The leading orchestras of the day were all busy in the recording studio and, inevitably (given the volume of output), the arrangements are mostly very straightforward and formulaic. Tango songs were arranged with a clear structure, and it is hugely beneficial to dancers to learn to recognise the musical structure to help them navigate through the song.
The Anatomy of a Song
Juan Maglio recorded his own composition, Cuando llora el corazón, on 5 March 1929, with singer, Carlos Viván, setting a lyric by Jesús Blanco. It’s one of those lyrics that give tango its reputation for melancholy: ‘When the Heart Weeps’. It’s not cheerful.
The structure of the song is very typical. The thematic or melodic material from which the song is composed is in two parts: A & B. Each part is made up of quite distinct musical phrases, and they have the form of a ‘call and response’. In this song, the basic melodic material of part A is played twice (with slight alteration); and is then followed by quite different material (part B), which is also repeated.
The basic musical material, then, consists of two sections: A & B. Each section is made up of two pairs of short phrases (setting one line of the lyric, each) and is played through twice to set one verse of the lyric. The musical arrangement takes that basic material and repeats it several times, varying the way the instruments play the repeats of the material (with or without the singer) to make the complete piece. Had the whole lyric been set, rather than just a third of it, the song would necessarily have been much longer than it is.
This sounds complicated – but it isn’t. Just listen carefully to the sung verse in the recording, and the structure becomes clear very quickly.
This is how the first A section looks in musical notation:
The melody is now repeated, setting the 2nd half of the verse.
Part B has exactly the same musical structure, but a different melody. The whole arrangement takes the two basic parts (A & B) and repeats them in the format AABBAABBAA. The singer is heard only in the middle AA section (from 1:08 in the recording). An interesting feature of this tango is that while the lyric has three verses, Maglio only sets one. More particularly, he sets the first half of the first verse, and the second half of the third.
On 2 April 1929, Lomuto and Charlo went into the recording studio to record the same song but in a different arrangement. This time the whole of the 2nd verse of the lyric is set, but it is set to the musical material of section B, not section A. The overall structure of the arrangement is the same as Maglio’s (AABBAABBAA), but the singer sings different words to a different melody and he sings earlier.
Here’s an extract. The sound quality is awful, but you get a sense of the Lomuto ‘heavy’ style. I’ve included the repeat of the 1st A section, leading into the 1st sung B section:
Just one day later, Charlo was back in the studio, recording the song with Canaro. Once again, he sings the 2nd verse of the lyric and to the music of section B. However, the musical arrangement is different. This time, the material of sections A and B are played through, and then section A returns with an extended violin solo (and this is where Maglio’s own arrangement had included a singer). Only then, does the singer enter with section B, and section B is immediately repeated instrumentally (with a bandoneon solo in the 2nd half), before the final return of section A (with another violin solo in the 2nd half). The arrangement is over half a minute longer than either of the others, because of the additional repeat of section B.
You can hear the Canaro arrangement as the opening song of the first tanda, below.
Canaro (Charlo) 1929
Charlo recorded just over 150 songs with Canaro in 1929 alone and over 30 with Lomuto. Each time, the vocal contribution is limited to presenting just one verse of the lyric. Margaritas is a vocal duet between Charlo and Ángel Ramos.
- Cuando llora el corazón (3-Apr-1929)
- Azulidad (29-May-1929)
- Bailarín compadrito (28-Aug-1929)
- Margaritas (11-Oct-1929)
Margaritas isn’t available on Spotify, but here’s a link to a version on YouTube.
Lomuto (Instrumental) 1929
There continues to be a significant overlap in repertoire and playing style between Canaro and Lomuto. Lomuto usually has the heavier, more insistent beat. The tell-tale Lomuto ‘signature’ of ending with an unusual final cadence (using a diminished seventh) doesn’t appear until the end of 1930.
- Mamita (8-Mar-1929)
- Puerto nuevo (22-Oct-1929)
- Mi pibe (19-Jul-1929)
- Viejo amigo (22-Oct-1929)
Orquesta Típica Victor (Díaz) 1929
Until the Autumn of 1928, the output of OTV had been exclusively instrumental. Roberto Díaz was one of a handful of singers who took on the fashionable role of estribillista (chorus singer), recording with OTV between Dec-28 and Apr-30.
- Vieja calesita (2-Oct-1929)
- Una noche en la calle (26-Nov-1929)
- Hombrecito (18-Oct-1929)
- Bronca rea (27-Aug-1929)
Click here for ‘Tango in 1928’.
Click here for ‘Tango in 1930’.