The Tango Years: Milonga in the 30s

The roots of milonga as a musical form and as a dance lie in the late nineteenth century,  but there are no recordings by dance orchestras until the 1930s. It could be said that Canaro dominated the early 30s and that D’Arienzo dominated the late 30s. But then, that’s more-or-less equally true for tango and vals, as well.

Canaro (Famá) 1933-34

Francisco Canaro

Milonga sentimental was the first popular song in the ‘new’ milonga dance genre. Canaro first recorded it with Ada Falcón in December 1932, but that was not an arrangement intended for dancing. A second version, a duet between Ernesto Famá and Ángel Ramos, came along six months later. Along with Milonga del novecientos, Milonga sentimental is one of the best-known of all milonga recordings. Both songs were both composed by Sebastián Piana with lyrics by Homero Manzi. Canaro championed the genre and every other orchestra largely adopted the style he developed, such that milonga in the 30s has a remarkable homogeneity.

  • Milonga del novecientos (8-May-1933)
  • Yo me llamo Juan Te Quiero (22-May-1934)
  • Milonga sentimental (9-Feb-1933)

Here’s a short excerpt from the earlier Ada Falcón recording (which is perfectly danceable).

Canaro (Maida) 1935-36

Roberto Maida

These recordings come from the early part of the Canaro/Maida partnership. They fit very comfortably with other Canaro recordings at this time, with softer, less insistent rhythms and a steady pace. They’re great for dancing.

  • Silueta porteña (17-Jul-1936)
  • Largá las penas (11-Jun-1935)
  • Milonga criolla (6-Oct-1936)

The only available version of Largá las penas on Spotify has rather poor sound. Here’s an excerpt from a better transfer:

Canaro (Instrumental) 1937-38

A very high proportion of Canaro’s 30s recordings include a singer, but here are three instrumentals from the late 30s. Odeon is producing consistently good sound and the Canaro orchestra is on good form.

  • Milonga de mis amores (26-May-1937)
  • Milonga de antaño (19-Aug-1937)
  • Milongón (20-Jun-1938)

Laurenz (Farrel) 1937

Pedro Laurenz
Pedro Laurenz

Pedro Laurenz had just composed Milonga de mis amores and this was his debut recording. Héctor Farrel makes a brief vocal contribution, but the star of this arrangement is Laurenz, himself, on bandoneón. The comparison with the Canaro version is interesting.

  • Milonga de mis amores (14-Jul-1937)

D’Arienzo (Instrumental) 1937-38

Juan D'Arienzo
Juan D’Arienzo

D’Arienzo recorded six milongas in the period with Biagi at the piano (Dec-35 to Jun-38). Here are the three instrumentals. I consider El esquinazo to be one of the highlights of the milonga repertoire.

  • La puñalada (27-Apr-1937)
  • Milonga, vieja milonga (22-Sep-1937)
  • El esquinazo (4-Jan-1938)

Donato (Lagos) 1938-39

Edgardo Donato

It sounds as though everyone involved really enjoyed recording these milongas. They are rhythmically playful, cheerful and always popular with dancers. Sacale punta is a duet between Horacio Lagos and Armando Piovani (who was also one of the orchestra’s violinists).

  • Sacale punta (9-Mar-1938)
  • De punta a punta (6-Mar-1939)
  • Ella es así (10-Oct-1938)

Lomuto (Omar) 1938-39

Francisco Lomuto

It’s always interesting to make comparisons between Canaro and Lomuto, and there is a repertoire overlap here, too, as they both recorded Milongón. Lomuto’s pace is consistently faster, and yet the vocal delivery of Omar seems a little matter-of-fact. Sadly, the sound of the available transfers of the Lomuto recordings hardly do them justice, but the overall impression is of an orchestra trying to enjoy themselves.

  • Qué tiempo aquel de ayer (24-Feb-1938)
  • Varón (17-Feb-1939)
  • Milongón (28-Feb-1939)

The only available version of Varón on Spotify has very poor sound. Here’s an excerpt from a slightly better transfer (but still not a good one). If anyone can point me to an alternative source, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

D’Arienzo (Echagüe) 1938-39

Alberto Echagüe
Alberto Echagüe

In the period leading up to the break up of the D’Arienzo orchestra in 1939, his recordings of vals outnumbered milonga by more than 2:1 and with a high proportion of instrumentals. However, during the tenure of Juan Polito as orchestra pianist (Jul-38 to Dec-39) there were six milongas to five valses; all of them with Alberto Echagüe on vocals. They are very fine – in fact D’Arienzo was so sure-footed in the 30s that his output is all of a uniformally high standard. Here are the milongas:

  • Estampa de varón (5-Aug-1938)
  • Milonga del recuerdo (17-Jul-1939)
  • Milonga querida (9-Nov-1938)

D’Arienzo (Echagüe) 1939

  • Meta fierro (3-Mar-1939)
  • De antaño (27-Sep-1939)
  • La cicatriz (31-Oct-1939)

Click here for ‘Vals in the 30s’.

Click here for ‘Tango in 1940.

DJ Clive Harrison
DJ Clive Harrison

Barrio de tango is the tango blog and online home of tango DJ, Clive Harrison, based in the English Midlands. Now retired from teaching and hosting dance events, Clive remains available to DJ, playing exclusively traditional tango music from the great tango orchestras.

The Tango Years: Vals in the 30s

The evolution of recorded tango in the 1930s was largely echoed in recordings of vals – tango in waltz time. So far, in this series, only one tanda has been of vals (D’Arienzo, 1936) and now, here are twenty three further vals recordings, made between 1928 and 1938.

Maglio (Instrumental) 1928-31

Juan Maglio
Juan Maglio

Juan Maglio was a tango pioneer, forming his orchestra in 1912, before either Firpo (1913) or Canaro (1914). Born in 1880, he was one of the oldest orchestra leaders, and he recorded prolifically for Odeon and Victor, before his death in 1934. These valses are typical of his style at the start of the thirties: straightforward arrangements, played at medium pace (although Princesa has a long, slow introduction).

  • Orillas del plata (6-Feb-1928)
  • Gritos del alma (3-Sep-1930)
  • Princesa (18-Sep-1931)

D’Arienzo also recorded Orillas del plata in 1935. You can hear from this short excerpt how much the pace had quickened and how much the performing style had changed in just a few years:

Sexteto Carlos Di Sarli (Santiago Devin)

Carlos Di Sarli

Rosamel was Di Sarli’s first recorded vals. The style is much fresher-sounding and lighter than Maglio’s.

  • Rosamel (3-Mar-1930)

Canaro (Charlo) 1930-31

Francisco Canaro

Recordings with Charlo on vocals dominate the output of the Canaro orchestra at the start of the 30s, and goodness, there are lots of them. These songs share many of the characteristics of the Maglio valses (above). They are very danceable and deserve to be more frequently heard.

  • Con tu mirar (17-Jun-1930)
  • Yo no sé que me han hecho tus ojos (6-Jun-1930)
  • Florcita criolla (24-Jun-1931)

Orquesta Típica Los Provincianos (Vocal) 1932-34

Ciriaco Ortiz
Ciriaco Ortiz

Oritiz was a banoneonist who played in the Orquesta Típica Victor. However, for commercial reasons the grouping also recorded in various other names, one of which was Los Provincianos, under Ortiz’ direction. The OTV basic sound and style is very apparent – but you can also hear guitar in the ensemble and the arrangements have a slightly different flavour. The singers are Luis Díaz and Carlos Lafuente (Un placer).

  • Volvió la princesita (23-Mar-1932)
  • Un placer (11-Apr-1933)
  • A tu memoria, madrecita (30-Jan-1934)

D’Arienzo (Instrumental) 1935

Juan D'Arienzo
Juan D’Arienzo

These songs are among the earliest D’Arienzo recordings, made before Biagi joined the orchestra. Played here in reverse order of recording, you can hear a limited progression in style, as the orchestra played itself in. Desde el alma comes from the very first session, in July 1935.

  • Pabellon de las rosas (12-Dec-1935)
  • Francia (3-Oct-1935)
  • Desde el alma (2-Jul-1935)

D’Arienzo (Cabral) 1936

Walter Cabral
Walter Cabral

A few months into 1936 and there is now no mistaking the typical early D’Arienzo style. Rodolfo Biagi is in the pianist’s chair, and the orchestra is on good form, with Walter Cabral on vocals. Nearly all of the orchestra’s recordings until 1938 were instrumental, and Cabral’s contribution is limited to just these three valses and the milonga, Silueta porteña.

  • Un placer (3-Apr-1936)
  • Tu olvido (8-May-1936)
  • Irene (9-Jun-1936)

Donato (Vocal) 1936-38

Edgardo Donato

Donato’s orchestra was more-or-less at its peak in the mid-30s. Félix Gutiérrez is on vocals in the first song, and Horacio Lagos for the other two. Listen for the unusual cello solo in La tapera from 0:57. In Qué será? Lagos enters at 1:00 and you can clearly hear Donato’s unique use of the piano accordion (played by Osvaldo Bertone) in the accompaniment. He takes a short solo from 0:56 in Con tus besos.

  • La tapera (10-Mar-1936)
  • Qué será? (9-Mar-1938)
  • Con tus besos (2-Aug-1938)

Orquesta Típica Victor (Ángel Vargas) 1938

Ángel Vargas

OTV recorded with many of the leading singers of the day, and here is a song featuring Ángel Vargas, shortly before joining the orchestra of Ángel D’Agostino. His distincive style of vocal delivery is already very evident.

  • Sin rumbo fijo (4-Apr-1938)

Biagi (Ibáñez) 1938

Rodolfo Biagi
Rodolfo Biagi

These are the first vals recordings by Biagi’s orchestra following his split from D’Arienzo. Teófilo Ibáñez is on vocals. Rightly popular with dancers, the musical textures are sparse, with clear and insistent rhythms, but not yet the extreme off-beat accenting that became his later hallmark.

  • Loca de amor (15-Nov-1938)
  • Lejos de ti (2-Dec-1938)
  • Viejo portón (17-Oct-1938)

Click here for ‘Tango in 1939’.

Clive Harrison: Tango DJBarrio de tango is the tango blog and online home of tango DJ, Clive Harrison, based in the English Midlands. Now retired from teaching and hosting dance events, Clive remains available to DJ, playing exclusively traditional tango music from the great tango orchestras.

El tango de la gente | Practilonga

DJ Clive Harrison
DJ Clive Harrison

I’ll be the DJ at the Practilonga at Upton Bishop Millennium Hall, HR9 7TU (organised by El tango de la gente) on Friday, 1 September 2017 (8pm – 11pm).

Entrada is £5. Simple refreshments & nibbles are provided but bring your own tipple if you wish.

I play exclusively traditional music, recorded by the great tango dance orchestras and singers of the Golden Age. I always try to maintain a balance of styles, periods and moods: music that keeps dancers wanting to return to the floor, tanda after tanda.

El tango de la gente

Click here for the playlist.

Tango in 1939

The end of the decade sees D’Arienzo’s orchestra break up completely, Biagi getting into his stride and Canaro starting to lose his way.

Biagi (Falgás) 1939-40

Andrés Falgás
Andrés Falgás

Unlike D’Arienzo, Biagi recorded very few instrumentals. In the first two years, he worked with two singers, Teófilo Ibáñez & Andrés Falgás  and the latter was to record eleven sides between July 1939 and April 1940. In the early period, direct comparisons with D’Arienzo’s orchestra are inevitable. In both, the role of the piano is key, but D’Arienzo’s rhythms are driven by the bandoneóns, whereas Biagi makes more prominent use of violins. It is easy to underestimate the contribution Biagi had made in D’Arienzo’s orchestra. Despite D’Arienzo’s commercial success (and he easily outsold every other recording orchestra at this time) it is arguably Biagi, and not D’Arienzo, who leads the ‘rhythmic school’ of orchestras through the 40s – but more of that, later.

  • Queja indiana (26-Oct-1939)
  • Griseta (26-Oct-1939)
  • Son cosas del bandoneón (22-Sep-1939)
  • Cielo! (18-Sep-1939)

Canaro (Famá) 1939

Francisco Canaro

The long and fruitful partnership between Canaro and Maida ended in the recording studio in December 1938. By February 1939, Ernesto Famá had taken Maida’s place at the microphone and he was to stay until October 1941, singing alongside Francisco Amor. Musically, Canaro has moved away from the softer, more lyrical, style of playing he had preferred in the mid-30s, but his musical response to the rise of the rhythmical school, led by D’Arienzo, seems to be backward-looking. These songs are very fine and popular with dancers, but Canaro, now aged 51, is running out of creative drive. Increasingly, he seemed ready to adapt his style to suit the popular requirements of the day. It was good for record sales, but there was little to come that was truly distinctive or memorable.

Despite these recordings having been out of copyright since 2010, only one song is to be found on Spotify, so I have provided individual listening links to versions uploaded to YouTube.

D’Arienzo (Echagüe) 1939

Alberto Echagüe
Alberto Echagüe

After Biagi’s abrupt departure in June 1938, D’Arienzo needed a new pianist. He turned to the experienced Juan Polito, who had led the Orquesta Típica Brunswick in the early 30s. He lacked Biagi’s flair, but was a safe pair of hands. Alberto Echagüe had already recorded four sides in 1938 and twenty three more were to come before the decade was out. He was arguably D’Arienzo’s best singer (or at least, the one who suited the orchestra best). However, after a final session on 22 December 1939, the whole orchestra resigned, along with Echagüe. Polito had split from D’Arienzo to run his own orchestra with Echagüe on vocals. Ironically, both Echagüe and Polito were to return to D’Arienzo (but not for many years), but another era was over.

  • Dos guitas (3-Mar-1939)
  • Trago amargo (22-Dec-1939)
  • Que dios te ayude (14-Nov-1939)
  • El vino triste (1-Sep-1939)

Most of the D’Arienzo transfers available on Spotify from around this period sound pretty awful. Here’s a 30s extract from the TangoTunes transfer of Trago amargo to compare. I have undertaken some processing to reduce clicks, crackle and hiss, but apart from this extract being a compressed MP3 file, this is exactly as I play it.

Click here for ‘Tango in 1938’.

Click here for ‘Vals in the 30s’.

Clive HarrisonBarrio de tango is the tango blog and online home of tango DJ, Clive Harrison, based in the English Midlands. Now retired from teaching and hosting dance events, Clive remains available to DJ, playing exclusively traditional tango music from the great tango orchestras.


Three Counties Tango Practilonga (Upton Bishop)

DJ Clive Harrison
DJ Clive Harrison

I’ll be the DJ at the Three Counties Tango Practilonga at Upton Bishop Millennium Hall, HR9 7TU on Friday, 4 August 2017 (8pm – 11pm).

The Millennium Hall has an excellent floor, good facilities and is well lit for cabeceo. I’ll be playing music in the usual tanda cycle of TTVTTM, with three songs in each tanda.

Entrada is £5. Simple refreshments & nibbles are provided but bring your own tipple if you wish.

Tea Dance Sep-16

Click here for the playlist.

Tango in 1938

Tango’s endless round of musical chairs was in full swing in 1938.

  • The important musical partnerships of Francisco Canaro with Roberto Ray and of Osvaldo Fresedo with Roberto Ray came to an end.*
  • Aníbal Troilo made his first (and only) recordings for Odeon.
  • Rodolfo Biagi made his first recordings, having split from Juan D’Arienzo.

*Strictly, Ray’s final session with Fresedo was on 3 January 1939, and he returned to record a handful of sides in 1948 and 1950.

Biagi (Instrumental) 1938-39

Rodolfo Biagi
Rodolfo Biagi

Biagi’s last session as D’Arienzo’s pianist was in June 1938. The usual story is that he was just too popular with the orchestra’s fans for D’Arienzo’s liking. He took a small bow to acknowledge applause after a live performance, and just had to go.

“I’m the only star of this orchestra: you’re fired.”

Biagi wasted no time in forming his own orchestra, which was very soon recording for Victor’s arch-rival, Odeon. El incendio came from the very first session, just eight weeks later. With a free hand, Biagi adopts more insistent rhythms, but with musical textures that are frequently more sparse. This is partly because the orchestra had fewer players than D’Arienzo’s, but is mainly a deliberate style choice.

  • Unión cívica (16-Oct-1938)
  • El trece (15-Nov-1938)
  • El incendio (15-Aug-1938)
  • Pura clase (13-Jul-1939)

Donato (Instrumental) 1936-38

Edgardo Donato

With rhythms that are “light, quick and playful” (Lavocah), Donato is nearly always upbeat: rhythmic, but with a softness that is not found in either D’Arienzo or Biagi.

  • La tablada (6-Aug-1936)
  • El chamuyo (10-Oct-1938)
  • Cantando bajito (29-Aug-1938)
  • El estagiario (5-Feb-1938)

Fresedo (Ray) 1938

Osvaldo Fresedo

After more than seven years, Ray left Fresedo’s orchestra at the very beginning of 1939. Compared with the earliest sides, the pace had slowed just a little, but there was really remarkably little change; but why alter a successful format?

  • Telón (23-Nov-1938)
  • Angustia (8-Sep-1938)
  • Ojos muertos (23-Nov-1938)
  • Dulce amargura (23-Nov-1938)

Lomuto (Omar) 1938

Francisco Lomuto

During the Canaro/Maida years, Canaro has taken a softer approach, while his old friend and one-time student, Lomuto, had continued with a more foresquare rhythmic style and a heavier beat. With his best singer, Jorge Omar, Lomuto is on top form in the late 30s. With Maida gone, Canaro (once, the innovator) returns to that earlier style; but with mixed success. The importance of both orchestras now begins to wane – although Canaro (in particular) remains commercially successful.

  • El cornetín del tranvía (9-Jun-1938)
  • Otra vez (9-Jun-1938)
  • La melodía de nuestro adiós (12-Dec-1938)
  • Madreselva (24-Aug-1938)

The version of La melodía de nuestro adiós included above is derived from a vinyl LP issued in 1959: Ayer en el tango. Spotify attributes this rendering to Aquellas Canciones Records (2016) but it doesn’t sound very good. In 2013 TangoTunes made a new transfer of the same LP and here’s a 30s clip from it. After some processing to reduce clicks, and rendering this extract as a compressed (MP3) file, this is exactly as I play it:

Troilo (Instrumental) 1938

Troilo signed a three-year exclusive recording contract with Odeon, but after recording just two sides in 1938, Odeon recorded nothing more. The same thing happened to Tanturi. Nothing further appeared until 1941 when Troilo was able to move to Victor, by which time the orchestra was successful, experienced and had a wide repertoire. What we have from 1938 are two great songs, and in recorded sound which was years ahead of anything Victor could produce. Arguably, Victor never caught up: they certainly never did justice to the ‘big’ and sophisticated sound of the Troilo orchestra.

  • Comme il faut (7-Mar-1938)
  • Tinta verde (7-Mar-1938)

Click here for ‘Tango in 1937’.

Click here for ‘Tango in 1939’.

Clive HarrisonBarrio de tango is the tango blog and online home of tango DJ, Clive Harrison, based in the English Midlands. Now retired from teaching and hosting dance events, Clive remains available to DJ, playing exclusively traditional tango music from the great tango orchestras.