Tango in 1931

The early thirties bring slow incremental changes in the performance styles of the main orchestras; and the recording technology also improves steadily. The lack of any real innovation or new development might cause listeners to overlook the period – even to write it off as dull – but that would be an error. There is much danceable music: the leading orchestras were producing straightforward arrangements in decent sound quality and with excellent players and singers.

Canaro (Charlo) 1931


This is the third time that Canaro with Charlo has featured in this series, but there has been a subtle change of style. Canaro is moving to more rhythmic arrangements, a trend which accelerates when Charlo’s place at the microphone is eventually taken by Famá. A noteworthy feature of the opening song, Maldita, is just how good the sound is for 1931. For the version in my own library, I decided to alter the speed/pitch of the transfer, bringing the pitch up to match that of the Di Sarli version (see below). The pace seems better, and the timbre of Charlo’s voice sounds more natural. One or other of them must have been wrong: a semi-tone difference in pitch (the smallest interval in Western music) would be a speed difference of 8.33%). To bring them to the same pitch required one version to be raised in pitch by just 3%, which is a little less than half a semitone.

Here’s a clip – compare it with the version on Spotify and then decide for yourself:

  • Maldita (23-Oct-1931)
  • Canto por no llorar (22-Apr-1931)
  • Escribile al comisario (24-Jun-1931)
  • La última copa (13-May-1931)

Di Sarli (Famá) 1930-31

Ernesto Famá

It’s interesting to compare the arrangements and the performance of Canaro & Di Sarli’s recordings of Maldita. The first thing to say is that Canaro was recording with a lineup of six bandoneóns and five violins, together with bass and piano. Di Sarli used just two bandoneóns and two violins, together with bass and piano – a much smaller scale, creating a more intimate sound. Effectively, each player is a soloist, rather than part of an ensemble. The arrangement is in a different form too. Canaro’s singer enters just after 1:00 to sing the same melody as the very opening (section A). Di Sarli repeats section A, instrumentally, first and only then does his singer enter just after 1:30 to sing the ‘second half’ of the musical material (section B). The contribution of both singers is just half a minute, typical of the limited rôle of the estribillista. Lastly, the vocal delivery of Charlo is unusually free, rhythmically – particularly in the second half of his chorus. It opens the possibility, in interpreting the performance as a dancer, of ‘following the singer’ rather than the underlying pulse: the sort of challenge relished by more musical dancers.

  • Maldita (14-Aug-1931)
  • Chau Pinela (03-Spe-1930)
  • Flora (04-Nov-1930)
  • La estancia (04-Nov-1930)

Firpo (Príncipe Azul) 1931

Roberto Firpo

Firpo is little heard any more, but having formed his first orchestra in 1913, he recorded prolifically, particularly during the late twenties. By the early thirties, his output was slowing, and while he had once been an important and leading innovator (along with Canaro), his influence and popularity are now in decline. Many of his recordings, however, are attractive and very danceable. The third song here, De cita en cita, is a vocal duet with Héctor Villanueva. The main singer, Príncipe Azul (real name, Herberto da Costa), would probably have become better known, but he died suddenly in 1935, two days before his 34th birthday.

  • La que murió en París (17-Sep-1931)
  • Por ellas …no me casé (15-Oct-1931)
  • De cita en cita (07-Oct-1931)
  • Viejo tango (13-Aug-1931)

Lomuto (Díaz & Acuña) 1931

Diminished seventh cadence

The Lomuto ‘signature ending’ (the diminished seventh cadence) had first appeared at the end of 1930. Pan, recorded on 13 December, is the first song in my library that has it. If you’re not sure what it sounds like, here are just the closing bars of the first three songs in this tanda (only Muñequita doesn’t have it). It’s a very distinctive sound, and once he had started to use it, it became his ‘standard’ ending in song after song.

  • Nunca más (27-Aug-1931)
  • Íntimas (22-Dec-1931)
  • Se te dio vuelta la taba (08-Oct-1931)
  • Muñequita (03-Sep-1931)

Click here for ‘Tango in 1930’.

Click here for ‘Tango in 1932’.