Manuel Campoamor

Real name: Campoamor, Manuel Oscar
Pianist and composer
(7 November 1877 - 29 April 1941)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
Juan Silbido

e had the purpose of knowing the meaning of that O before his surname. We asked the widow of the composer about it and she kindly told us that he himself had never made it known; sharing his discretion she thought that such a reserve ought not to be altered. Although somewhat unsatisfied after our careful labor of research we accepted with respect such determination.

Campoamor was born on November 7, 1877 in the city of Montevideo (Uruguay). His father, a native of Asturias, was a cousin of the poet Ramón de Campoamor. Since his childhood, Manuel was based in Buenos Aires with his family. Due to a musical inclination he started to study piano by ear.

He was a skilful kite maker, kites that were later bought by his little friends, so he gathered savings that made possible for him buying a small study piano.

What is worth noting is that his command of the instrument turned out to be outstanding.

A part of his youth he lived in the heart of San Telmo, near Bolívar Street and Humberto I Street. Between 1893 and 1896 he worked as police telegrapher, in 1897 at the Dirección General de Correos y Telégrafos, later in the stock exchange. Lastly, since 1899 until 1904 in The Central and South American Telegraph Co. Such activities did not stop him from developing his musical vocation. He often worked as pianist in small outfits.

As Campoamor did not know how to write music, experts of the Breyer house under his supervision wrote a part of his works. Through that house he was hired as pianist to play music at private houses.

His close friends called him «El negro». Among them was Gabino Ezeiza, who on a certain occasion invited him to go to San Pedro, a city in the province of Buenos Aires. On the one hand, Gabino had to appear before an audience for three days accompanied by a local pianist whose musical capabilities were scarce, as it was evidenced since the first rehearsal. On the other hand, she was pregnant and about to give birth. They paid to her what had been agreed relieving her from performing and, of course, she gladly accepted it.

Gabino appeared accompanied on piano by Campoamor. The three days agreed at first became seven, for great pleasure of the audience that each evening crowded the cinema theater.

Next we quote La historia del tango (Héctor and Luis J. Bates). In it Campoamor states:

«I composed very few tangos. The first one, “Sargento Cabral”, was transcribed in 1899; 1900, “En el séptimo cielo”; 1901, “La c...ara de la l...una”, 1902, “La metralla”; 1903, “Muy de la garganta”; and the last one in 1905, “Mi capitán”.

«I didn't compose any more and don't even think of doing it; I neither have the enthusiasm nor the time to devote to that. Today the output is overwhelming and the number of composers is great. The present generation has adopted a different beat for tango, which is warmly welcome by the public; we, those who feel tango in quite a different way, have to withdraw to allow the new trends to express this new sensitivity». (Statements made to Héctor Bates on July 18, 1934)

Campoamor began at the Gath & Chaves house with a modest employment, reaching the rank of manager after 25 years' work at that enterprise.

Campoamor worked as pianist in the famous ballroom run by María «La Vasca», a house that can still be seen on Carlos Calvo Street at the corner of Jujuy Street. Data referring to the places where he played are very scarce.

According to what his wife recalls, he had a peaceful spirit and a sparkling humor. He was nearly always a man of few words and reluctant to give details of his labor when he performed as pianist at venues and public locals.

«He carried out an important recording work, accompanying Gabino Ezeiza, Higinio Cazón and Linda Thelma, among others.» (La historia del tango, by Héctor and Luis J. Bates.)

Our small record collection has been enriched with a remarkable disc: it is the tango “Sargento Cabral” played on piano by Campoamor. We often listen to these dynamic bars interpreted by the wonderful fingering of the composer. Gifted with an outstanding technique, we think that “Sargento Cabral” represents a good sample of yesterday tango, whose language the groove brings with jolly jingling.

Next we shall talk about another generous and honorable facet of his personality. We read on a periodical (Nueva Era appeared in 1922), a weekly paper about Argentine life: «The industry and commerce employees ask the government for a retirement law». Railway and streetcar workers already had one.

One of the promoters and principal organizer of the public act was interviewed. Manuel O. Campoamor, through whom the petitioners made public their aspirations: «All the workers in our country have right, after having worked a certain number of years, to a rest. The years of service shall be documented by means of certificates, whose validity shall be determined by judges. A determinate number of years in service will be established, but no fixed age to retire, because if it means a reward, granted when death is so near, aren't they skimping the benefit?»

Campoamor went on: «We are about three hundred thousand people and there is goodwill on the government side. We shall go on struggling to get a retirement. If we are unable to enjoy it, our children will achieve it. Not all the things in this life have to be approached in a selfish way. Someone shall harvest the fruit of our efforts».

He was really generous and edifying as this feature evidenced, with sincere joy we add it in this portrayal.

His wife told us that Campoamor, prior to their wedding, on October 29, 1922, had already quit music activity in public. The after-lunch hours at home were daily filled with his piano concertos. Campoamor on the keyboard improvised or created new pieces; on occasions, we can say, that reveries drove him back to the past: we heard “El choclo”, “La morocha” or “Sargento Cabral”. There was no day on which he did not sit at the piano. On occasions he played for an hour, generally two. His wife attentively listened to his intimate recital without missing a detail of it.

We can say, in addition, that Campoamor was a skilful chess player, he was highly pleased to play with his friends, on occasions until the wee small hours of the morning.

We mentioned some of the activities he carried out, to which we shall add the following: auctioneer, head of advertising at the daily paper La Fronda, head of the office for reception of documents at the Matanza Town Hall. He worked as an official in the Morón City Hall. He died unexpectedly at 0.30 AM on April 29, 1941, as a consequence of a lung cancer.

When quoting the work by Héctor and Luis J. Bates we only mentioned what had to do with his output. Let us finally add the following tangos: “Mi capitán”, “Ahí no más” and “Gallo viejo”. The estilo: “Inesita”; the waltz: “Amor [d]”.

His tango “En el séptimo cielo” was plagiarized, and introduced as a Paraguayan polka.

Published in: Evocación del tango, by Juan Silbido, Buenos Aires, 1964.