Interview to Osvaldo Fresedo in 1976
By Orlando Barone
e were in Martínez; the rumor of the river down below was heard from the slope. It rains like a second Flood. I am going to listen to Fresedo but the leader without his orchestra. He will only be conducting his calm, tranquil voice. The house is large, enormous for the two who dwell there: he and Nenette, his wife. A swimming pool with no one is over-flown by rain in the middle of the park. Just for the sake of beginning with something I ask about "El espiante".
-El espiante!, A nice tango, isn’t it? I composed it when I was seventeen and I lived in La Paternal. My father had rented a country house then. One of those houses which had more grass and garden space than rooms. I used to study until twelve in the evening because I had a crush on music. Then when I was alone with my bandoneon I heard the far whistle blown by policemen in their rounds. There was a post there and another at the curve on Garmendia Street and another one far beyond at the corner of the Tornú Hospital. In the still of the night I used to hear “Too-roo-roo, too-roo-roo, too-roo”. It was the unmistakable sound of the patrol whistle. And see, so it was recorded in the tango I wrote and it was a great hit. Didn’t you know?...
-You so naturally tell me that you were seventeen but now I ask you if everything was as easy as you tell me.
-Well, I think it was. I wrote the sheet music, took it to a publishing house and they approved of it. Please think that we are talking of 1914 or 1915 when there was no radio and playing bandoneon was a prestigious privilege sought after by the boys of any neighborhood. The musician, the one who played, was a kind of myth. D’you know? Even the one who carried your bandoneon was achieving a certain fame and boasted about it.
-But did all they have that inclination, like you, to play like you did?
-Right, but at home my mother was a piano teacher. She was fond of music, she made us listen to the classics. But because of the bandoneon and the night time I quarrelled with my father. In order to hear the greats of that time like Juan Maglio, Domingo Santa Cruz, Augusto Berto, Tano Genaro I used to run away from home and so I began to be absent at the shop where I worked with my father. For a time I lived in a little room that Nelo Cosimi lent me. He was the first actor of the Argentine movies. He painted walls and houses for a living. He whitewashed them and I helped him. By that time I had bought a small 50-key bandoneon. With it I used to play serenades and I also appeared at some balls organized by young boys.
-By that time you kept on composing besides playing. Who taught you?
-I think I was self-taught. Since I was a kid I realized I owned one of those privileged ears and everything I heard I kept it inside. You know, don’t you? Fortunately, my father later was aware of it and he bought me a professional bandoneon. I started to study with Carlos Besio. He worked at daytime as a cart driver at the Chacarita cemetery and in the evening he played. If you go near the La Paternal railway station look for a house with two cement cups facing the railroad tracks. There my father opened a café so that I would play there instead of rambling till dawn. And there we put together a duo with José Martínez, the pianist who composed "Canaro", "El cencerro" and many others more.
-Despite you were called “El pibe de La Paternal”, how strange you later became an orchestra leader for elegant people or for exquisite audiences.
I was always in what I like. That music of a clean melody, full of nuances, a balance between bandoneons and violins. Even though I’m a bandoneon player I always filled the stage with strings. The bandoneon is not a complete instrument and if many of them are playing they muddle the sound. I want to tell you that I wish to impress people with the melody. I want to play it with the heart but delicately. You know. Furthermore an orchestra is a world that has to be in agreement. The first thing I did was to convince every player that they had to feel what they were to play. Of course, for that it was necessary dedication, devotion and time. Those are things that now do not abound. I rehearse each instrument separately. First, strings, later piano, bandoneons and cello. I start marking the nuances, those subtleties in the music I want that we play. I never hurry up to gather the musicians all together until everyone knows and gets under his skin what he has to do. When the time of reunion has come they are ready. On that first contact of the orchestra each one of the members can perceive and enjoy the effects of a “fortissimo” or a “pianissimo”. And the one who plays the violin hears how he sounds accompanied by the piano. And that is the nice thing. Instead of a virtuoso passage that is nice for the soloist, I prefer the whole ensemble making an impression, reaching the people’s soul.
-And as for the great virtuosi, who did you admire at your time?
Juan Carlos Cobián on piano. Maybe Minotto Di Cicco: but no, he was a great technician, perfect, but heartless. Now everybody asks me about Ástor Piazzolla, and I know he is the greatest virtuoso with a bandoneon I’ve ever seen. But, certainly, he wouldn’t do what I do with an orchestra. That way of instilling, persuading the ear, the soul.
-And here at home, are you still playing?
-No, long ago I stopped playing. Nor do I play piano. I see my instruments, they have dust on them but I’m not sad for that. I would like to be young again to make a lot of music once more.
-I see a color sepia photo in which you are beside a small plane. Then I ask you: And this?
-It was back in 1923. It was a 240 hp SVAR plane. I bought it for 4.500 pesos. By that time I had won a race in La Plata and I got the 231 pilot license. When I was a boy I was quite a wanderer. Then I had already been to the United Status with Enrique Delfino and Tito Roccatagliata. The RCA Victor had hired us for 5.000 dollars. But it was not much, our peso was two to one with the dollar. There in Philadelphia I shared some rendezvouses with Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera. As for the discs I cut there was one that on one side had the tango "Entrada libre" (Free Entrance) and on the other, "Entrada prohibida" (Forbidden Exit).
-And that music, those bars were different, were they easier than those that came later?
-Also we played legato and staccato phrases. At the old movie theater named Cine Ástor, where later the Astros was, back in the early 30s I fronted a 28-piece philharmonic orchestra with wind instruments like clarinet and oboe and brass like trumpets and trombones and in another orchestra I included vibraphone and harp.
-How did you become known in salons and embassies?
-I don’t know, I think it was when I played at the Royal Pigalle. Later there was El Tabarís at that place. Then if you went to the balls there you had to wear a tuxedo or a tail jacket. All the important weddings in Buenos Aires were held there. There many people came to know me and they later called me. I played at the Palacio Errázuriz when the prince of Wales came and also when the governor Cantilo received the prince Umberto.
As I can see you have many cats, haven’t you?
Yes, every cat that arrives stays here. He is the animal of the night and of the lonesome people. But I’m not so lonesome. I’m a kind of “night idler”, yes. I’ve grown accustomed to go to bed very late. Around three o’clock in the morning I begin to read the newspaper and I go to bed about six. I live sort of the other way around, like in the old days. I have breakfast at three in the afternoon and I go round and round. The time passes by, and we are together with Nenette.
Fresedo smoothed down his hair, sat back in an armchair and watched the rain fall. A friend of his that accompanied us went to where the record player was and a harmonious touching melody began to fill the living room. Fresedo, in a soft voice, told me: «Those are The Ten Commandments. I recorded it with Daniel Riolobos. They are religious and tango poems. Listen how they sound.» And then slowly he left but the melancholy mood and the falling rain were still there.Published in the Clarín newspaper, August 1976.