Francisco Payá

Real name: Payá, Francisco
Pianist, leader, lyricist and composer
(8 August 1879 - 20 September 1929)
Place of birth:
Guipúzcoa (Guipúzcoa) Spain
León Benarós

great number of musicians born in Spain have composed tangos and even their lyrics. How had they grown accustomed so soon? We have two answers. Because they arrived at this country when they were very young and due to a need of job.

Most them joined the orchestras of the theaters and of the venues where the género chico was staged. The sainetes (one-act farces), like the zarzuelas in Spain, were what captivated most people that demanded tangos, and so they composed them. Maestro Francisco Payá was a noteworthy case of fertility in the two mentioned genres.

This Basque, born in Gipuzkoa, was feared in the musical milieu for his brutal frankness. He was a stubborn bohemian, tall, with bulky belly and strong chest, always dressed in black. He used to wear a hat like a musketeer and his distinguished pair of «pince-nez» (eyeglasses with no pieces that fit around his ears) held on his nose by a spring.

Pianist and orchestra leader, and also with a facility for other instruments, he was highly exacting with those he led. In 1920, during a rehearsal of La gran revista, written by Luis Bayón Herrera, —another Basque, but from Bilbao—, he took the violin out of the hands of a player that had made many mistakes and he continued playing the violin from his place of conductor. And soon later he shouted at the humiliated musician: «Come back when you think you’re capable of being conducted by maestro Payá!».

As well boastful, he had some quarrels with Ivo Pelay —he used to call the latter Peeled Fig— because that was a fruit which caused him some kind of indigestion. Furthermore he used to criticize several local sainete playwrights whom he regarded as simple imitators of the ones in Spain. We guess that he was a person not liked by all his colleagues but, however, Manuel Pizarro dedicated to him a tango, “Payá”. On the sheetmusic it is written as follows: «To maestro Francisco Payá, affectionately». It was published by Juan S. Balerio who always boasted about being the first of the publishers that paid royalties to the authors.

He musicalized plays by Carlos Mauricio Pacheco, Javier de Viana, Florencio Sánchez, Roberto Cayol and others. He was music director of the Teatro Apolo. He spent a season in Mexico with the Vittone-Pomar company.

He used to heavily drink cherry and this excess began to make his health decline. On one occasion he came to the theater in a state of inebriety, went to his music stand and started to conduct the orchestra facing the audience and with his back to the players. When the show ended he hurried to the orchestra pit and stumbled down on some rough cloth bags. Much later an employee of the theater found him in this embarrassing situation. A doctor was called who diagnosed pneumonia. His powerful bodily machinery was beginning a decline with no return.