Sebastián Piana

Real name: Piana, Sebastián
Pianist, leader and composer
(26 November 1903 - 17 July 1994)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Horacio Ferrer

mong the artists of a very long career in our popular music he had stood out by the hyerarchy and the sustained inventiveness of his oeuvre as composer of amazing classics: it will suffice mentioning “Sobre el pucho”, “El pescante”, “Arco iris”, “Tinta roja” and “Milonga triste” to immediately appraise his talent, his heart of Buenos Aires man and the noble guarantee of his inspiration.

A figure of the Boedo school which tended to renew and improve the popular aesthetics around 1930, he shared with José González Castillo, Pedro Maffia, Homero Manzi and Cátulo Castillo the commitment to a movement that forced all the authors to selection and refinement. With Manzi, especially, he achieved what till then seemed to be impossible: finding a new path for an old genre known as milonga.

His output, as a whole, places him at the level of the major creators of our music. Son of a Piedmontese immigrant that at age eight arrived in Argentina in 1890. He was born in the neighborhood of Almagro on Bogado Street. He lived his childhood in Villa Crespo. His father, also named Sebastián, was a barber and musician. A friend of Adolfo Pugliese’s (Osvaldo’s dad) and Pedro Maffia’s, his father played piano, guitar and mandolin and was member of the primitive tango groups that played at the cafes La Paloma and Tontolín. His dad used to take him to those venues when he was a child.

He started to study violin with his uncle Pedro Bertolero —a very good composer but a mediocre teacher—, in 1910. As he did not like that instrument he quit music for two years until he chose piano and studied with Antonio D’Agostino. He graduated as piano teacher in 1920 and furthered his studies with maestro Ernesto Drangosch until the latter’s death.

From 1917, however, when he was a teenager he played piano as background for silent movies at theaters, at variety shows and in different orchestras that played fantasias and opera excerpts because his father wanted that he would become a complete musician.

At age 17 he composed his first tangos encouraged by the innovative conceptions of Agustín Bardi and Juan Carlos Cobián: “Sabor popular”, “La tapera” and “El hombre orquesta”. The first and the last of these titles were suggested by José González Castillo, a friend of his father’s, who would have an important role in his life; because of his recommendation he began to work as pianist at the Park cinema theater of the Glücksmann’s chain. He performed in this theater for several years.

With don José he composed “Sobre el pucho” in 1922. This tango was presented at the contest for pieces with lyrics organized by Tango Cigarettes. Among 136 contestants it was awarded the second prize after Filiberto’s “El ramito”. The former was immediately recorded by Gardel, his first great personal hit. He later released, with lyrics by Ribeiro, “Cachito de cielo”; and in 1923 in a new collaboration with González Castillo and with the latter’s son, Cátulo Castillo in the music, he offered “Silbando” which was premiered by Azucena Maizani in the revue Poker de Ases at the old Teatro San Martín. “Aguila Real” (dedicated to the aviator Claudio Mejía) was his next work. Soon later he teamed up with Pedro Maffia —who would later become his brother-in-law— to run a music academy on Salguero Street where his career as teacher began.

Precisely with Maffia he composed “Arco iris”, a tango awarded the second prize at the Glücksmann contests and recorded by Francisco Canaro. Thereafter he wrote in 1929, “Milonga clásica” —a tango for orchestra— and with Cátulo Castillo, the music for “El ciego del violín” with lyric by Homero Manzi which was premiered by Roberto Fugazot in “Patadas y Serenatas en el Barrio de las Latas” which finally would be entitled “Viejo ciego”.

With his collaboration with Manzi in 1931 another great hit was achieved: “Milonga sentimental”. It was followed by “Milonga del novecientos”, “Milonga triste”, “Juan Manuel”, “Milonga de los Fortines”, “Pena mulata”, “Milonga de Puente Alsina”, “Canción por la niña muerta” and the tangos “El pescante” and “De barro”.

He joined the Pedro Maffia Orchestra esporádicamente cuando la misma tenía dos pianos (el otro era Vicente Demarco) y dirigió el acompañamiento de Mercedes Simone hasta formar su orquesta típica Candombe, con la que grabó para RCA-Victor.

Linked to the Argentine motion pictures industry he wrote the music for the movies “Vidalita”, “Arrabalera”, “Derecho viejo” and “He nacido en Buenos Aires”, as well as the music for “La boina blanca”, a theatrical play by Goicoechea and Cordone while his tango repertory was again filled with splendor with other anthological pieces: “Tinta roja”, “Juan Tango” and “No aflojés”, and the waltz “Caserón de tejas”.

Professor at the Conservatorio Municipal Manuel de Falla and choir singing teacher in grade schools, he also composed “Misa de Gloria” (three-voice chorale) and “Escenas de Ballet”. Besides the aforementioned popular compositions he wrote, at different times of his career, the tangos “Recién pudo llorar”, “Trampa”, “Una aventura más”, “Loba de mar”, “Campanas de dolor”, “Estuviste bien, Pirulo”, “Misa rea”, “Princesa arrabalera”, “El misterioso soy yo”; “Dale, dale”, “Billetes” and “Son cosas del ayer”.

Excerpted from Libro del tango, by Horacio Ferrer, editorial Antonio Tersol, 1980, Spain.