Frédéric Chopin

Early photograph of Frédéric Chopin (1849)

While I was djing at a local milonga in Amsterdam a girl came to the DJ desk and told me: “I know this tango!” So I said: “Yes, it’s Melodía del corazón interpreted by Edgardo Donato and his orchestra.” She then explained that she didn’t really mean to know it from the milongas but from her sister’s piano lessons. Her sister was actually rehearsing on these tunes. On another session she told me that her sister was actually playing Fédéric Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 n°3 “Tristesse” in E major. And indeed the main theme of this piano étude directly entered into the tango Melodía del corazón. Not as a cheap carbon copy but nicely rearranged around the Chopin theme. Let’s say that the composers of this tango, Fioravante Di Cicco and Héctor María Artola, have been insprired by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).

“The great majority of Chopin’s compositions were written for the piano as solo instrument; all of his extant works feature the piano in one way or another. Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, ‘had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal… Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano.’ “ [Wikipedia]. So no wonder, they called this tango Melodía del corazón (The melody of the heart). This is also underlined with the lyrics by Carmelo Santiago sung by Romeo Gavioli in the 1940 Donato version.

Reviens mon amour

78 RPM record of Mario Melfi’s Reviens mon amour, Paris 1939

The Edgardo Donato recording is not the only Di Cicco-Artola version, there is also a Francisco Canaro interpretation with the singer Francisco Amor. Both versions are from the year 1940, the SADAIC has the tango registered on the 19-01-1940.

At the root of all these versions there is an even earlier record with the same Chopin melody. This work is not based on the Di Cicco-Artola partition but on an arrangement by Mario Melfi in Paris and it’s called Reviens mon amour. The 78 RPM record contains an explicite note: “sur les motifs de Tristesse de F. Chopin”. This version is interpreted by Mario Melfi and his orchestra himself and the refrain singer is Benardi (Jean Bernardi?). The record has the HMV matrix number OLA 2958 (disk number K-8277) and has been issued in 1939 in France. Maybe it has freely inspired the Argentinian Di Cicco-Artola version. There are a lot of popular tangos which have been composed in Paris and then later performed in Buenos Aires. Let’s quote one of the most famous: Poema, for which Mario Melfi wrote the lyrics. Between the two wars, but also at other moments, Paris has been some kind of tango test tube where a lot of interesting ideas converged.

The tango Vous, qu’avez-vous fait de mon amour ? is an interesting example, originally an Hungarian tango by the composer Tibor Barczi, it has been very popular in Paris during the 1930’s. There are serveral recordings of this tango in France, an often played and timeless version is certainly the one by Orlando et son orchestre du Bagdad from 1933 with the famous singer Tino Rossi. A couple of years later this tango came to Buenos Aires and has been recorded as Sueño Azul by Osvaldo Fresedo. Tibor Barczi’s original title of this tango is Jo a két szemedbe nézni.

These are quite hidden cross references, only recognisable via the melody, but there are other tangos where the reference, for instance, to the classical music repertoire is openly anchored into the title like Danza Húngara No. 5 by Enrique Rodríguez. It is a tango foxtrot transcript of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nr. 5. Now the funny part about this is that Brahms isn’t the author: “Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. The most famous Hungarian Dance is No. 5 in F♯ minor (G minor in the orchestral version), but even this dance was based on the csárdás by Béla Kéler titled Bártfai emlék which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong.” [Wikipedia]

Now let’s have a look at the Gershwin question. Just a couple of days ago, as I was playing Sans souci (1944) with the Orchestra Miguel Caló, my friend H. told me that there is something of An American in Paris (1928) and a little bit of Rhapsody in blue (1931) in it. Especially Sans souci, composed by Enrique Delfino, is considered by some as the quintessence of Caló’s musical interpretation. Direct quotation of Gershwin or just brothers in style? The tango Sans souci has been created in Montevideo already back in 1917 by Enrique Delfino. If you compare the structure of the Caló and the Delfino version, you can hear that some connecting parts, repetitions, structures and especially something from the ending part of Caló’s Sans souci are not in the original scores. There is a passage in the ending part where he uses a blue note, a key you can find in Jazz and Blues music. You get minor where you expect major. Also Gershwin used blue notes quite frequently in his compositions. The following extract contains the blue note passage which reminds a little bit of Gershwin:


La mort de Manon Lescaut, illustration of Abbé Prévost’s Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut

Enrique Delfino was a big admirer of Puccini, Verdi and Wagner and had a deep knowledge about musical theory. So if we are looking for musical quotations or references we can also cross listen to all these beautiful Enrique Delfino tangos and the work of Giacomo Puccini, Guiseppe Verde and Richard Wagner to find intersections in their universes. For instance the lyrics of his tango Griseta (1924) contain characters of Puccini’s opera La Boheme (Rodolfo, Mimì, Musetta, Schaunard), Manon Lescaut (Manon, Des Grieux) and Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (adaptation of Marguerite Gautier, heroine of Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel and play The Lady of the Camellias). It’s like a tribute to his favorite composers. And like in their plots, this beautiful tango can be seen as an allegory of the tuberculosis disease, a recurring motif in tango texts: See for the original lyrics here and for an English translation here.

  • Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino Griseta, 1941:

    (Di Sarli wiped the last stanza of the song text, the 1939 version by Biagi with Andrés Falgas contains only the middle stanza, not the first and neither the last stanza, the 1953 version by Francisco Canaro and Mario Alonso contains the complete lyrics)

But tango wasn’t exclusively inspired from classical or folk music, there have also been references to the popular music of the time. Especially in the late 1920’s and 1930’s there are a lot of foxtrots which are adaptations of world hits like the famous Singin’ in the rain by Nacio Herb Brown published in 1929 and Francisco Canaro’s reprise Cantando bajo la lluvia from 1929/1930. The text is translated to Spanish and the refrain singing is by Charlo, perfect voice for this repertoire. But just listen through all foxtrots by Canaro, Lomuto, Carabelli, Rodríguez and Fresedo and you will find a lot of known songs and tunes.


Gene Kelly dancing and singing in the famous rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

I could go on and on with these references but I just want to conclude this little musical journey with the direct collaborations between tango and other musical genders, like you have seen in my article about Osvaldo Fresedo and Dizzy Gillespie, or the musical influences which changed the típica’s composition later in the 1940’s: Personally I believe that the Francisco Canaro orchestra remained still innovative during the 1940’s. To my ears it became very jazzy and I like especially the recordings with Carlos Roldán. Try to figure out which new instruments have been added to this típica! 😉

  • Francisco Canaro : Carlos Roldán Cristal 1944

Touched by tango

As a tango DJ I spend a lot of my time extending my collection and listening through different repertoires. It’s like a journey through time and styles. Often I recognise that I’m missing some recordings while digging further into one direction. Like very recently I had to admit that my combination possibilities for Fresedo Instrumentals from the 1930’s-1940’s were more than limited. I was trying for quite some time to create a nice tanda around Tigre viejo but the results were less than satisfying. Somehow heteroclitical, like a serie which doesn’t fit together. So I was thinking: “Is this possible? I don’t really think that i’m missing the most important Fresedo CD editions.”

If you look at the Osvaldo Fresedo discography you can see that he quite often hopped between record labels: Brunswick, Odeón, RCA Víctor and later Columbia and Arte. The biggest part of his catalogue is with Odeón and it seems that the instrumental recordings which interested me most are with RCA Víctor (today Sony-BMG) like Pimienta, Julián, El choclo, El irresistible, etc. To my knowledge Sony-BMG hasn’t reedited most of these tangos on CD. But they did in the 1970’s on their famous Camden vinyl series “Osvaldo Fresedo Coleccionista RCA Víctor CAL-3032” and “Osvaldo Fresedo Y Su Orquesta Típica Con Ricardo Ruiz Y Oscar Serpa CAL-2991”. This makes 28 recordings altogether, 14 instrumentals, for which I add here the front and back covers with tracklistings.

  1. Sound sample: El irresistible Osvaldo Fresedo : Instrumental, 1943

fresedoThe subtitle of these LPs is “Serie Apoyando El Buen Tango” (Del archivo de grabaciones de RCA Víctor de la época de oro del tango), the aim has been to provide access to a selected 78 RPM catalogue on the newer record media as the record players evolved to pure microgroove devices with RIAA preamplification and weren’t able to read the old 78 RPMs anymore. A situation we know from today where nearly nobody is able to play vinyls anymore and most of the record players are gone, therefore there has been a need cal-2991to convert the tango catalogue to audio CD or to digital formats which might in their right replace the audio CD in the near future.

The city of Camden which gave the name to this serie is situated in New Jersey, USA, and has been the headquarter of RCA Víctor, centralising all their masters. Nowadays it’s owned by Sony-BMG. It’s also interesting to note that the full Victor catalogue is now available online (with some sound samples) at the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings. The following video is a documentary about the RCA Víctor Camden plant and you can see how the original recording process worked and how the masters were made:

So these vinyls are actually reeditions of the original 78 RPM recordings. This shows that already back in the 1970’s there has been an interest to listen to tango recordings and that it’s not the CD and the recent tango renaissance which procured us with a direct link to the original recordings. These vinyl reeditions have often been done in perfect analogue quality and they have most certainly lead in one or the other case to the later CD editions.


1940 French re-edition of Osvaldo Fresedo’s Vuelves (1939)

I have also discovered that much earlier there already existed a specific European market for Argentine tango records! I recently received a 78 RPM shellac from around 1940 from France with Osvaldo Fresedo’s Vuelves on the A side. It has been issued by Disque Gramophone directly in France and while looking at the french Disque Gramophone catalogue more closely, you can see that quite a lot of hard core tango music had been available immediately during the época de oro in Europe. Check out the full His Master’s Voice, The French Catalogue to get an idea of the diversity of available titles. It’s incredible! This allows for the wildest speculations … 😉

Comme il faut

Rare test pressing: Re-edition of Troilo’s first recording with the Odeón label: Comme il faut and Tinta verde

Some people claim that most of the important tangos are nowadays available on audio CD or in some ITunes shop and that those which are not, are either bad or without any importance. Like as if an invisible God of tango controlled which recordings should be available today on CD or in the digital form. That’s an opinion I hear quite often, in reality the edition problem is much more complicated. It is to a great extent due to the record companies. Some tango artists have recorded with just one record label, others switched quite often, like Fresedo. When they switched often, the record labels were unable to reissue the complete works because of copyright issues and unavailable masters in their archives. A well known case is certainly Aníbal Troilo who recorded his first two recordings with Odeón in 1938, and from 1941 onwards signed with RCA Víctor. You will therefore not find Comme il faut and Tinta verde on the CD collection Troilo en RCA.

This is followed by the conservation problem. Some masters were destroyed by fire or had to make place for newer recordings after the época de oro and just went into the trash.

Let’s have a look at another beloved tango which is quite often played in the milongas but which is actually a rare recording: Invierno performed by Francisco Canaro with the singer Roberto Maida. There is no official CD version of this tango. I guess most of the versions played in the milongas are quite from the same source, the CdT CD version and maybe an audio copy of the Youtube version (You know this technique where you place a bypass mini-jack to mini-jack cable from the speaker to the microphone socket, start the Youtube movie and record via, for instance, Audacity listening on the microphone socket). I was thinking that the master must have been destroyed but I just hold an EMI triple LP album called “Album XX Aniversario Francisco Canaro EMI4730/2” from 1984, with, guess …, Invierno on it! And I discovered a very beautiful tango called Todo corazón (Julio De Caro) recorded on 17-7-1936 by Canaro. Invierno is edited for the first time on LP on this record, before this there is just the original release on 78RPM, and after it, well, there is not very much …






  1. Short extract of Todo corazón Francisco Canaro : Instrumental 1936, for me one of the most beautiful Francisco Canaro tangos, it’s an interpretation of a Julio De Caro composition
  2. Short extract of Invierno Francisco Canaro : Roberto Maida 1937, almost perfect restoration

“EMI-ODEON agradece a los Sres, Alfredo Contartesi, Boris Puga y Nicolás Stranger, el aporte del valioso material de sus colecciones particulares” is written on the back cover of this album which leaves a doubt about the persistance of the master recordings of some of these tracks. This could also explain why there never has been an official reedition of Invierno on CD.

Being able to process not exclusively audio CD but other formats like LPs, MCs, tapes and 78 RPM records comes in handy and opens up a new world in terms of sound quality and available titles. Most of the second grade labels, described by Johan in his Beginner’s guide to tango record labels as the other labels, often offer tracks in a very bad sound quality, using simply bad preamplification and are for these reasons quite often not playable at a milonga. Once you collect 78 RPM records, you control all filtering, preamplification and very important too, the speed.

Some people say that the old tango recordings are in a poor quality and therefore a poor format like 100kbit MP3 will do largely. I say the monoroom holds sound recordings of an unbelievable beauty and quality and only the best proceedings with the least filtering will bring you close to your idols, where you have the impression that you can touch them!

The Monoroom

The cosy Monoroom