¡viejo Discepolín!

Tango 500 Book
Tango 500: the book.

This is the first in an occasional series about tango songs that I believe have special qualities but are only infrequently heard. I love the music of Aníbal Troilo and one of his little-heard masterpieces, Discepolín, is my first choice for this series.

Homero Manzi

The music was composed by Troilo, with a wonderful lyric by his friend and regular collaborator, Homero Manzi. It was written as a tribute to the great tango composer and lyricist, Enrique Discépolo, who had turned 50 in March 1951. Tragedy makes the song particularly poignant, as Manzi was to die of cancer on 3 May 1951, just days before the first recording of the song and Discépolo died on 23 December in that same year from a stroke.

Enrique Discépolo wrote the music and/or the lyrics of lots of very familiar tango compositions. His works include Yira, yira, Confesión, Esta noche me emborracho, Sueño de juventud, Cafetín de Buenos Aires, Carrillón de la Merced, Cambalache, Secreto, Alma del bandoneón, Soy un arlequín, Canción desesperada, Condena, Tormenta, Mensaje and dozens of others.

Enrique Discépolo

The translation of the lyric for Discepolín into English (below) is a machine translation made by Google Translate, with just a few minor amendments. You can find others, online, but I’m regularly surprised at what a good job Google Translate does, even with poetry.

Recordings

There are three recordings by dance orchestras and they all date from 1951. The earliest was not Troilo’s own but was made by the orchestra of Enrique Francini & Armando Pontier together with a little-known singer, Héctor Montes. The recording was made on 11 May 1951 (for Victor) and it has the best sound of the three. Troilo’s own recording, with Raúl Berón on vocals, was made on 29 May 1951 (for TK), and while the recording must be considered definitive, the sound quality is terrible. Osvaldo Fresedo made the last recording, with Héctor Pacheco on 13 June 1951 (for Columbia), and the sound is decent. There is also a much later recording by Orquesta Típica Porteña and Roberto Goyeneche in 1976, but I’ll not consider it further, here.

For the following extracts, I have taken versions of each song from my own library and rendered them at the same pitch, processed them to reduce clicks & crackle and matched the gain levels as far as possible. Finally, because the sound of the TK recording is so poor and constricted, I have applied pseudo-stereo processing to it, which opens up the texture a little (which helps on headphones, in particular), and for consistency, have done the same for the others. To keep file sizes small (particularly as they are in ‘stereo’), I have rendered them as 128 kbps MP3 files.

The duration of the recordings varies considerably. The Francini-Pontier version lasts 2:58, Fresedo’s is 3:12 while Troilo’s is significantly longer at 3:39. This is partly a matter of the chosen pace, but mainly because of the form or structure of the arrangements.

In the early 1940s any Troilo vocal arrangement would have the orchestra play through the thematic material (verse & chorus, usually 8 bars + 8 bars) before the singer delivered the first verse (and chorus) of the lyric. The orchestra would return for 16 bars (meaning that the second verse of the lyric was never sung), and then the singer would be heard again, with the arrangement wrapping up soon after. By Discepolín, things were less rigidly fixed. Troilo wrote three 8-bar thematic sections: let’s call them A, B & C. The lyric has three verses (each set to 16 bars of music: sections A + B). Section C is only heard orchestrally, but all three verses of the lyric are sung in each of the arrangements. There are interesting variations in the structure of all three arrangements, as you will hear.

Introduction

The most straightforward arrangement is that by Francini-Pontier. It opens with a short 2-bar introduction and then the three sections A, B & C are played through by the orchestra:

The first two sections are an exchange between the strings and the piano, but I can’t claim to like the way either are arranged much. There’s a moment from 0:29 when the violins briefly adopt a Pugliese-like Yumba figure (and more of that, later) and the introduction ends with very short solos for bandoneón and then violin (presumably, Pontier & Francini playing). At 53s, that’s it: and the singer enters with the first verse.

Troilo’s introduction is straight away much darker in colour and more dramatic:

Section A opens with strings and bandoneóns playing together, creating the rich and complex timbre that is unmistakeably Troilo; it ends with a sweet-toned violin solo. The piano initially carries the melody for section B, supported by the strings, and the section ends with full orchestra and a rising figure for cello right at the end.

That’s not the end of the introduction, though, because he now repeats both sections A & B and adds the additional section C, although it is not heard, again:

Section A builds to a climax, which melts away into section B and a beautiful but short bandoneon solo (Troilo, himself?) The full orchestra begins section C, which ends with another violin solo which balances the earlier one. The whole introduction has the structure ABABC and lasts 1:29.

Fresedo adopts the same structure for his orchestral introduction, beginning with sections A & B:

The strings are in the foreground, throughout, with a prominent role for piano.

He repeats sections A & B with little change in orchestration, but we don’t get section C (so it is missing from the arrangement, altogether), but instead, a 4-bar linking passage leading to the first sung verse quoting from Discépolo’s own composition, Cambalache:

First verse

On the frozen marble, croissant crumbs

and an absurd woman who eats in a corner ...

Your muse is bleeding and she has breakfast ...

the dawn does not forgive nor does it have a heart.

In the end, who is guilty of the grotesque life

and of the soul stained with carmine blood?

It is better that we leave before dawn,

before we cry, old Discepolin! ...

After a lightweight introduction, Francini-Pontier surprises us with the rich and slightly plummy baritone voice of Héctor Montes:

Troilo and Berón give the verse more colour, beginning quietly and building to a climax before falling back with wonderful word-setting:

It is sometimes said that Raúl Berón was at his best during his years with Troilo, and certainly he brings a depth to this interpretation that was not always apparent in earlier years. I don’t always enjoy Berón’s rather nasal crooning, but he musters some power, here, even if the sotto voce opening sounds as though he is struggling, a bit, at the bottom of his vocal range.

Fresedo accompanies Pacheco mainly with the strings, and the arrangement has real depth and subtlety:

Pacheco’s vocal delivery is a surprise; he has a fairly light, tenor voice, and yet he is more comfortable with the opening phrase and builds just as powerful a climax as either of the others. Methinks he is underrated, and I have been enjoying many of his other recordings of this period with Fresedo, too.

Second Verse

I know of your long boredom

and I understand what it costs to be happy,

and with the sound of each tango I feel your presence

with your enormous talent, and your nose;

with your bitter and hidden tears,

with your pale clown mask,

and with that sad smile

that flourishes in verse and song.

Continuing with Fresedo and Pacheco:

There is some lovely word-painting, here, and the orchestral writing balances the singer with interesting rhythms and colour that points up the lyric in a most affecting way.

Final verse

People come to you with their pile of sorrows

and you caress them with almost a tremor ...

It hurts as your own, the scar of others:

he had no luck and she didn't find love.

The ronda has been packed by the sound of the orchestra

They embrace under the spotlight like sawdust dolls ...

Can’t you see they're dancing?

Can’t you see they're partying?

Come on, everything hurts, old Discepolín ...

For the final verse, Francini-Pontier’s arrangement is nearly but not quite up to the job of supporting the singer:

Montes delivers the verse, and the climax of the song, with conviction, but overall he doesn’t quite have the depth of interpretation to pull it off, and I’m left thinking that everything here adds up to slightly less than the sum of its parts. There’s a nice touch, though, right at the end, with a short orchestral coda, with fleeting references to two other Discépolo compositions, Soy un arlequín and Yira yira.

Fresedo builds a satisfying climax, but with string writing that nearly gets carried away:

Pacheco’s voice is well-suited to the shape of the melody, rising in pitch and then falling back. He delivers the last line of the lyric with almost no accompaniment, and then orchestra ends the arrangement with some very bluesy chord progressions.

Troilo delays the final verse by adding a short linking section quoting from Uno, a song with a Discépolo lyric (but, ironically, the music being quoted was by Mariano Mores):

Berón builds the tension throughout section A, but the climax comes in the final section supported by driving chords played with strong arrastre (that Pugliese-like Yumba effect, again). I wonder whether the arranger of the Francini-Pontier version heard Troilo’s interpretation, played live, before the recording and ‘borrowed’ the idea. The climax melts away, and the strings, dying away, support Berón’s voice first with tremolo and then pizzicato chords. The song ends simply, with a perfect cadence.

Conclusions

Montes’ singing is the relative strength of the Francini-Pontier version. He only recorded one other song (a vals, Una triste verdad) and then got married and quit. The style of the orchestra is not really to my taste and the singer is very forward in the sound balance. I can’t see me ever choosing to play it for dancing (to say nothing of the challenge of finding a home for it in a good tanda).

I’m torn between the other two versions: Troilo ought to be the clear winner: it is the composer’s own interpretation, with a brilliant arrangement – a big, dramatic sound. I have reservations about Berón’s crooning and perhaps wish that Troilo had recorded it with Edmundo Rivero, instead.

It’s easy to dismiss Fresedo in this period as a purveyor of lightweight lyrical repertoire, but there’s more to him than that. This arrangement is inventive and well-played. Yes, it has many of the Fresedo trademark sounds (vibraphone and string glissandi) that make you either smile or wince (at your choice). Pacheco has a light tenor voice and yet he carries the lyric with sensitivity and conviction. I like it a lot.

Still torn, I can’t name a favourite: Troilo is poorly served by the recording, but the arrangement and performance have real gravitas and the music-making is of the highest quality. Fresedo has a different feel, but no less valid. I must have them both.

Here are the complete songs, including some unwelcome pitch variations:

Playlist: 8 September 2018 (Redmarley)

Genre Song Year Artist(s)
Tango Tango argentino 1942 Enrique Rodríguez (Armando Moreno)
Yo no sé por que razón 1942
El huérfano 1942
Un tropezón 1942
Tango Fué mi salvación 1940 Edgardo Donato (Horacio Lagos)
A oscuras 1941
Mis pesares 1941
A media luz 1941
Vals Adiós, querida 1941 Juan D’Arienzo (Héctor Mauré)
Cuatro palábras 1941
La serenata de ayer 1941
Tango Corazón 1939 Carlos Di Sarli (Roberto Rufino)
Lo pasao pasó 1940
Cosas olvidadas 1940
En un beso la vida 1940
Tango Retintín 1938 Francisco Canaro (Instrumental)
La puñalada 1937
La melodía de nuestro adiós 1938
Pampa 1938
Milonga Milonga antigua 1942 Miguel Caló (Raúl Berón)
El desafío 1944 Miguel Caló (Raúl Iriarte)
Milonga que peina canas 1942 Miguel Caló (Raúl Berón)
Tango Fumando espero 1927 Francisco Lomuto (Instrumental)
Bacán fulero 1927
Patadura 1929
Te aconsejo que me olvides 1928
Tango Humillación 1941 Rodolfo Biagi (Jorge Ortiz)
Marcas 1940
Indiferencia 1942
La marcha nupcial 1941
Vals Dos que se aman 1948 Osvaldo Pugliese (Alberto Morán)
Manos adoradas 1952
Ilusión marina 1947
Tango Arrabalero 1939 Osvaldo Fresedo (Instrumental)
Mariposita 1941
Divagando 1939
La mariposa 1945
Tango Noches de Colón 1941 Ricardo Tanturi (Alberto Castillo)
La vida es corta 1941
El moro 1941
Pocas palabras 1941
Milonga El torito 1954 Juan D’Arienzo (Instrumental)
Pampeana 1956
Bien porteña 1957
Tango Solamente ella 1944 Lucio Demare (Horacio Quintana)
El aguacero 1944
Oriente 1944
Torrente 1944
Tango Naranjo en flor 1944 Aníbal Troilo (Floreal Ruíz)
Yuyo verde 1945
Marioneta 1944
Luna llena 1944
Vals Romántica 1938 Francisco Canaro (Roberto Maida)
El triunfo de tus ojos 1938
Ti-pi-tin 1938
Tango Negracha 1948 Osvaldo Pugliese (Instrumental)
Patético 1948
Chuzas 1949
Malandraca 1949
Tango Como el hornero 1944 Ángel D’Agostino (Ángel Vargas)
El cocherito (1°) 1944
Esta noche en Buenos Aires 1944
Así era el tango 1944
Milonga Yo soy de San Telmo 1943 Pedro Laurenz (Alberto Podestá)
Maldonado 1943
El criollito oriental 1944
Tango La bruja (1°) 1938 Juan D’Arienzo (Alberto Echagüe)
Pensalo bien 1938
Que dios te ayude 1939
Nada más (1°) 1938
Tango Loca bohemia 1951 Julio De Caro (Instrumental)
Aníbal Troilo 1949
De rompe y raja 1949
Todo corazón 1951
Vals Tu diagnóstico 1941 Aníbal Troilo (Francisco Fiorentino)
Acordándome de vos 1942
Valsecito amigo 1943
Tango Milonguero viejo (3°) 1951 Carlos Di Sarli (Instrumental)
Como los nardos en flor 1951
La cachila (2°) 1952
El ingeniero (2°) 1952
Tango Niño bien 1928 Orquesta Típica Victor (Instrumental)
La muchacha del circo 1928
Esta noche me emborracho 1928
La cumparsita 1931 Orquesta Típica Los Provincianos (Roberto Díaz)

Playlist: 7 September 2018 (Redmarley)

Genre Song Year Artist(s)
Tango Ivón 1945 Alfredo De Angelis (Julio Martel)
Rosicler 1946
Yo también carrero fui 1946
Tango Nunca más 1931 Francisco Lomuto (Alberto Acuña & Fernando Díaz)
Íntimas 1931 Francisco Lomuto (Fernando Díaz)
Muñequita 1931 Francisco Lomuto (Alberto Acuña & Fernando Díaz)
Vals Recuerdo 1941 Ricardo Tanturi (Alberto Castillo)
La serenata 1941
Mi romance 1941
Tango Carnaval de mi barrio 1939 Edgardo Donato (Lagos, Morales & Gavioli)
Mi serenata 1940 Edgardo Donato (Romeo Gavioli & Lita Morales)
Sinsabor 1939 Edgardo Donato (Horacio Lagos & Lita Morales)
Tango Solamente ella 1945 Carlos Di Sarli (Jorge Durán)
Tu íntimo secreto 1945
Tus labios me dirán 1945
Milonga Milongueando 1939 Francisco Canaro (Ernesto Famá)
No hay tierra como la mía 1939
La milonga de Buenos Aires 1939
Tango Percal 1943 Aníbal Troilo (Francisco Fiorentino)
Gime el viento 1943
A bailar 1943
Tango Alma 1932 Adolfo Carabelli (Alberto Gómez)
Loco 1932
Inspiración 1932
Vals Por un beso de amor 1940 Rodolfo Biagi (Jorge Ortiz)
Tu melodía 1945
Cuatro palábras 1941
Tango Soledad la de barracas 1945 Enrique Rodríguez (Armando Moreno)
Traje de novia 1945
Yo soy siempre el mismo 1945
Tango Recuerdo 1944 Osvaldo Pugliese (Instrumental)
Adiós, Bardi 1944
La yumba 1946
Milonga Milonga del sentimiento 1940 Carlos Di Sarli (Roberto Rufino)
Entre pitada y pitada 1942 Carlos Di Sarli (Alberto Podestá)
Rosa morena 1942 Carlos Di Sarli (Roberto Rufino)
Tango El tigre Millán (1°) 1940 Juan D’Arienzo (Alberto Reynal)
El corazón me engañó 1940
Olvidao 1941
Tango Tres esquinas 1941 Ángel D’Agostino (Ángel Vargas)
Un copetín 1941
Ahora no me conocés 1941
Vals Romance de barrio 1947 Aníbal Troilo (Floreal Ruíz)
Llorarás, llorarás 1945
Flor de lino 1947
Tango Milonguero viejo (4°) 1955 Carlos Di Sarli (Instrumental)
Germaine (3°) 1955
El jagüel (3°) 1956
Tango Al compás del corazón 1942 Miguel Caló (Raúl Berón)
Trasnochando 1942
Un crimen 1942
Milonga Meta fierro 1939 Juan D’Arienzo (Alberto Echagüe)
La cicatriz 1939
De antaño 1939
Tango Por qué? 1955 Osvaldo Fresedo (Instrumental)
Apasionado 1953
Vida mía 1956 Osvaldo Fresedo (Instr. with Dizzie Gillespie)
Tango Comadre 1929 Francisco Canaro (Charlo)
Llevatelo todo 1928
Pensalo bien 1929
Tango La cumparsita 1927 Francisco Canaro (Instrumental)