’s double bass player. This orchestra was playing some of its most beautiful music at that time, so who else wishes they could travel in time to attend this concert?


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Pugliese playing ”Percal”? Music lost in time…

It’s one of the most painful aspects of tango music history: only a limited part of even the most popular orchestras’ repertoire was actually recorded. These bands played in mass venues or on radio stations in an age of tango as mass ”pop music”, but unlike nowadays, getting everything recorded wasn’t all that easy. Sure, I guess the top orchestras most likely had their biggest hits recorded anyway, but we still miss out on a lot of interesting material, like different versions of popular hits by other orchestras. Let’s take a look at some proof for that statement.

This advert below shows that Pugliese was actually playing a number of typical mid-Golden Age songs we wouldn’t directly associate him with nowadays. Percal is well-known as a recording of Caló with Alberto Podestá, and there’s also a magnificent version by Troilo with Fiorentino. Likewise, the two other songs were both recorded by Caló and others, but not by Pugliese. Just imagine listening to Radio El Mundo, hearing the beautiful song Percal as played by the talented Pugliese, and with its exquisite lyrics sung by, probably, Roberto Chanel. But we can only imagine what that was like – the sad fate of music lost forever.

advertpugliesepercaladvert pugliese percal

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Ads in the Golden Age: Caló says hello from Uruguay

How about something quite different: the following picture resembles a telegram sent by Miguel Caló from Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. In 1944, Caló and his ”guys” spent some time touring this neighbouring country (expect more material on this later) and apparently, he wanted to send his ”warm” greetings to his Buenos Aires tango public, promising to return soon with ”a renewed repertoire of songs that beyond any doubt will delight all enthusiastic fans of our great dance, the tango”.

And although this feature seems more like an Odeon advert than anything else, with my education as a historian I would claim it still is interesting historical material, as a ”primary source” supposedly written by Caló himself (although we will never know for sure how authentic this was…), even mentioning tango as a dance, with tango as dance music, and not necessarily just music. Tango was huge in the 1940s: a mass cultural phenomenon. Little traces like this attest to that popularity.


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Two smiling colleagues: D’Agostino and Rodio

This is an amicable picture of two ”popular” musicians from the Golden Age of tango: directing orchestras wasn’t just about hard work and facing fierce competition, it seems that many people involved were friends or at least pretended they were, posing for some camera like below. One of the goals of this blog has been to show a more ”human” side of all the major musicians whose music we still dance to today: and varying from the two men below with their very natural look to Canaro, Lomuto and Firpo being children again for a moment, I definitely think there is some progress for that goal.

Interestingly, the caption for this picture claims that Ángel Vargas, D’Agostino’s classic partner, rejoined the orchestra after a number of weeks of probably trying to become a soloist, which happened in 1943, when there was a trend towards opting for a solo career, with popular singers like Alberto Castillo setting the example. Indeed, when we look at the chronology of D’Agostino’s recordings, Vargas went missing for a while, with a few tracks sung by someone else. Fortunately, Vargas changed his mind and the famous duo kept recording together for a few more years.

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Pugliese and Roberto Chanel

Here’s a young Osvaldo Pugliese with his most classic singer, Roberto Chanel.

When I first started to listen to Pugliese (the first tango music I liked), I spent hours exploring his later music with very dramatic voices like Jorge Maciel, Miguel Montero, and later Alberto Morán. I knew about the work with Chanel, but I strongly disliked his nasal voice, and avoided it: I simply did not listen to that music.

But, as the years go by, and as our tango tastes develop and evolve into unforeseen directions, my somewhat chaotic preference for dramatic music changed into a more structured, mature one for the best (dance) music of the Golden Age, and one day I came to appreciate (because that’s often how it works) the superior quality of the early recordings with Chanel, where the orchestra and singer are in utterly beautiful harmony, making him seem like a natural instrument inside an already restraint orchestra, and even apart from that, I consider that although Chanel himself has a somewhat strange voice (that’s very personal…) yet at the same time he is a truly masterful singer, with a kind of depth, consistency and skill unrivaled by those who came after him.

Let’s celebrate this great partnership with this picture below, where Pugliese is holding a shellac. And indeed, tango dancers are very fortunate with the solid amount of recordings he made with Chanel, and I am always glad when I can play them in a milonga.

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Caló on bandoneon, with Raúl Iriarte

Here is a picture of Miguel Caló presumably practising a song with one of his two most important Golden Age singers, Raúl Iriarte, famous for fantastic dance songs like Marión, Nada and Mañana iré temprano, and this distinctive music is still one of the (several) keystones for tango DJs nowadays.

This duo below left us an ample number of highly danceable recordings in 1943 and 1944, when the Golden Age was still going strong and the genre went into a more romantic, dramatic direction. Like in the rival Troilo orchestra, you can hear this gradual change, transition in the recordings: a song like this, Es en vano llorar (No need to cry) from 1943, has a relatively light tone, like several other tracks (not all) from that year, and a relatively clear energy. Just a few years later, the tone has become much darker, and the music is slower and more focused around the singer, like in Fruta amarga (Bitter fruit) from 1945.

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Tanturi, Castillo & the orchestra

For me, Ricardo Tanturi and Alberto Castillo together form one of the true pillars of the Golden Age of tango: it is a sound perfectly suited for the dance floor and it is music of a wonderful artistic quality. Here you can see these gentlemen (to the left of the microphone) with the rest of the orchestra, in-between playing some of the famous songs we still dance today, or perhaps some that were never recorded…

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Carlos di Sarli, a benefactor of children

According to the story below, in 1942 the succesful orchestra director Carlos Di Sarli began to give away a part of his yearly income to charity. To be precise: he chose a foundation in Buenos Aires, Patronato de la Infancia, that (according to internet sources:) was taking care of a wide range of children in need of support, varying from orphans to street children to children of European war refugees etc. The caption explains that Di Sarli would donate his royalties of every last four months of the year to this institute, apparently quite a large sum of money. And he even hid his mysterious sunglasses for a change! (third picture)

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