Interview to Eduardo Bonessi
Pianist, composer and singing teacher
n my family, several of my siblings had an inclination for music but the only one who decided to learn was I. At age seven I was playing mandolin. I had a musical ear. Fortunately my parents gave me the great pleasure of sending me to study piano. Because of that, at age seventeen, I was able to compose some pieces. And also tangos because even though they were played almost secretly, that was a kind of music I liked.
«My dad did not care to find out if tango was good or bad. He was proud of me for my musical knowledge and that was enough for him. And he was even prouder when he got to know that I was also able to get some bucks from music. My dream, in fact, was to become the pianist of one of those orchestras that at that time were the attractions in the tango scene.
«I was about a little over fifteen when, with Juan D’Arienzo and a barber that also played bandoneon, on the weekends we used to travel to San Andrés de Giles to play at parties. The one who had hired us paid us five cinco pesos each plus the meals and the place where to spend the night because we played Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile my passion for singing was growing stronger. I liked the voices of the great opera singers like Tita Ruffo, Enrico Caruso, Tito Schipa and all the ones that appeared at the Colón. I could not miss them, I saw them.
«For a time I studied with Mr. Pedro Paggi. But soon I realized I had inborn capabilities though I never tried to sing as a professional. And I started to pay more attention to vocals than to piano playing. Furthermore I was amazed with the possibility of being a singing instructor. My technical abilities allowed me for it. In this matter I was self-taught.
«I don’t want to be boastful but I possessed a great voice. Despite that, I did not appear in public. However I was well-known for my pieces as composer.
«People began to address me as maestro when a neighbor of mine –we were acquainted since our childhood- asked me for some advice. His name was Pascual Mazzeo (same name as the composer) and was a few years my elder. He had a beautiful tenor voice. That happened when I lived on 118 Pichincha Street and Victoria (today Hipólito Yrigoyen). He used to frequent a café round the corner, the Café de Los Angelitos. Among his circle of friends there were Carlos Gardel and José Razzano and also a friend, very close to them at that time, the singer Alfredo Defferrari.
«When Mazzeo told Gardel about me he was not interested at all: «These aren’t things for kids», said he. But the former insisted on that so much that finally one day they dropped by. They stayed for more than a half hour. I, of course, sang. Later they told me that Gardel had said to those who then had accompanied him: «You see? We should sing like that». To say the truth, in order to find someone that would sing like me you’d only find that one at the Teatro Colón.
«A week later they called me to go with them on a tour of the southern area of the province of Buenos Aires that included Tres Arroyos and Bahía Blanca. I always carried a harmonium because it was helpful in the cases of hotels that lacked a piano. These trips to surrounding places went on for several years. In the in-between days he came home for some lessons. Time later things changed, Gardel used to travel very often and in my academy, the definitive one, until today on Corrientes 1332, I had a lot of students.
«I went with him to Spain in his first travel of 1923 but later he was unable to pay me what I earned at the conservatory. But for several years, when he came back to our country, he used to call me so that I would go to his place to help him with his vocal practice. I think it’s unnecessary to say it but Gardel had a perfect voice that would have lasted for a long time. I was his only singing teacher.
«I had a large number of alumni, I shall mention only Hugo del Carril, Azucena Maizani, Alberto Gómez, Ignacio Corsini -who was the one that studied most, he never neglected his studies-. Also Roberto Maida, Teófilo Ibáñez, Nelly Vázquez and María de la Fuente studied with me. If I have to single out the ones who impressed me most because of their voice I have to mention Alberto Marino and Aldo Campoamor, and right now I like a kid very much, Abel Palermo.
«There are many teachers and I have respect for them all. However, it’s quite difficult to know how to deal with a pupil and take care of him. Alba, my wife, is the one who will carry on with my task. She is a singer, won a contest at the Colón theater and possess a good psychological insight.
Don’t you think that now are less singers that are interested in studying?
«The singing school is not renewed, the concepts are always the same. But lately a generation of singers have been imposed (we have to name them some way) that have appeared without any kind of singing instruction. The only road to be followed is through studying. You can’t sing well if you don’t know how to sing.
«¿My memories about that travel to Spain? Yes, Gardel and Razzano traveled accompanying the theater cast directed by Matilde Rivera and Enrique de Rosas. My presence was important because we, daily, practiced vocal exercises.
«We embarked on a German steamship, the Antonio Delfino, and onboard I made Gardel know my first tango. I had composed it in 1912, it was “De flor en flor”. I played it on the harmonium and he was so enthusiastic that I asked Domingo Gallichio, who was the secretary of the company, to write lyrics to it. So it happened and Gardel recorded it in Spain in 1924 with the accompaniment of José Ricardo and Guillermo Barbieri and, again in 1930, (on May 22 with the guitarists Aguilar, Barbieri and Riverol).
«Thereafter Enrique Cadícamo wrote other words for this tango and it became “Desvelo”. Carlos also committed to record some other pieces of mine: “Echaste buena”, with words by Enrique Dizeo (also recorded in Spain on December 26, 1925 with the sole guitar of José Ricardo backing Gardel’s vocals). “Matala”, the one I like most, with lyrics by Julio Bonnet who is also the lyricist of the tango “Desilusión”, composed by José María Rizutti, which was also recorded by Gardel. “Matala” was recorded on May 1, 1930 with Aguilar, Barbieri and Riverol. And “Amor perdido” was never published. However, it was recorded in 1923 with Ricardo and Barbieri on accompanying guitars and Gardel and Razzano are mentioned as lyricists, although possibly they were not.
«Yes, operatic singing is my great passion, at this time, together with a little habit I got used to: drinking beer mixed with Coca-Cola. But in 1952 Beniamino Gigli was in Buenos Aires. I succeeded in being with him and I handed him a canzonetta I had composed. He was interested in it and he promised that he would sing it at a festival held as homage to Eva Perón. But he died and the project was gone too. However, one year later I had a superb compensation: in England Gigli recorded a romanza I had composed: “Notte a Mare”. It was a great flattery but I never got a copy of the record. I only received one letter of his and a photo he as well sent me.
«I composed more than fifty numbers: “El rosal de los cerros”, “La rodada”, “En mis noches”, “La Boca está de fiesta”, “Viejo cochero”, “Déjenla muchachos” (lyrics by Francisco Introcaso), the waltzes “Mi Azucena” (lyrics by Eduardo Escaris Méndez), “Ocaso gaucho”, “Fibras” (lyrics by Francisco Introcaso) and many other titles.
«When the mortal remains of Gardel arrived I managed to pull out some wooden flowers from the cask that I kept for some time but later I gave them to the Balvanera church for fear of bad luck. You know?
«As a final anecdote I recall that, for a short time, when Carlos had bronchitis I used to give him a liquid to inhale I had invented and he liked very much. When he had run out of it he came and told me: «Maestro, give me dope». I didn’t give it to him anymore.This work was compiled from different sources: an interview published in “Tango, un siglo de historia 1880-1980”, ed.Perfil. Another one that appeared in the magazine Primera Plana, Nº 331 on April 24, 1969 without the signature of an author. And an article excerpted from the book “Carlos Gardel y los autores de sus canciones” by Orlando Del Greco.