Fernán Silva Valdés

Real name: Silva Valdés, Fernán
Nicknames: Juan Corrales
Poet, lyricist, playwright and dancer
(15 October 1887 - 9 January 1975)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
Horacio Loriente

ilva Valdés was born in Montevideo on Colón Street. He spent his early childhood in Sarandí del Yi, and later he returned to the capital where he went to grade school.

He was drawn to poetry when he was very young and he went to the expense of publishing two volumes: Humos de incienso (Incense Smokes) and Ánforas de barro (Clay Amphoras). «I detest them!» he said when we visited him at his home in Carrasco on 1414 Juan M. Ferrari Street, on January 26, 1968 and he emphatically added: «The point of departure of my true oeuvre, creating nativism, began with Agua del tiempo published in 1921». Thereafter Poemas nativos (1925), Intemperie (1930), Romances chúcaros (1933) and several creations in prose were released: Canto del Uruguay, Cuentos y leyendas del Río de la Plata and Lenguaraz.

He was in love with our popular music and was a consummate dancer. Together with the composer Gerardo Matos Rodríguez he wrote “Canción montevideana” and they also collaborated in two pieces of the genre: “Margarita punzó” (1927) and “Yo tuve una novia” (1930).

Roberto Fontaina introduced him to Ramón Collazo and thereafter musician and lyricist created an anthological piece, “Agua florida”. It was originally a poem by Silva Valdés with two sections but later a refrain had to be added due to the tango structure. Its first rendering corresponded to a young member of the Troupe Ateniense: the singer Alberto Vila.

In the carnival of 1929 he contributed stanzas for the Troupe Moderna but he hid his identity by signing with a nom de plume: Juan Corrales.

By that time he traveled to Buenos Aires and one day that he was at a table at the Café Tortoni with some friends and maestro Juan de Dios Filiberto, someone, addressing to both, told them: «You have to write a tango together...». Silva Valdés and Filiberto agreed and in the latter’s house, on España Street of La Boca, don Fernán heard some music notes on a harmonium and spontaneously said: «Como el clavel del aire...» «That’s the title!», exclaimed Filiberto and our poet, from Montevideo, wrote the stanzas of his most popular tango. Soon Carlos Gardel, Ignacio Corsini and the choir conducted by maestro Antonio Lozzi recorded it. The pure voices of school children bring us back this masterpiece still now, making it a permanent source of emotion due to its beauty.

Soon thereafter Gerardo Matos Rodríguez and Silva Valdés wrote the tango “Adiós Argentina” as the title song for the movie directed by Mario Parpagnoli that starred Libertad Lamarque.

He wrote his conception about tango in a publication that he precisely entitled: El tango. Of course, his ideas are not compatible with the present but it is worthwhile citing the beginning of it because his words show the attraction it had on Fernán Silva Valdés. It says as follows:

«Tango, which derived from milonga, evolved gradually, within a logical path, like all the things that belong to the people. We can say, that it evolved along a path and that that circle begins to close. Let’s see: first, milongón or tango milongón with corte and quebrada negrera: later tango with corte, thereafter tango-song (with lyrics); and now, as we can see, back to tango milonga again».

And he continues: «I knew the first one, the one with corte and quebrada, by sight or by reference. I saw soldiers and gals dancing it in a patriotic celebration. It is the one of the Montevideo «academias» and the Buenos Aires «peringundines» (neighborhood dancehalls), classic temples of famous dances, interestingly described by don Vicente Rossi in his book Cosas de negros. The one that comes later —which I personally knew and I danced years before, in its period of great vogue— we used to call it simply tango with corte, and as it derived from the one above mentioned, it was tango milonga too, but now more civilized, a bit more sober and less «macaco» (ridiculous) as a dance and much varied as music, much varied or richer without losing its milonguero (danceable) feature».

Even though Silva Valdés is interesting to us as far as tango and song are concerned, we cannot ignore some of the other facets that adorned his great figure. In April 1952 the Comedia Nacional premiered his drama Santos Vega (Mistery of the Middle Age in the River Plate) at the Solís and about the environment of Punta del Este he wrote Por la gracia de Dios and a play whose setting was the Montevideo outskirts in 1900 that he entitled Barrio Palermo.

His criollo verses with original figures are the perfect foil for the music of great composers and important figures of high value in popular music. Among the first: Luis Cluzeau Mortet, Eduardo Fabini, Alberto Ginastera, Kurt Pahlen, Lauro Ayestarán, among others, and among the second ones: Pintín Castellanos, creator of “El tamboril”, Néstor Feria, composer of the unforgettable “En blanco y negro”, Américo Chiriff, with his cifra “Querencia”, one of the most beautiful criollo numbers ever sung, and no less than by Carlos Gardel.

And to end this list which is far from being complete, we mention Antonio Molina, an Argentine traditionalist that complemented with his music very expressive lines by Silva Valdés entitled: “Yo me llamo Juan, te quiero”, milonga tangueada, whose only recording was made by the big orchestra led by Francisco Canaro which included an excellent vocal rendering by Ernesto Famá in 1934.

Fernán Silva Valdés also lives in the soul of the children that recite his poems taken from his Poesías y leyendas para los niños (Poems and legends for children), Ronda catonga or Vorralito.

Member of the Academia Nacional de Letras, in the early 1972 he was awarded the Gran Premio Nacional de Literatura.

With a vast musical knowledge he had a strong preference for the estilo criollo and the anonymous popular milonga.

Published in the book Ochenta notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos, Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Under the auspices of the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.