Tango By Year

When the pandemic struck, my friend and colleague Dag Stenvoll (Bergen, NO) had an idea: how about doing a free online Zoom show for the tango community? To slice the cake differently, his idea was to choose a particular year. He would choose the year and the tracks to play, and I would talk about them. The twist: I wouldn’t know which numbers he was going to play – only the year. I agreed, and Tango By Year was born. Over the next 18 months we did 38 shows – over 130 hours of programming, covering 1927-1955 – the core years of tango – with a few bonus programmes. All the episodes are freely available for listening on the TBY Soundcloud (optional donation).

1st March 1926: Electrical recording arrives in Argentina

Victor 79632-A - Rosita Quiroga - La Musa Mistonga

It’s an electrical recording – but can you tell?

In March 1926 the Victor company were the first to bring electrical recording to Argentina. Although their rivals Odeon were not able to follow suit until November this did not give Victor a competitive advantage: both parties had an interest in not advertising the new technology because – if it was really so much better than acoustic recording – who would buy the stocks of old acoustic discs? Victor and Odeon came to a gentleman’s agreement, and no announcements were made. Accordingly, Victor made no changes to their numbering system, continuing with the same matrix numbers, and there was no way of telling if the disc had been recorded acoustically or electrically. Once Odeon went electric in November, Victor’s discs would bear the monogram VE: Victor Electrical.

The first electrical recording was matrix BAVE (Buenos Aires Victor Electrical) 753 and this was given to Rosita Quiroga. It sold over 14,000 copies. By way of contrast, Agustín Magaldi would sell between 5,000 and 16,000 copies, Carabelli’s Jazz Band 7000 copies, and De Caro 1,500. Quiroga’s third disc, Mocosita c/w Horas tristes, sold 26,000 copies.

date matrix artist title genre disc
1st March BAVE 753-2 Rosita Quiroga La musa mistonga tango 79632-B
1st March BAVE 754-2 Rosita Quiroga Beba tango 79632-A
BAVE 755-1 Ramón Franco Todo por la raza monólogo 79633
BAVE 756-1 Salutación del Mayor Zanni al Comandante Franco monólogo 79633
BAVE 757-2 Carabelli Jazz Band Ingenuamente fox trot 79634-A
BAVE 758-1 Carabelli Jazz Band Gitana de ojos moros paso doble 79635-A
BAVE 759-2 Carabelli Jazz Band Comandante Franco paso doble 79634-B
7th April BAVE 760-1 Rosita Quiroga Como luces de bengala tango 79638-B
7th April BAVE 761-1 Rosita Quiroga Son grupos tango 79638-A
BAVE 762-2 Rosita Quiroga / Juan Velich El amor a golpes escena cómica 79639-A
BAVE 763-2 Compañía Victor de Comedias Pum… Garibaldi escena cómica 79639-B
8th April BAVE 764-2 Rosita Quiroga Mocosita tango 79641-A
8th April BAVE 765-2 Rosita Quiroga Horas tristes tango 79641-B
BAVE 766-3 Carabelli Jazz Band Voronoff fox trot 79635-B
BAVE 767-1 Trío Los Nativos El crucifijo tango 79640-B
BAVE 768-1 Trío Los Nativos La china Hilaria ranchera 79640-A
12th April BAVE 769-2 Julio De Caro Mary tango 79636-A
12th April BAVE 769-2 Julio De Caro Feliz viaje tango 79636-B
12th April BAVE 771-2 Julio De Caro Mis desvelos Tango 79637-A
12th April BAVE 772-1 Julio De Caro Quince abriles vals 79637-B
14th April BAVE 773-1 Agustín Magaldi ¿Dónde estás? shimmy 79642-B
14th April BAVE 774-2 Agustín Magaldi Hilos de plata tango 79643-A
BAVE 775-2 dúo Magaldi-Noda Lirio azul vals 79642-A
BAVE 776-1 dúo Magaldi-Noda Sauces del Chorrillo tango 79643-B

And who is this Comandante Franco guy? If you think he sounds like a military type, you would be right: this is General Franco’s younger brother Ramón Franco. He made history in January 1926 by flying a Dornier flying-boat named Plus Ultra (!) from Spain to Buenos Aires, a distance of just over 10,000km. The flying time was nearly 60 hours.

Juan Maglio – “La guardia vieja” (1927-1932)

If you’re not sure about Maglio then try this album, compiled by Carlos Puente and released by Euro Records in their “Colección 78RPM” (EU-17052), and now present on all the digital platforms. Vardaro plays on all the 1927 tracks (tracks 1 to 5), but that’s not to say that those are the best tracks on this compilation – not at all!
A prototypical figure of the old guard (guardia vieja), Maglio made changes to his band to respond to the changes being wrought by the new guard of De Caro et al. In 1929 he assembled a new bandoneon lineup with Federico Scorticatti, Gabriel Clausi and Ernesto Di Cicco (Minotto’s brother) – all top players, and in En un rincón del café they unleash a variación which is simply stunning.
From November 1929 Vardaro was occupied by the Vardaro-Pugliese sextet but he is present on some of the 1930-1931 recordings such as the creamy Abrojos – and just listen to his tone in the long intro to the vals Princesa. From 1932 onwards he is again present in all the recordings, with a superb solo in Mi queja.
Finally, for the most complete arrangement of the album listen to Alma triste. As well as Vardaro’s beautiful violin we get a final variación on the bandoneons which is clearly in multiple voices (the different men play different notes). This is the era of which Troilo commented that Maglio could not understand the music that his own band was making – not only did he no longer play in these lineups, he sometimes didn’t even attend.
Thanks to Osvaldo Vardaro for confirming in which years Elvino Vardaro is present in the band.

Roberto Firpo (1927-1929)

A delicious album of late 1920s Firpo from RGS with an astonishing resemblance to CTA-741. Reasonable transfers of fairly clean discs make this easy to enjoy. Teófilo Ibáñez is the vocalist on four tracks including an unusual vocal version of Marejada (a track more familiar to us from the 1941 version of Carlos Di Sarli) although Organito del suburbio is more satisfying.
Firpo’s special qualities – his romantic sense of melody, the deep wailing melancholy of the violins – come to the fore in the instrumentals, with 9 de julio | Nueve de julio, A la luz del candil, Cotorrita de la suerte, La cumparsita, Entre tangos y champagne and Oí malevo all being stand-out tracks. That’s a lot of stand-out tracks – an excellent album, especially if you’re not familiar with the artist in this period.
Geek note: The title of Entre tangos y champagne is given incorrectly, with “tango” in the singular.
Published on both Spotify and Youtube:


Odeon’s OT series

Tango artists such as Alfredo Eusebio Gobbi and his wife Flora (the parents of Alfredo Gobbi) travelled to Paris to record in 1909, when the possibilities to make recordings in Argentina were very limited, but the export of tango music from Buenos Aires to Europe seems to have begun only in the 1920s. Recordings of Canaro’s típica began to be released in Paris in (we think) 1925, presumably to capitalise on his arrival in the City of Light. Odeon France released, for example, Francesita (matrix 1721, DNO 6958-A) c/w (coupled with) Griseta (mx: 2365/1, DNO 4026-A) on the disc 49.110 / 49.111 (the two sides had different numbers in those days).

Odéon 49 110 Francesita (6958-A) c/w 49 111 Griseta (4036-A). Images courtesy ‘gone fishing with friends’.

In 1926, Parlophone (a sister company of Odeon) released three discs in their premium ‘R’ (‘Royalty’) series. The first two featured Roberto Firpo, whilst the third was shared by Canaro and Maglio. These were acoustic recordings. The advertisement below appeared in the “Ladies’ Mirror” magazine in New Zealand in June 1926:

Ladies Mirror (New Zealand) June 1926, p48. Photo © National Libary of New Zealand

R3202 contained Humberto Canaro’s Alfredo, recorded in Bs As in 1924 and released there on DNO 4009-B.

The £ sign on the label represents the letter ‘L’ and thus the name of the parent company, Lindstrom – not so strange when one considers that the pound sign itself comes from the latin ‘L’ for libra pondo, the basic unit of weight in the Roman Empire, which in turn was derived from the Latin word libra, meaning scales.

With the success of Canaro’s trip to Europe (1925-26) Odeon embarked on a series they called ‘Odeon Tango’ – OT for short – in 1927. This series was the tango version of their Odeon Dance recordings (‘OD’); the fact that OT also stands for ‘Orquesta Típica’ is just a happy coincidence: not all the releases are tangos. These discs were printed in London, in the Netherlands, and even in Switzerland, and issued on the Parlophone and Odeon labels. All the discs present electrical recordings. Parlophone included either the matrix number or the Argentine disc number on the records, sometimes both. As far as we can tell, 191 records were issued and many remained in the catalogue for many years.

OT 117 (Dutch pressing) La cumparsita – photo courtesy Serjan Pruis. The Argentine disc number (4262) appears on the label, whilst the matrix number is scratched into the wax in the run-off area.

At the same time, Odeon made their own issues on the continent (France, Spain, Germany and Italy) with their own couplings. In France for example 238 084 presented Zaraza c/w Margaritas, neither of which appears in the OT series. Particularly interesting on this disc is evidence of an Odeon Europe internal reference number with the prefix ‘Bao’: Zaraza is Bao 1209, and Margaritas is Bao 1198. These numbers never appeared on OT series discs but we know that e.g. Alma del bandoneón (OT 133) was Bao 1678. Another example is a Spanish release, 182.152 which presented Retintin c/w Derecho viejo (the same coupling as DNO 4282 in Argentina). Retintin is listed as B.A.621, and Derecho viejo as B.A.620.

Finally, not all the Odeon Tango recordings were tangos. (OT 141) presented a pair of pasodobles by Roberto Firpo. At least one of these was released by Columbia in Japan.

Cat# Artist Title Matrix Cross reference Date Composer
OT 101 Francisco Canaro Angustia 293-1 4251-A 10/1/1927 Horacio Pettorossi
OT 101 Francisco Canaro Milonga con variación 747 4303-A 13/5/1927 Francisco Canaro
OT 102 Francisco Canaro Canaro en Paris 799 4299-B 23/5/1927 Juan Caldarella – Alejandro Scarpino
OT 102 Francisco Canaro Río de oro 1107-1 4353-A 16/8/1927 Lucio Demare
OT 103 Francisco Canaro Arrabalero 712 4301-A 5/5/1927 Osvaldo Fresedo
OT 103 Francisco Canaro Rezongos 713 4301-B 5/5/1927 José María Rizzutti
OT 104 Francisco Canaro Barrio reo 519 4285-A 23/3/1927 Roberto Fugazot – Alfredo Navarrine
OT 104 Francisco Canaro Araca, corazón 489 4268-A 17/3/1927 Enrique Delfino
OT 105 Francisco Canaro Caído del cielo 1269 4352-A 3/9/1927 Pedro Polito – Antonio Polito
OT 105 Francisco Canaro Queja Indiana 1303 4352-B 13/9/1927 Juan Rodriguez – Juan Miguel Velich
OT 106 Francisco Canaro Noche de Reyes 1289 4355-A 07/09/1927 Pedro Maffia – Jorge Curri
OT 106 Francisco Canaro Un tropezón 674 4289-A 27/4/1927 Raúl Joaquin de los Hoyos
OT 107 Francisco Canaro Federación 469-1 4266-A 12/3/1927 Francisco Canaro & Luis Riccardi – Juan Andrés Caruso
OT 107 Francisco Canaro Tiempos viejos 833 4311-A 30/5/1927 Francisco Canaro
OT 108 Francisco Canaro Marcelo 538 4275-A 30/3/1927 Edgardo Donato – Carlos Warren
OT 108 Francisco Canaro Sangre azul 1153-1 [*] 4351-A 20/9/1927 [*] Fioravanti Di Cicco
OT 109 Francisco Canaro Saturnia 1284 4344-A 7/9/1927 Juan de Dios Filiberto
OT 109 Francisco Canaro Copetin, vos sos mi hermano 1271 4373-B 3/9/1927 Andrés Domenech – Diego Flores
OT 110 Francisco Canaro En Silencio 1286 4354-B 7/9/1927 Raúl Courau
OT 110 Francisco Canaro Se acabaron los otarios 468/? 4267-A 11/3/1927 Francisco Canaro – Juan Caruso
OT 111 Francisco Canaro Puentecito del Plata * 844/1 [*] 4319-A 15/6/1927 [*] Francisco Canaro – Pascual Contursi
OT 111 Francisco Canaro Retirao 971 4326-A 23/6/1927 Carlos Posadas
OT 112 Francisco Canaro Bells of Hawaii 4843 4610-A
(Bao 1263)
11/8/1929 William Heagney
OT 112 Francisco Canaro Nelly 3135 4463-A
(Bao 1113)
10-09-1928 Héctor Bates – Luis Bates
OT 113 Francisco Canaro Don Juan 4431-1 4569 8/1/1929 Ernesto Ponzio
OT 113 Francisco Canaro La morocha 4403 4569-B 24/7/1929 Enrique Saborido – Angel Villoldo
OT 114 Francisco Canaro Chanta cuatro 2620 4436-B 12/5/1928 Enrique Domingo Cadícamo
OT 114 Francisco Canaro Yira, yira 6007 [*] 4674-A 9/4/1930 Enrique Santos Discépolo
OT 115 Francisco Canaro La brisa 4255-1 4552-B 19/6/1929 Francisco Canaro & Juan Canaro – Juan Caruso
OT 115 Francisco Canaro Llevatelo todo 2221 4436-A 12/5//1928 Rodolfo Pascual Sciammarella
OT 116 Francisco Canaro Adiós muchachos 1967 4400-B 3/1/1928 Julio Sanders
OT 116 Francisco Canaro Prisionero 4570/1 [*] Odeon 4578-A 11/9/1929 Anselmo Aieta – Francisco García Jiménez
OT 117 Francisco Canaro La cumparsita 379/2 4262-B 17/4/1929 Gerardo Matos Rodríguez
OT 117 Francisco Canaro Esta noche me emborracho 2350 4420-A 4/3/1928 Enrique Santos Discépolo
OT 118 Francisco Canaro Pensalo bien 4740 4590-A 23/10/1929 Alberto Calvera – Enrique Lopez
OT 118 Francisco Canaro Rancho embrujao 4797 [*] 4594-A 2/11/1929 Raúl Courau
OT 119 Francisco Lomuto Como los nardos en flor 5424 7844-B 15/04/1930 Mario & Teófilo Léspes
OT 119 Francisco Lomuto En la tranquera 5220 7842 3/10/1930 Francisco Lomuto – Pancho Laguna
OT 120 Francisco Canaro Comadre 4337-2 [*] 4560-A 14/8/1929 Juan de Dios Filiberto – Celedonio Esteban Flores
OT 120 Francisco Canaro Te amo y seras mia 5441 4639-A 21/4/1930 Alfredo Marengo – José Zatzkin
OT 121 Francisco Canaro I Don´t Know Why I Love You (Yo no se porque te quiero) 7693 4892-A 4/5/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 121 Francisco Canaro My Little Black-Haired Baby (Negrita de mi alma) 7684 4895-A 28/4/1934 César De Pardo/José Francisco García
OT 122 Francisco Canaro Milonga 7610 4883-B 11/12/1933 José María Rizzuti – Santiago Giordano
OT 122 Francisco Canaro Puerto Nuevo 7611 4882-B 11/12/1929 Teófilo Lespés – Carlos Pesce
OT 123 Francisco Canaro No quiero verlo mas 7624 4885-B 29/01/1934 Rodolfo Sciammarella
OT 123 Francisco Canaro Que haces, Que haces ? 7592 4878-B 13/11/1929 José di Clemente – Jesús Fernandéz Blanco
OT 124 Francisco Canaro Si soy así 7494/1 [*] 4864-A 17/8/1933 Francisco Lomuto – Antonio Botta
OT 124 Francisco Canaro Sufro 7514 4880-B 10/9/1933 Luis Canaro – Jesús Fernandéz Blanco
OT 125 Francisco Canaro Amigaso 993 4327-A 7/7/1927 Juan de Dios Filiberto
OT 125 Francisco Canaro Clavelito 453 4267-B 10/3/1927 Juan Canaro
OT 126 Francisco Canaro Tango Of The "Mula" (El tango de la mula) 7692 4894-A 4/5/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 126 Francisco Canaro A Garden of Illusion (Un jardín de ilusión) 7695 4893-A 4/5/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 127 Francisco Canaro Churrasca 7734 4899-A 7/6/1934 Francisco Lomuto – Pancho Laguna
OT 127 Francisco Canaro Mi Buenos Aires querido 7822 4909-A 19/9/1930 Carlos Gardel – Alfredo La Pera
OT 128 Francisco Canaro Mi musa campera 7879 4911-B 31/10//1930 Irusta – Fugazot – Demare
OT 128 Francisco Canaro Madrecita de Pompeya 7864 4916-A 20/10/1930 José Martinéz – Francisco Laino
OT 129 Francisco Canaro Aparcero 7738 4901-A 12/6/1934 Anselmo Aieta – Antonio Radicci
OT 129 Francisco Canaro Cuesta abajo 7821 4908-A 19/9/1934 Carlos Gardel – Alfredo La Pera
OT 130 Roberto Firpo El adiós del boyero 7964 3084-B 11/12/1934 Jaime Vila – José Perrusine Fernández
OT 130 Roberto Firpo Buscando millonaria 8006 3075-A 17/12/1934 José Riestra
OT 131 Francisco Canaro Charamusca 7930 4923-A 21/11/1934 Francisco Canaro
OT 131 Francisco Canaro Soy cantor 7935 4926-A 23/11/1934 Francisco Pracánico – Alfonso Ferrari Amores
OT 132 Francisco Canaro Poncho de dolor 7937 4927-A 23/11/1934 Rafael Rossi – Francisco Gorindo
OT 132 Francisco Canaro Sibidos de un vago 7948 4924-A 30/11/1934 Héctor Gerard Cruz – Arsenio Mármol
OT 133 Francisco Canaro No hay que hacerse mala sangre 8028-1 [*] 4931-A 20/3/1935 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 133 Francisco Canaro Alma del bandoneón 8029 4933-A (Bao 1678) 20/3/1935 Enrique Santos Discépolo – Luis César Amadori
OT 134 Roberto Firpo La bordadora 8032 3080-A 22/3/1935 Roberto Firpo – Venancio Clauso
OT 134 Roberto Firpo La tortuguita 8034 3080 22/3/1935 Roberto Firpo – Fernandez
OT 135 Francisco Canaro El pescante 7735 4900-A 7/6/1934 Sebastián Piana – Homero Manzi
OT 135 Francisco Canaro La canción de la ribera 7788 4907-B 1/8/1934 Miguel Bonano – Alfredo Bigeschi
OT 136 Francisco Canaro Tangón (Nueva Danza) 8289/? 4954-A 21/8/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 136 Francisco Canaro La copla porteña 8292 4955-B 21/8/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 137 Francisco Canaro Aunque no lo crean 8285 4953-A 16/8/1934 Francisco Canaro
OT 137 Francisco Canaro Casas viejas 8286 4952-A 16/8/1934 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 138 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña Re-Fa-Si 8380 6452
(Bao 1879)
1935 Enrique Delfino
OT 138 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña Responso malevo 8225 6452 10/07/1935 Juan Polito
OT 139 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña Clavel del aire 8228 Juan de Dios Filiberto
OT 139 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña Estampa 8382 Ramón Gutiérrez del Barrio
OT 140 Roberto Firpo La carcajada 8354 3097 04/10/1935 Roberto Firpo
OT 140 Roberto Firpo Bella española 8356 3097 04/10/1935
OT 141 Roberto Firpo Por mi morena (pasodoble) 8244 3086 24/07/1935 Herrera
OT 141 Roberto Firpo Curro en el oro (pasodoble) 8258 3089 31/07/1935 Herrera
OT 142 Roberto Firpo La cucaracha 7858 3067-A 10/10/1934 Juan y D’Lorah
OT 142 Roberto Firpo A media Luz 7859 3067-B 19-10-1934 Donato – Lenzi
OT 143 Francisco Canaro Canaro 8209 4980-B 18/06/1935 José Martínez
OT 143 Francisco Canaro Horizontes 8398 4966-A 22/10/1935 Charlo – Homero Manzi
OT 144 Francisco Canaro El internado 8419 4964-B 8/11/1935 Francisco Canaro
OT 144 Francisco Canaro Juntando amores 8447 4971-A 3/12/1935 María Isolina Godard
OT 145 Francisco Canaro Donde ? 8449 4968-A 3/12/1935 Irusta – Fugazot – Demare
OT 145 Francisco Canaro Yo también soñé 8475/? 4975-A Francisco Canaro – Luis César Amadori
OT 146 Francisco Canaro Canillita 8512 4979-B 31/3/1936 Francisco Canaro
OT 146 Francisco Canaro Las doce menos cinco 8530 4982-B 3/4/1936 Agustín Bardi – Luis Bates
OT 147 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña Botines viejos 7293 5300-A (OD 102) 1932 Juan de Dios Filiberto – Alberto Vaccarezza
OT 147 Juan de Dios Filiberto y su Orquesta Porteña El pañuelito 7923 5300-A (OD 102) 1934 Juan de Dios Filiberto
OT 148 Francisco Canaro El caburé 8538 4983-B 13/4/1936 Arturo de Bassi
OT 148 Francisco Canaro Envidia 8720 4999-A 26/8/1936 Francisco Canaro – José Gonzalez Castillo – Luis Amadori
OT 149 Francisco Canaro Qué le importa al mundo 8722 5002-A 26/8/1936 Francisco Canaro – José González Castillo – Antonio Botta – Luis Amadori
OT 149 Francisco Canaro Como te quiero 8732 5000-A 1/9/1936 Francisco Canaro – J. Castillo – A. Botta – L. Amadori
OT 150 Francisco Canaro El porteño 8733 4998-A 1/9/1936 Francisco Canaro – J. Castillo – A. Botta – L. Amadori
OT 150 Francisco Canaro Como las flores 8573 4984-B 12/5/1936 Mario Canaro – Luis Amadori
OT 151 Roberto Firpo Loco lindo 8645 3112-A 18/7/1936 Carlos Di Sarli – Conrado Nalé Roxlo
OT 151 Roberto Firpo Arrepentido 8750 3114-B 18/9/1936 Rodolfo Sciammarella
OT 152 Francisco Canaro El que a hierro mata 8341 4956-A 30/9/1935 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 152 Francisco Canaro Siempre unidos 8783 5005-B 6/10/1936 Alberto Soifer – Manuel Romero
OT 153 Francisco Canaro Todo es cuestion de suerte 8813 5011-A 25/10/1936 Enrique Delfino – Tabanillo
OT 153 Francisco Canaro Que nadie se entere 8910 5020-A 23/2/1937 Alberto Goméz
OT 154 Francisco Canaro Novia 8985 5023-B 26/4/1936 Francisco Rofrano – Francisco Gorrindo
OT 154 Francisco Canaro Desconfiale 8967 5024-B 19/4/1937 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 155 Francisco Canaro Desencanto 8908 5017-A 23/2/1937 Enrique Santos Discépolo – Luis Amadori
OT 155 Francisco Canaro Milagro 8900 5019 19/2/1937 Luis Rubistein
OT 156 Francisco Canaro Resentimiento 8942 5026-A 10/4/1937 Francisco Canaro
OT 156 Francisco Canaro El buey solo 8335 4957-B 27/9/1935 Agustin Bardi
OT 157 Francisco Canaro Se lo llevaron 9114 5035-A 20/7/1933 Agustin Bardi
OT 157 Francisco Canaro La puñalada 9106 5038-A 12/07/1937 Pintín Castellanos
OT 158 Roberto Firpo El llorón 8863 3500-A 19/12/1936 Juan Maglio
OT 158 Roberto Firpo La trilla 8865 3501 19/12/1936 Eduardo Arolas
OT 159 Francisco Canaro Cariño gaucho 8822 5014 18/11/1936 Francisco Canaro – Lucio Demaré – Claudio Martinez Payvo
OT 159 Francisco Canaro Milonguita 8828 5013-B 20/11/1936 Enrique Pedro Delfino – Samuel Linnig
OT 160 Francisco Canaro Pura milonga 9138 5041-A 10/8/1937 José Pécora
OT 160 Francisco Canaro Mal de ausencia 8943 5025-B 10/4/1937 Francisco Canaro – Ivo Pelay
OT 161 Francisco Canaro Condena 9204 5056-A 8/11/1937 Enrique Santos Discépolo – Francisco Pracánico
OT 161 Francisco Canaro Viejos tiempos 9169 5050-A 28/09/1937 Carlos Gardel – Alfredo le Pera
OT 162 Don Pancho y su Quinteto Argentino Los tiempos cambian 9214 4102-B 15/11/1937 Pascual Biafore
OT 162 Don Pancho y su Quinteto Argentino El choclo 9216 4103-A 15/11/1937 Angel Villoldo
OT 163 Francisco Canaro Recuerdos de París 9218 5055-B 16/11/1937 Mario Canaro – Carmelo Santiago
OT 163 Francisco Canaro Rincón florido 9206 5057-B 8/11/1938 Zaira Canicoba – Óscar Lomuto
OT 164 Roberto Firpo El apronte 8935 3503-B 27/03/1937 Roberto Firpo
OT 164 Roberto Firpo Homero 8801 3115-B 1/12/1936 Roberto Firpo
OT 165 Francisco Canaro Paciencia 9316 5059-A 3/3/1938 Juan D’Arienzo – Francisco Gorrindo
OT 165 Francisco Canaro El adiós 9317 5059-B 3/3/1938 Maruja Pacheco Huergo – Virgilio San Clemente
OT 166 Francisco Canaro Cuando el corazón 9318 5060-A 3/3/1938 Francisco Canaro – Carmelo Santiago
OT 166 Francisco Canaro La melodia de nuestro adiós 9319 5060-B 3/3/1938 Fioravanti di Cicco
OT 167 Francisco Canaro Indiferencia 9373 5066-A 21/4/1938 Rodolfo Biagi – Juan Carlos Thorry
OT 167 Francisco Canaro Pampa 9348 5064-A 24/3/1938 Francisco Prácanico
OT 168 Francisco Canaro Lorenzo 9346 5063-A 24/3/1938 Agustin Bardi
OT 168 Francisco Canaro Retintín 9347 5063-B 24/3/1938 Eduardo Arolas
OT 169 Francisco Canaro Adiós muchachos 9461 5065 6/20/6/1938 Julio César Sanders – César Vedani
OT 169 Francisco Canaro Pura parada 9460 5073-B 20/6/1938 Juan Francisco Noli
OT 170 Francisco Canaro La maleva 9511 5075-A 14/7/1938 Antonio Buglione
OT 170 Francisco Canaro Vieja amiga 9647 5080-A 7/10/1938 Pedro Blanco Laurenz
OT 171 Francisco Canaro Frio 9534-? 5076-A 26/7/1938 Joaquín Mora – José María Contursi
OT 171 Francisco Canaro Nada más 9596 5078-A 22/8/1938 Juan D’Arienzo – Luis Rubistein
OT 172 Francisco Canaro Ciertos amores 9650-? 5089-B 7/10/1938 Rafael Canaro
OT 172 Francisco Canaro Desprecio 9649 5083 7/10/1938 Ricardo Tanturi – Francisco García Jiménez
OT 173 Francisco Canaro Olvidame 9718 5085-B 18/11/1938 Miguel Bucino
OT 173 Francisco Canaro Callecita de mi novia 9717 5090 18/11/1938 Francisco Lomuto – Antonio Botta
OT 174 Francisco Canaro Sangre de suburbio 9719 5092-A 18/11/1938 Héctor Palacios – Iván Diéz
OT 174 Francisco Canaro Quebranto 9720 5086-B 18/11/1938 Ateo Dapiaggi – Francisco Antonio Lío
OT 175 Francisco Canaro Yo sere como tú quieras 9726 5087-A 25/11/1938 Héctor Lomuto
OT 175 Francisco Canaro Suplicio 9747 5091-A 3/12/1938 Carlos Viván – Francisco Bohigas
OT 176 Francisco Canaro Mano a mano 9756 5088-A 13/12/1938 Carlos Gardel – José Razzano – Celedonio Flores
OT 176 Francisco Canaro Por vos yo me rompo todo 9814 5093-A 27-02-1939 Francisco Canaro
OT 177 Francisco Canaro Mala suerte 9815 5094-A 27/02/1939 Francisco Lomuto – Francisco Gorrindo
OT 177 Francisco Canaro Donde andará 9816 5094-B 27/02/1939 Juan Canaro – Carlos Pesce
OT 178 Francisco Canaro Tormenta 9838 5096-A 28/03/1939 Enrique Santos Discépolo
OT 178 Francisco Canaro Vanidad 9840 5097 28/03/1939 Gerardo Matos Rodríguez
OT 179 Francisco Canaro Lo pasao pasa 9851 5099-B 29/03/1939 Miguel Bucino
OT 179 Francisco Canaro Qué importa! 9841 5102-B 28/03/1939 Ricardo Tanturi – Juan Carlos Thorry
OT 180 Francisco Canaro Quiero verte una vez más 9890 5098-B 13/04/1939 Mario Canaro
OT 180 Francisco Canaro Mas allá 9918 5104-A 04/05/1939 Joaquín Mora – José María Contursi
OT 181 Francisco Canaro Te quiero todavía 9919 5100-A 04/05/1939 José Ranieri – Mario Gomila
OT 181 Francisco Canaro Atardecer 9921 5105-A 04/05/1939 Luis & Germán Teisseire
OT 182 Francisco Canaro Al subir al bajar 9943 5106-B 19/05/1939 Alberto Suaréz Villanueva – Enrique Cadícamo
OT 182 Francisco Canaro Y no puede ser 9852 5108-A 30/05/1939 Aníbal Troilo – José María Contursi
OT 183 Francisco Canaro Mosterio ! 10073 5111-A 11/09/1939 Alberto Gambino – Alí Salem de Baraja
OT 183 Francisco Canaro Que es lo que tiene la Bahiana 10071 5114-B 10/09/1939 Dorival Caymmi
OT 184 Francisco Canaro Abandonada 10070 5110-A 11/09/1939 Francisco Canaro – Manuel Romero
OT 184 Francisco Canaro Amor, salud y dinero (Salud dinero y amor) [2] 10074 5111-A 11/09/1939 Rodolfo Sciammarella
OT 185 Francisco Canaro Noches de Buenos Aires 8083 4937-A 23/04/1935 Alberto Soifer – Manuel Romero
OT 185 Francisco Canaro Ojos negros que fascinan 8090 4939 25/04/1935 Manuel Salína – Florián Rey
OT 186 Francisco Canaro Llanto 10484 5135-B 20/05/1940 Pedro Maffia – Homero Manzi
OT 186 Francisco Canaro Milonga clasica 10416 5135-A 18/04/1940 Luis Riccardi
OT 187 Francisco Canaro Pájaro ciego 10493 5139-A 22/05/1940 Antonio Bonavena – Lito Bayardo
OT 187 Francisco Canaro Bandoneon de mis amores 10486 5138-A 20/05/1940 Federico Agustín Scorticati
OT 188 Orquesta Argentina Ricurita de mi alma 8859 1936 Julio Rosenberg – Alex
OT 188 Orquesta Argentina Alma de Bohemio 8860 1936 Roberto Firpo
OT 189 Francisco Canaro Sinfonía de arrabal 10181 5126-A 23/11/1939 Maruja Pacheco Huergo
OT 189 Francisco Canaro A quién le puede importar 10307 5127-A 26/1/1940 Mariano Mores – Enrique Cadícamo
OT 190 Francisco Canaro Un amor 10770 5141-A 14/10/1940 Mario Maurano – Alfredo Malerba – Luis Rubistein
OT 190 Francisco Canaro En un beso… la vida…! 10716/3 5141-B [*] 30/09/1940 Carlos Di Sarli – Héctor Marcó
OT 191 Francisco Canaro Martirio 10456 5133-A 9/5/1940 Enrique Santos Discépolo
OT 191 Francisco Canaro Melodía oriental 10477 5136-A 16/5/1940 Robert Zerrillo – Juan Carlos Howard – Enrique Cadícamo

[*] Regarding OT 176 Por vos… yo me rompo todo, the ‘dry’ matrix Take 1 was sent to England, whilst Take 2 (9814/1) was printed in Bs As on DNO 1.5093-A
[2] On OT-184, Salud, dinero y amor is the correct title, but the order of these three felicities was changed to accord better with European sensibilities.
[*] Regarding OT 190: alternate takes were sent to Europe for printing. For En un beso… la vida…! the ‘dry’ matrix 10716 was printed in Argentina, whilst take 4 (matrix 10716/3) was sent.
For Un amor, the ‘dry’ matrix 10770 was printed in Argentina, whilst take 3 (matrix 10716/2) was sent.

Back in the day, many record companies used to publish catalogues. Here is the Canaro listing from the Parlophone-Odeon catalogue of 1937-1938. You’ll observe that at this time the highest number released is OT-155.

This page was inspired by the page of Tyrone Settlemier and Robert Lachowitz. As that page seems to no longer be maintained I have produced a corrected table here. Thanks to Serjan Pruis for additional information. Matrix and disc numbers were checked against Christoph Lanner’s discography.

It’s easy to make mistakes in a big table like this. Seen any mistakes or omissions? Let us know.

Agua Florida: Florida Water

Many of you will have listened to the beautiful D’Agostino – Vargas tango Agua Florida, but what does that curious title mean? Florida is the adjective of flor, flower, so means ‘floral’ or ‘flowered’, but it has also given its name to things, such as the state of Florida in the US. Here it refers to an eau-de-cologne made from grain alcohol to which orange blossom was added, along with a mixture of spices. Agua de Florida was created in New York by the perfumer Robert Murray in 1808. The name took on additional significance when George Du Maurier (1834-1896) designed a label for Murray, who had been joined in 1935 by David Lannam. Du Maurier took his inspiration from a myth about the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León who was said to have discovered Florida in 1512 while searching for the Fountain of Youth (!). Murray & Lannam’s ‘Agua de Florida’ quickly became used not just as a cologne, but also as a household remedy; today it remains especially popular in Peru, where it has become part of the essential equipment of the nation’s shamans.
Around the turn of the Century – in tango’s very early days – Agua de Florida became popular in Argentina, where it was known as Agua florida (dropping the ‘de’).
In this tango, lyricist Fernando Silva Valdés (writing in 1928) wrote about how the smell of this perfume immediately transported one back to that time. D’Agostino-Vargas is the perfect artist to take us on this sentimental, nostalgic journey.

Agua Florida, vos eras criolla.

Te usaban las pobres violetas del fango
de peinados lisos, como agua’e laguna,
cuando se bailaba alegrando el tango
con un taconeo y una media luna.
Perfume del tiempo taura que pasó,
pues todo en la vida ha de ser así,
cuando las percantas mentían que no
mientras las enaguas decían que sí. [1]

sencillas y querendonas,
que al son de las acordeonas
bailaban un milongón.
que oliendo a Agua Florida
se metían en la vida
a punta de corazón.

Florida Water, you were Creole.

The poor “violets of the mud” used you
with hair as smooth as water from the lagoon,
when a happy tango was danced
with a click of the heels and a media luna [2].
Perfume of those lively days that have passed,
because everything in life has to be like that,
when the girls, lying, said no,
while their fluttering petticoats said yes.

simple and loving,
used to dance a milongón
to the sound of the accordions.
with the smell of Agua Florida
they launched themselves into their lives
with their hearts.

[1] – Vargas changes the lunfardo batían to decían
[2] – Media luna (crescent): a figure making a crescent shape upon the dance floor.

You can read more about Florida Water in a superb article by Sonia Bartol on her blog.

What’s all the fuss about pitch?

Over the past decade the tango community has become aware of the topic of musical pitch in the transfers, and even in the manufacture, of old records. In brief, if you turn the record more quickly, not only will the tempo (the number of beats per minute) rise, but the pitch will also. Turn the record more slowly, and the tempo and pitch both fall.

A 10″ diameter shellac record from 1934. This is Canaro’s “Un jardín de ilusión” but issued in Europe by Parlophone

In the ideal world, the old shellac 78rpm discs were recorded, manufactured and played back at exactly 78rpm (revolutions per minute) – okay, actually 77.92rpm if we want to be precise. This was achieved through the use of a special motor locked to the 50Hz frequency of the mains electricity supply. In the real world things were more complicated. Various problems could affect the speed at which the physical master disc was recorded. Furthermore, when the record companies first made LP compilations of old tangos in the 1960s, they decided to speed them up a bit to make them sound more exciting, as well as adding reverberation and even echo (hey, it was the 60s!).

An example: Juan D’Arienzo’s Pensalo bien (1938)

In 1997 Sally Potter used the tango Pensalo bien for a memorable scene in her film “The Tango Lesson”. Here is what BMG (owners of RCA-Victor) presented us with, taken from the archives prepared for LP release in (I think) 1980 – long after the masters were destroyed. The sound sample has a piece of the introduction and then cuts to Echagüe’s voice:
This was all we knew and we danced to it with great pleasure. But imagine if you were a member of Akihito’s Baba “Club Tango Argentino” in 2001, when this dropped through your letter box:
Lower, slower, clearer, more detailed, there are so many differences it’s just ridiculous. But when we first became aware of the second version, many people (Argentines included) preferred the processed one. It was what they were used to, and sounded more exciting. Nearly twenty years later, we know better what to listen for and the first sample is plainly ‘wrong’ – much too fast and too high (about a semitone in fact): the second one is much more natural. Listen in particular to the timbre of Echagüe’s voice. In the first sample he sounds like he’s on helium; in the second, we hear the voice of a man, a creature of flesh-and-blood. As it turns out, even this version is still a little bit too quick. Here is what we think it should really sound like:
Can you notice that it’s a bit slower? (Don’t worry if you can’t). Does it make you feel different? For me, the strong D’Arienzo beat stands out even more strongly.

Wasn’t it criminal of the sound engineers at RCA-Victor to butcher the track the way they did? Yes it was; but it turns out that raising the pitch is an idea with a long and glorious tradition going back hundreds of years, as we shall see in a moment.

Pitch correction

If I know what the correct pitch is then with the correct equipment I can simply turn the record faster or slower to produce a sound that represents the tempo and pitch of the performance. In the early days record players actually had a speed control to achieve this. Here is a photograph of the speed control of a “Victrola” made by the Victor Company in 1905. At this very early time the speed of a shellac record could be anywhere between 60 and 90 rpm, but Victor persisted with speed control into the 1920s, long after the world had largely standardised at 78rpm.

Speed control on 1905 Victrola.
Image courtesy www.victor-victrola.com

How do we know what the correct speed is? Concert pitch is A = 440Hz, right (where A refers to the A above ‘Middle C’)? So surely we just measure the frequency of the notes, work out the deviation from concert pitch, and apply a correction? Well, yes, but… are you sure that tango orchestras played at Concert Pitch? And are you sure that concert pitch is 440Hz? It may be today, but it was not always so.

A Brief History of Pitch

Until the 16th century there was no way to even measure pitch because there was no way of measuring time with sufficient accuracy (pitch, or frequency, is cycles per second, so to measure pitch one has to be able to measure a very short time interval). Even in the 18th century there was no standard pitch. Pitch varied not just from country to country, but from region to region and even from village to village. In practice, the pitch “standard” was the organ in the village church. This was hard to re-tune (you had to bash the ends of the organ pipes around with a hammer), so everyone else tuned to the organ. And how much did pitch vary? People playing baroque music on period instruments today tune to 415Hz, but this is a rough average for the period. Mozart’s piano builder (Johann Andreas Stein) worked at 421.6Hz (we have his tuning fork), but at the time pitch varied wildly:

An English pitchpipe from 1720 plays the A above middle C at 380 Hz, while the organs played by Johann Sebastian Bach in Hamburg, Leipzig and Weimar were pitched at A=480 Hz, a difference of around four semitones. In other words, the ‘A’ produced by the 1720 pitchpipe would have been at the same frequency as the ‘F’ on one of Bach’s organs.

Whilst organs could be tuned anywhere without too many consequences, orchestras were not so adaptable. As we enter the 19th century, they were tuned around 424Hz. All this would change in Vienna in 1814.

Alexander’s Gift
The Congress of Vienna was convened to re-organise Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. This was a lavish event, the like of which is hard to imagine today. All of the major powers sent their most important statesman, and Tsar Alexander of Russia attended in person. For ten months, Vienna became the centre of the world. (BBC Radio, In Our Time: The Congress of Vienna).

During the congress Alexander presented the Austrian Army with a new set of musical instruments tuned to 440Hz – a great deal higher than what they had used before, making the music sound brighter. The difference was most to be heard in the string section, whose tighter strings generated more overtones and thus sounded more resonant. Like a musical trojan horse, the new sound was a hit, setting in motion a period of pitch inflation that lasted for the rest of the century.

Pitch wars
Symphony orchestras and in particular opera houses now competed to have the “brightest” sound. Verdi wrote his operas with a pitch of A=432 Hz in mind, but the pitch at La Scala in Milan reached the dizzy heights of 451 Hz. British orchestras played at 452.5Hz (fever pitch?).

Pitch inflation was brought to an end by the tenors who complained that they could no longer perform the arias without damaging their voices. The French standardised at 435 Hz in the mid 19th century, the so-called “Diapason Normal” (diapason is french for tuning fork) – elsewhere it was called French or Continental Pitch. Other nations slowly fell into line, with two important exceptions. In North America orchestras continued to play at 440 Hz, which had previously been popular in Germany, whilst the British now abandoned their former pitch of 452.5 Hz for a new “Low Pitch” of 439 Hz. Choosing 439 instead of 440 was not as crazy as it sounds because the competing standards were specified at different temperatures – French concert halls, apparently, were colder than British ones.

A strange exception
British Brass bands, both military and civilian, continued with the former “High Pitch” because it gave a brighter sound which suited the music. Whilst the military bands converted in 1927 – leading in some cases to the purchase of new instruments – the colliery bands in the north of England persisted with the former “High Pitch” into the 1960s (!), finally changing only because the old style instruments were no longer being manufactured. But this was exceptional: by the early 20th century, most people were playing at either 435 Hz or 440Hz.

Pitch of tango orchestras

After the first world war the world slowly converted to 440Hz but tango orchestras were a special case because of the bandoneons. Like the organ which it was originally designed to replace, the bandoneon could not be tuned by the player, but only by a specialist. Bandoneons were manufactured at a pitch of 435Hz, and tango orchestras therefore played at that pitch.

The bandoneón: 71 buttons, 142 notes – not something you re-tune before a gig.

First to change to 440Hz was Fresedo, in 1934. Fresedo had already been twice to the United States, but the real influence on him now was the massively popular jazz band of Paul Whiteman which toured South America regularly. Following Whiteman, Fresedo now decided to incorporate the vibraphone into his ensemble. As Camilo Gatica points out, this was an American instrument with a fixed tuning of 440Hz. The band therefore had to tune to the vibraphone, which meant re-tuning the bandoneons. This is a drastic measure, both labour intensive and, to all intents and purposes, irreversible. The metal reeds are filed down by hand – for all 142 notes. Jens-Ingo Brodesser tells us that this change can be detected on Fresedo’s 1930s Victor recordings. As best as he can tell, the January 1934 session was recorded at 435 Hz, and the next one in April (i.e. after carnival, just as with D’Arienzo’s band) at 440 Hz.

How significant is this change in pitch? After all, it’s much less than a semitone (the interval between two notes) – the first two samples above of Pensalo bien are about a semitone apart. Instrument tuners divide a semitone into 100 cents; the change from 435 Hz to 440Hz is only 20 cents: a fifth of a semitone. No big deal, right?
Decide for yourself by listening to the third sample above, which is corrected from 440Hz to 435Hz. Most people can detect a shift of 10cents with a bit of practice and so can hear the difference, and a three minute tango recorded at 435Hz but sped up to the new standard will be two seconds shorter. And it’s this difference in pace which is the most significant. D’Arienzo in the years 1935-1938, correctly pitched at 435Hz, is not as fast as we thought it was.

1939: 440Hz becomes the standard – sort-of
In May 1939 an international conference in London recommended a tuning of 440Hz. Although it seems that at least some bandoneon manufacturers continued at 435Hz, the tango orchestras had already decided to retune – we still don’t know why, but clearly this decision was in tune (as it were) with the zeitgeist. Analysis of the D’Arienzo transfers of CTA by Frank Jin has established that the D’Arienzo orchestra recorded its last session at 435Hz on 3rd March 1939, waxing the milonga Meta fierro and the tango Dos guitas. The next session of 18th April was recorded at 440Hz. These dates would be consistent with the orchestra recording one session immediately after carnival (which took place in Feburary), with the bandoneons then being sent to the tuners whilst the band took its customary post-carnival break – the only holiday of the year for a working tango orchestra.
From this moment on the instrument importers now re-tuned the instruments from 435Hz to 440Hz when they arrived from Germany, before the instruments went on sale. The most famous and important manufacturer was Alfred Arnold (AA) and their exclusive importer in Buenos Aires was Casa America. Whilst AA would switch to 440Hz, the outbreak of the Second World War brought an end to the export of musical instruments by the end of 1941. Production ceased altogether in 1942 when the factory was converted to war production (I once read that it made diesel pumps); very few instruments were actually manufactured at 440Hz. Production did eventually re-start after the war but the Argentine market rejected the new instruments, finding their quality inadequate.

Working on bandoneón reeds – photo Hanna White, courtesy Christoph Pass

The situation was complicated by the record companies, Victor and Odeon. Musicians brought their own instruments to recordings with one important exception: the piano. All the bands had to use the piano in the studio and this could not be constantly retuned between sessions: since Fresedo must have used a different piano to the other bands recording at Victor in the years 1934-1939, he must have used a different studio as well.

But whilst most bands retuned in 1939, research by Jens-Ingo Brodesser has established that recordings made at Odeon remained at 435Hz until the end of 1943, almost four years later. Possibly this was due to their use of Bechstein grand pianos, imported from Germany in 1938 (proudly advertised on the labels of, for example, Demare’s 1938 recordings): one British pianist noted that the 1921 Bechstein Model B piano she inherited was a quarter of a tone lower than modern concert pitch. When Laurenz changed from Victor to Odeon in the middle of 1943 he had to switch back from 440Hz to 435Hz. For this purpose one suspects he used a second bandoneon.

So, from 1944 onwards all the orchestras played at 440Hz, right? Well, yes, but… Pick up a bandoneón in Argentina today and you’ll find that it is tuned to a higher pitch, somewhere between 442Hz and 445Hz. What happened?!?!

Afinación brillante: “brilliant pitch”
In the 1950s tango suffered its own episode of pitch inflation. The new pitch was referred to as afinación brillante – “brilliant pitch”. As we know, an increase in pitch makes music sound more exciting. However, there was a problem: raising the pitch of a bandoneon requires removing material from the reeds. Prior to this, the pitch stability of AA’s reed plates had been legendary: no matter how hard one blew the reeds, the pitch remained the same. However as the reeds were tuned higher and lost mass, they also lost stability: when blown really hard (i.e. played loud), the pitch would drop. (Years later, Astor Piazzolla would consciously exploit this as an expressive technique). This drop in pitch meant that the bandoneon had to be tuned slightly higher than the piano. Héctor del Curto, who played with the Pugliese orchestra, informs me that the Pugliese orchestra played with the piano at 441Hz, with the bandoneons tuned just a touch higher (between 441 Hz and 442 Hz). However, other orchestras went higher. Carlos Lázzari told his nephew Facundo Lázzari that the D’Arienzo orchestra tuned at 442Hz, and I’ve read that some orchestras went even higher. Whilst 435Hz and 440Hz were “standards” for the típicas, afinación brillante is not actually a standard.
When did this change take place exactly? We don’t know. Elvino Vardaro’s nephew Osvaldo tells us the Di Sarli orchestra retuned in 1956, the year in which he joined the orchestra.

Concert pitch today – standardised?
Concert pitch is still not absolutely standardised today. Yes, most orchestras play at 440Hz, but there are exceptions, and these include many of the most famous orchestras. The New York Philharmonic plays at 442Hz, and the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics at 443Hz.

Many people in the world of opera believe that today’s Concert Pitch of 440Hz is still too high, changing the “colour” of the voices. In 1988-1989, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Birgit Nillson and Renata Tebaldi petitioned the Italian government to return to the pitch of Verdi’s time, 432 Hz. This movement is viewed suspiciously because it has some dubious supporters, but the arguments are compelling. I cannot believe, said Tebaldi, that Italy, which gave to the world great voices, can no longer produce [them]… If we went back to the correct tuning, I am sure that we could return the Italian opera to its Golden Age.

Second Postscript: Pitch Inflation in Modern Pop Music
In the 1970s record producers starting using the Varispeed function on their tape machines to speed up the performance of a pop song by 1 or 2%. This was typically done for the “radio single” version of a song.
In 1989, A&M sped up Janet Jackson’s Rhythm nation by 40 cents (A = 450Hz) with unexpected consequences. The frequency of the shifted note “E” in the bass line now coincided with the resonant frequency of a popular model of laptop hard drive, crashing laptops which played the song.

Many people helped with the information in this article. In addition to Jens-Ingo Brodesser, Frank Jin, and Camilo Gatica, I’d like to thank some people whom we dancers generally overlook, because we don’t know about them – the bandoneon restorers and tuners:

My apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone – just let me know.


  • By how much were 78s sped up when they were transferred to LPs in the 1960s?
    In my experience it was commonly around 2/3 of a semitone, but the topic is still being investigated.
  • You say that “various problems” could prevent the master record being produced at 78rpm. Such as?
    Instability in the mains frequency was one problem; another was the resistance given to the cutting head by the wax, which increases as one gets closer to the centre of the disc. Tanturi’s 1937 recording of A la luz del candil slows down by half a semitone from the beginning to the end of the disc. Don’t believe me?
    It’s crazy, isn’t it?! No-one noticed, and they printed it. So much for the quality control at Odeon.
  • You said that 77.92rpm was locked to the 50Hz mains electricity. What about in the US, which uses 60Hz?
    They used a different motor and gear ratio to produce 78.26 rpm, a negligible difference (0.4% – less than 1 cent).
  • What’s all this stuff on Youtube about 432Hz being a cosmic frequency?
    It’s nonsense. 432Hz is nicely divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 9, but so what? If you want a cosmic frequency, then it should be the one with Middle C = 256, this being an integer power of 2. This corresponds to A=430.54Hz. This is not a beautiful number, but even so I predict that it will become fashionable eventually.

José Bohr – so who was Eva?

José Bohr was the talented composer of the tango Cascabelito. Born in Bonn, Germany in 1901 as José Böhr, his father, a vet, took the family to Constantinople but they had to flee after an attack on the Sultan. The family settled in Punta Arenas, Chile, in 1904, and José came to Buenos Aires in 1921. He tasted success in 1924 when Cascabelito was picked up by Carlos Gardel, and Francisco Canaro recorded his novelty hit Tutenkhamon.
Bohr took Argentine citizenship in 1925 and then travelled to the United States, recording tangos on the Columbia label. In 1930 he appeared in his first Hollywood movie, Sombras de gloria, a Spanish language version of Blaze o’ Glory. He appeared in eight Hollywood movies, performing mostly in Spanish but sometimes in English, as for example in Rogue of The Rio Grande, in which he plays a Mexican bandit “El malo”.
Now an established star, at the beginning of the 1930s he moved to Mexico where he directed (and starred in) his own films. In 1942 he returned to Chile where he successfully continued his career as a film director. Finally In 1980 he left Chile and settled in Oslo, where he died in 1994. By any measure, it is an extraordinary life.

To anyone who wants to research his tango recordings (made in New York) a good place to start would be the CD published by CTA in Japan in 2008, CTA-615. However, a surprise is in store if one inspects the labels. They clearly read Eva Bohr & su Orquesta Criolla Argentina: Eva Bohr, and HER creole tango orchestra. You can listen to this La cumparsita on youtube, combining the presence of the guitar and fine solo work with a strong sense of dynamic.

Who then is Eva Bohr? She’s Jose’s Bohr’s wife. Born Eva Limiñana Salaverri in the province of Entre Ríos (Argentina) and raised in Chile, she studied piano first in Santiago and then in New York. A newspaper clipping from San Francisco in 1916 tells us that she has given recitals as a concert pianist and counts Busoni amongst her teachers.
José and Eva met after he heard her play the piano in New York.
Once the couple settled in Mexico, she wrote the scripts for her husband’s films. After they divorced in 1942 – the year he returned to Chile – she produced and directed one film without him. She died in Mexico City in 1953, aged 57.
In the Columbia tango recordings it’s almost certain that Eva Bohr is both the director and the pianist of the group. What was her husband’s role? We know that he was a good composer: was he also a talented musician? The answer to these questions is not clear. José Bohr had first found fame as a musical performer with the musical saw, which he had played in his novelty hit Tutenkhamon. He could sing – he is the vocalist on three numbers recorded with the Típica Victor in 1941, but his voice is nothing special. Judge for yourself in a short film recorded in Cuba in December 1928 in which he plays the piano and speaks in English. (Thanks to Hideto Nishimura (Panchito el japonés) for uploading it).

It would be easy to criticise the society of the 1920s for eliminating Eva Bohr from the history of tango. However, as we’ve seen, this would be a mistake: at the time Eva Bohr was acknowledged, recording under her own name. It was subsequent generations who preferred to acknowledge only her husband. By the time Baba-san compiled his CD in 2008, he assumed that Eva Bohr was a pseudonym. I’m happy to tell you that it was not.

Agarráte Catalina (Hold on, Catalina!)

The meaning of this curious Argentine expression, known also in Spain, is clear enough, but what is the origin? Type it into your search engine, and you’ll find the following story: Catalina was a trapeze artist in the circus in the 1940s. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother had already died in falls, but despite this she continued with her profession. Whenever she performed, the people shouted: Agarráte bien, Catalina! Hold on tight! However she died tragically in an accident at the age of 25. Some versions say that she did not fall from the trapeze, but was instead hit by the human cannonball. Clearly it’s an urban myth, the proof of which will be provided shortly, but one can find any number of Argentine websites circulating this story.
Others maintain that Catalina was a horse ridden by the famous Argentine jockey Ireneo Leguizamo (1903-1985), he of the tango Leguisamo solo. Apparently, he would whisper the phrase into the horse’s ear before each race. This seems a bit closer to the mark (but only a bit) because there is a fuller version of this phrase: Agarrate Catalina, que vamos a galopiar – Hold on tight, Catalina, we’re going to gallop. This version can be found in the magazine ‘Caras y Caretas’ as early as 1901, where the answer to a puzzle is given as: AGARRATE CATALINA, MOS A GALOPIAR (Caras y caretas 5/10/1901, nº 157, p64). In case you are wondering, the puzzle given in the previous issue is a simple drawing of a creole and his wife on horseback. In 1898 there was already a tango called Agarráte Catalina, which we can find in a story about an organ grinder in Issue 9 of ‘Caras y Caretas’ (3/12/1898).

So it’s a phrase about horse riding? Well, let’s see. The true story is given by Jorge Horacio Richino on his blog Biblio TK popular. Catalina is the name used in Spanish for the czarina Catherine the Great, who overthrew her (much older) husband Czar Peter III in 1762 in a coup d’état. Like Queen Elizabeth I in England, Catherine decided not to marry in order to hold on to her power, instead taking a succession of lovers.
Her enemies set about destroying her reputation by describing her as sexually voracious and morally degenerate. In Britain, political cartoons attacked Catherine for her expansionist policies. Others were more coarse. Her great rival, Frederick the Great of Prussia, said about her: “A woman is always a woman and, in feminine government, the cunt has more influence than a firm policy guided by straight reason.”

Catherine The Great – An Imperial Stride. As Catherine steps from Moscow to Constantinople, the other rulers look up her skirt and make lewd comments.

When she died in 1796, aged 67, a story spread in France that she had been crushed by a stallion whilst copulating with it. (In reality, she died from a stroke whilst writing a letter). This story has to be seen in the context of the French revolution. Rulers always depicted themselves on horseback, and this story is a way of satirising this trope.

The phrase Hold on Catherine, we’re going to gallop, is a crude sexual euphemism, a man telling a woman that they are going to have sex. It would have appeared in old pornographic magazines. I suppose it’s a good thing that this fact is not well known in South America, where Agarrate Catalina is today the name of a popular murga (carnival group) in Uruguay, founded in 2001.

Tango in Mexico: Mal hombre (Bad man)

Tango travelled throughout the Spanish speaking world, but the songs that became popular abroad were not always the same ones that were popular at home. A case in point are the tangos that became successful in Mexico, and across the border in Texas, which had a large Spanish speaking population. This region had its own musical culture known as música norteña, referring to the north of Mexico, whilst the nascent Spanish music scene in the south of Texas was called tejano. Certain tangos were incorporated into the local repertoire. For example, in 1934, the Mexican singer Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007), known locally as La Cancionera de los Pobres, The Poor People’s Songstress, was catapulted to fame by her recording for the American label Bluebird Records (a subsidiary label of RCA Victor) of Mal hombre, whose words she had learnt from a bubble gum wrapper. She now became the most famous woman in the region, earning two new epithets: La Alondra de la Frontera: The Meadowlark of the Borderlands, and La Reina Tejana: The Tejano Queen. She went on to make over a thousand recordings; in 1977, she sang at the inauguration of US President Jimmy Carter.

Lydia Mendoza, 20, records for RCA-Victor in San Antonio on Oct. 21, 1936.

Mal hombre is a sensational tango, completely altering our idea of the landscape presented by tango lyrics. The lyric is set, as so many are, in the Buenos Aires underworld. It’s a tale of the poor girl who leaves her barrio in search of a better life, and is ruined. But here’s the twist: instead of condemning the woman for her choices, the lyric tells the story from the woman’s point of view. She is seduced, abused – the lyric hints at a rape, and a life and death struggle – and cast aside.

Era yo una chiquilla todavía
cuando tú casualmente me encontraste
a merced a tus artes de mundano
de mi honra el perfuma te llevaste.
Luego hiciste conmigo lo que todos
los que son como tú con las mujeres
por lo tanto no extrañes que yo ahora
en tu cara te diga lo que eres

Mal hombre
tan ruin es tu alma que no tiene nombre
eres un canalla, eres un malvado
eres tú mal hombre

A mi triste destino abandonada
entable fiera lucha con la vida
ella recia y cruel me torturaba
yo más débil al fin cai vencida.
Tú supistes a tiempo mi derrota
mi espantoso calvario conociste
te dijeron algunos – Ve a salvarle
y probando quien eres te reíste.

Mal hombre,
tan ruin es tu alma que no tiene nombre,
eres un canalla, eres un malvado,
eres tú mal hombre.

Poco tiempo después en el arroyo
entre sombras mi vida defendía
una noche con otra tú pasaste
y al mirarme oí que te decía:
¿Quién es esa mujer? ¿Tú la conoces?
Y a la vez respondiste: Una cualquiera
al oír de tus labios adultraje
demostrabas también Lo que tú eras

Mal hombre,
tan ruin es tu alma que no tiene nombre,
eres un canalla, eres un malvado,
eres tú mal hombre.

I was but a young girl
when, by chance, you found me
and with your worldly charm
you crushed the flower of my innocence.
Then you treated me like all men
of your kind treat women,
so don’t be surprised now that when I tell you
to your face what you really are.

Bad man
your soul is so vile it has no name
you are despicable, you are evil,
you are a bad man.

Abandoned to a sad fate,
my life became a fierce struggle
suffering the harshness and cruelty of the world
I was weak and was defeated.
In time you learned of my downfall
how my life had become a road to hell.
Some people advised you, “You can help her,”
but being who you are, you just laughed.

Bad man
your soul is so vile it has no name
you are despicable, you are evil,
you are a bad man.

Shortly after in a gully
among shadows I defended my life.
One night you passed by with another woman
and on seeing me I heard her ask you:
Who is that woman? Do you know her?
And looking at me you answered: She’s a nobody
and when I heard adultery from your lips
you demonstrated again what you are.

Bad man
your soul is so vile it has no name
you are despicable, you are evil,
you are a bad man.

Who wrote Mal hombre – and when? On the labels of Lydia Mendoza’s records, it sometimes says: José Rodriguez. We don’t know who he is. The earliest known recording dates from 1926, when it was recorded on Victor by one Elisa Berumen in Los Angeles, California. In short: we don’t know really know who wrote this tango, or when, or how it made its way to North America. In 2011, after Mendoza’s death, the song was registered in her name at SADAIC.

How was it that this tango found such a market in North America, when it did not in South America? I can’t answer this entirely, but for a partial answer, consider where and how people listened to music. The people frequenting bars and cafés in Buenos Aires were mostly men: they did not want to listen to a tango like this. The other place that records were listened to was in the home, where women could hear them as well as men. In Mexico Lydia Mendoza played in restaurants, hotels and carpas (tent shows) – places where women could hear her music as well as men. The local culture seems to have been less Catholic and moralistic than it was in Argentina, and the song was permitted, despite – or perhaps even because of – the fact that there is a strong culture of violence against women in Mexico, something reflected in the lyric.

PS: A footnote for tango geeks: the version of this tango printed by Bluebird at RCA-Victor’s pressing plant in Camden, New Jersey, is pitched one semitone higher than the version printed in Mexico: conclusive proof that RCA Victor were deliberately manipulating the speed of records in 1934.

PPS: It turns out that this recording appears in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, in which Jeff Bridges plays a washed-up country & western musician in Santa Fe, New Mexico.