Sonia Ursini

e was born in Buenos Aires, near the Mercado del Abasto. At age six he began to study piano playing and music. And like many other kids that later continued their career in tango, when he still wore short trousers he earned his first money in the movies by playing the music background for silent motion pictures.

In his early teens he used to appear at a cheap café, El gato negro (The Black Cat), on Corrientes and Leandro Alem. Later he joined the Juan Puey’s orchestra. He was also the organist of the San Antonio church in Villa Devoto.

At age 18 he joined the cast of Radio Belgrano. Thereafter he appeared on the radio stations Excelsior, Prieto and Stentor as soloist and as member of the outfits that backed the singers.

Jazz, Brazilian music, folk music, and all kinds of beats drew his attention as well as the great names of classical music. At age twenty his first stroke of luck happened when Roberto Firpo heard him and hired him soon. The latter fronted the Cuarteto de la Guardia Vieja and led, at the same time, his own orchestra. In the quartet, the piano was played by the leader and in the orchestra, by Horacio. By that time he wrote his first arrangement on Miguel Caló’s request: the Francisco Canaro’s tango “Los indios”. Later, playing organ, he joined a trio on Radio El Mundo along with Carlos García (piano) and Bernardo Stalmann (violin).

He joined the orchestra led by Alberto Cima and, on one occasion, a Dutch jazz musician heard him play his piece “Choro en Fa” and introduced him to the record company Simar in the late 1942 in which he recorded his first record.

He put together his first orchestra in 1944. About it, he confessed: «The idea of forming it was, in a way, linked to music composing. I began to compose because I wanted to play tango in a pre-established way. I didn’t want to be a composer but to play tangos the way I liked. The same happened with the orchestra. As I liked to play tangos in my own style, the only possible way was having my own group. Then I put it together. There are people who enjoy being bandleaders but I was interested in my pianistic vocation. I had no intention of creating anything».

A French music critic wrote in “Le Monde” of Paris: «The orchestras led by Salgán in the years 1944 to 1957 widen the traditional form of tango, deal with the rhythmical aspect in depth and add to it a Black touch, creating a new kind of tango trend deeply rooted in its tradition but receptive to Bartók, Ravel, jazz and Brazilian music».

Many of the members of his aggregations were outstanding musicians: Marcos Madrigal, Roberto Di Filippo, Ismael Spitalnik, Toto D’Amario, Ernesto Baffa, Leopoldo Federico (bandoneons); Ramón Coronel, Holgado Barrios, Víctor Felice, Carmelo Cavalaro (violins); Hamlet Greco (double bass). There were as well great singers: Edmundo Rivero, Carlos Bermúdez, Oscar Serpa, Héctor Insúa, Jorge Durán and the today unknown Lucio Tabárez, during its first period and later, Ángel Díaz, Horacio Deval and Roberto Goyeneche. That first orchestra was comprised by four bandoneons, four violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano, besides the vocalist.

The art director of Radio El Mundo told Salgán that the orchestra was strikingly odd and the singer was impossible. And he was right. Both were ahead of the times. Salgán was a musician for musicians and Rivero’s voice seemed to come from the depths of the earth. But little by little tango venues began to accept him with the passing of time. The aggregation appeared at El Germinal, El Nacional, El Marzotto, Tango Bar, the Novelty and many others. At this first stage that lasted up to 1950 he had no chance to cut a recording. Some numbers of his repertoire were: “Ojos negros”, “Shusheta”, “El Marne”, “Racing Club”, “Sueño azul”, “Trenzas”, “Sus ojos se cerraron”, “La uruguayita Lucía”, “Margarita Gauthier”, “Rosicler”, “Sueño querido”.

The adventure of heading an orchestra of his own lasted until 1947 because he neither made recordings nor achieved much popular acclaim. However, his appearance, besides some instrumental hits and the presence of Rivero, succeeded in introducing into tango a different breath of life.

Salgán devoted himself to composing and teaching and, in 1950 he returned fronting a new outfit. It took place on Radio Belgrano and reached a good acclaim. In 1957, he was hired for numerous shows, tours, a large number of public appearances and, lastly, recordings. The first record with two instrumentals: “La clavada” and “Recuerdo”. Besides the vocalists Ángel Díaz, Horacio Deval and Goyeneche, Héctor Ortiz and Mario D’Elia were included for some programs on Radio Splendid.

Salgán noticed, before others, that the splendor of tango was beginning to decline. Venues had cut down their budgets and the aggregations had smaller number of members. He had a drastic decision and ended for good as leader of his own groups. Financial difficulties led him to work as pianist at the New Inn tearoom where he met Ciriaco Ortiz and they formed a duo. Soon later the owners of that venue opened Jamaica, on Paraguay and San Martín. There he came to know the guitarist Ubaldo De Lío. The new team was blended perfectly and aroused the public admiration which soon meant success. Their appearances multiplied and they recorded discs.

Again fate helped him. They were playing at the restaurant of the Automóvil Club when another duo appeared, the violinist Francini with the bassist Rafael Ferro. A friend in common, the notary public Santiago Landajo, suggested them to join to play and they performed without rehearsal. The audience encouraged them to continue but one more instrument was missing, a bandoneon. With the decision to form a quintet they looked after an instrumentalist. At the Richmond tearoom Pedro Laurenz was a regular customer who used to go to listen to them. By that time he had no orchestra and had not been heard for a long time. They invited him to have a coffee and there they suggested him to join them. For the first and only time they saw a break in the customary seriousness of Laurenz.

Then the Quinteto Real was born. They debuted in the early 1960 on Radio El Mundo with Aníbal Troilo as their champion and were introduced by Antonio Carrizo. The following year Quicho Díaz replaced Rafael Ferro. There were frequent tours, several travels to Japan and Europe and the long awaited success that lasted for ten years. Simultaneously, he continued appearing with De Lío, accompanied on piano by Carlos García and even with the inclusion of the folklorist Adolfo Ábalos.

In 1969, he joined his peer Dante Amicarelli in order to rehearse and practice. For the sake of their own pleasure they played music together for four years. Dante came from the jazz field, he had been pianist in the Eduardo Armani’s orchestra and was arranger and member of the staff orchestra of Radio Belgrano. They devoted to teaching and founded an Institute of Music Studies (Instituto de Estudios Musicales). They also had time to cut two long-playing records for the Philips company: Dos Virtuosos del Piano and El Bosque Mágico. Both included different genres with highly developed numbers.

Years later, on request of a Japanese record company he again put together the quintet now labeled as the Nuevo Quinteto Real. It was lined up by Salgán, De Lío, Leopoldo Federico (later replaced by Néstor Marconi), Antonio Agri and Omar Murtagh.

His most important numbers: “Del 1 al 5 (Días de pago)” (1944), “Don Agustín Bardi” (1947), “Entre tango y tango” (1953), “Grillito”, “La llamo silbando”, “Cortada de San Ignacio” (milonga), “A fuego lento”, his composition with highest popular acclaim. The waltzes: “A una mujer” and “En tu corazón”, “Motivo de vals”, which was born out of a counter melody that he wrote for an arrangement for the Hugo Gutiérrez’s piece “Llorarás, llorarás”. When Carlos Bahr heard it he said: «There is a waltz motif». Finally the latter wrote a lyric to it.

As a finale, a quite brief profile of his personality: «His customary behavior is pleasant and simple. He is naturally spontaneous and skilfully handles a luminous sense of humor that has benefited him with the affection of friends and audiences. Witty, in his jokes he is plain and cautious. He keeps with others a limit so precise as gentle and respectful».

Excerpted from the book: Horacio Salgán: la supervivencia de un artista en el tiempo, Ed. Corregidor, 1992.