Tango in 1926

Until around 1926, record companies recorded acoustically. The musicians gathered around a large horn which captured the sound directly. The fidelity was awful, and tango music recorded in this early period (and there’s lots of it) is almost never heard now for dancing.

Then electrical recording was introduced: microphones converted the sound into an electrical signal, and that signal could be amplified and processed in rudimentary ways. The sound was still captured direct to disc, but now, the electrical signal powered a cutting head, allowing a wider frequency and dynamic range to be preserved. Previously, the limit of the recording process was determined by the amount of acoustic energy that could be captured in that big horn.

In 1924, a young tango musician, Osvaldo Pugliese (born 1905), composed the music for a new tango: Recuerdo. In the same year, violinist Julio De Caro had formed his first sextet. By 1926 it had secured a recording contract with Victor. On the 9 December 1926 De Caro was to make the first recording of Recuerdo, just a week after Pugliese’s 21st birthday.

The recording is one of the earliest electrical recordings in my own collection, but if you listen carefully you’ll hear that the sound, although of very limited frequency and dynamic range, is remarkably good. Recuerdo has been recorded by many orchestras; most frequently as an instrumental, but it has a lyric (by Eduardo Moreno). It was also recorded by Orquesta Típica Victor in 1930 with singer, Roberto Díaz, the incomparable Elvino Vardaro as principal violin and Luis Petrucelli (who had been principal bandoneon in De Caro’s 1924 lineup) playing the famous variación.

Recuerdo has been recorded many times, but probably the best is Pugliese’s own, from 1944. The arrangement is almost exactly the same as that used by De Caro back in 1926. It’s as though the composer’s own interpretation was a homage to De Caro, founder of the Decarean school, of which Pugliese had become the leading proponent.

Before leaving Recuerdo, here it is as the opening song of a complete De Caro tanda (1926-28).

This period is a remarkably fertile one for tango music. Canaro, Lomuto, Fresedo, Firpo, Maglio and Orquesta Típica Victor were all very active in the late-20s. Here’s Canaro’s very first electrical recording, A media luz, recorded on 8 November 1926:

And finally from 1926, another recording by Orquesta Típica Victor, La payanca, recorded on 13 December 1926, just days after De Caro’s Recuerdo:

If you’ve any curiosity about the sound of the recordings in the pre-electrical era, try this: Don Juan, recorded by Vincente Greco in 1910.

Click here for ‘Tango in 1927’.