Cátulo Castillo

Real name: González Castillo, Ovidio Cátulo
Poet, lyricist, composer and leader
(6 August 1906 - 19 October 1975)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Julio Nudler

a href="https://www.todotango.com/english/artists/info/38/Catulo-Castillo">Cátulo Castillo, with his lyrics, dug the subjects that always haunted tango: the painful nostalgia for what is lost, love sufferings and the decline of life. Instead he neither had space for humor nor for the unworried stroke, and nor even for the rhythmic emphasis of milonga. The word último (last) appears in several titles of his works, as testimony of that parade of farewells that runs through his lyrics, where there is always pity for those who suffer and a frequent resort to alcohol as an escape. Cátulo did not allow himself, as lyricist, a defined profile, so he on that respect is closer to Enrique Cadícamo than to Homero Manzi. He often neither scratches the poetic quality of the latter nor the whipping power of observation of Enrique Santos Discépolo, but he honored the genre with a vast influential work, being as well outstanding his contribution as composer.

Even though his work as musician is not what we are interested in this portrait, it is fair to remember that, in his youth, Cátulo conceived pages of great beauty, several of them bore lyrics written by his father, José González Castillo, talented comedy writer and playwright with anarchist ideas, who had to live exiled for some years in Chile, with his young child, to evade repression. Tangos like the everlasting “Organito de la tarde” (that he conceived at the age of 17), “El aguacero (Canción de la Pampa)”, “Papel picado”, “El circo se va” and “Silbando” (in collaboration with Sebastián Piana) are examples of the sole case of so important creative communion between father and son in the history of the genre. With other lyricists as well he wrote seminal pages, such as “La violeta”, with the poet Nicolás Olivari; “Corazón de papel”, with Alberto José Vicente Franco, or “Viejo ciego”, with Manzi (and in collaboration with Piana), among others. An amazing thing is that Cátulo had managed to be, at the same time of being an inspired musician and poet, a well-known boxing fighter, that even won the featherweight Argentine championship.

The political compromise with exploited workers inspired one of his early pieces, “Caminito del taller”. That tango, which Carlos Gardel recorded in 1925, belongs to Cátulo in lyrics and music. In it, is described with an extreme sensitivity, the sad fate of a sick seamstress, whom he sees when she walks to work in the winter mornings carrying her pack of clothes. Similarly as he created with the latter a key composition within the tango of social protest, Cátulo would also contribute other remarkable works on other subject matters.

Such the case of “Tinta roja”, of 1941, with music by Piana, where in the sad longing, neighborhood and childhood itself are blended. «¿Dónde estará mi arrabal? ¿Quién se llevó mi niñez?» (Where can my neighborhood be? Who tore off my childhood?), asks his protagonist. Of that same year, and by the same team of authors, “Caserón de tejas” is a beautiful waltz that weeps for the same losses and, in the repertoire of 3/4 time signature, is an outstanding work as well.

Of another character is “María”, with music by Aníbal Troilo, created in 1945. A poem intensely romantic, that evokes a love secluded between two autumns, can be chosen to represent all that sentimental stream that bathed tango during the 40s, with influence of bolero and with the leading role of the orchestra singer, that cast a spell on the female audience with his voice, his themes and his look. Although love goes on being a source of pains and disappointments, there are neither perverseness nor betrayals in these stories any more. Its place is usually taken by mystery: «Un otoño te fuiste, tu nombre era María, y nunca supe nada de tu rumbo infeliz...» (One autumn you parted, your name was María, and I never knew anything of your unhappy fate), says Cátulo in his verses.

Even though he had been a major lyricist in those years, he would reach the poetic leadership of the genre in the 50s. It is necessary to remember that in 1951 Discépolo and Manzi died, that Cadícamo had greatly decreased his output, that the same happened with José María Contursi, and that only Homero Expósito, among the major names of tango lyrics, was trying to renew himself, although his best inspiration was gone long since. Clearly, Castillo was who dominated the panorama and had the merit of opening new paths, that however would be blurring with the decline tango underwent since the late years of that decade. On the other side, the avant-garde musicians, with the major exception of Astor Piazzolla, concentrated their interest in instrumental tango.

Although Cátulo kept on writing in the evocative trend, with tangos like “Patio mío”, “El patio de la Morocha” or “El último farol”, the best of his new output was not there. When he was nearly fifty years old, his lyrics began to express a desperate attitude towards life. It is with those tangos of desperation, full of sensuality and philosophy, that he builds the last poetic peak of the genre, surpassing his contemporaries. “La última curda”, from 1956, with music by Aníbal Troilo, is probably the most transcendental tango sung of that decade. As Manzi had done in 1950 with “Che, bandoneón” and other lyricists in so many other previous compositions, Castillo dialogues with that bellows with «eco funeral» (funeral echo) where the secrets of tango and existence dwell. Oblivion, condemnation, failure, alcohol, bewilderment are the elements of that somber conversation, that defines Life as an «absurd injury». The early versions that the singer Edmundo Rivero recorded in 1956 with Troilo and in 1957 with Horacio Salgán, are of a rare perfection. A different reading but otherwise memorable is the one recorded in 1963 by Roberto Goyeneche, with Troilo as well.

Other fundamental tangos of that stage were “Una canción” (1953), with Troilo's music; “Anoche” (1954), with Armando Pontier, and “Perdóname” (1954), with Héctor Stamponi, three major works which originated excellent renditions (by voices so outstanding like those of Alberto Marino, Horacio Deval, Charlo, Jorge Casal, Pablo Moreno or Oscar Alonso, among others). The drama of the Italian immigrants inspired in him pieces of great relieve, such as “Domani” (1951), with Carlos Viván, and “La cantina” (1954), with Troilo. Already in the 60s he forged important hits with the rough “Desencuentro” (1962), with Troilo, or the more conventional “El último café”, with Stamponi.

With these numbers the extensive creative work of Cátulo Castillo is not exhausted. To avoid leaving them unmentioned in this profile, we name other number of excellent tangos with which he enriched the best repertoires: “Se muere de amor” (with Pedro Maffia), “Color de barro” (Anselmo Aieta), “Dinero, dinero” and “Malva” (Enrique Delfino), “La madrugada” (Ángel Maffia), “Te llama mi violín” (Elvino Vardaro), “Una vez” (Osvaldo Pugliese), “Naná” (Emilio Barbato), “Para qué te quiero tanto” (Juan Larenza), “Rincones de París” and “Volvió a llover” (Osmar Maderna), “Burbujas” (Carlos Figari), “Maleza” (Enrique Munné), “Pobre Fanfán” (Delfino/Barbato), “Ventanal” (Atilio Stampone), “Tango sin letra” (Venancio Clauso) and “Sin ella” (Charlo). The wide and outstanding list of composers with whom he collaborated confirms Cátulo´s compromise with the best tango.