Raúl Courau

Real name: Courau, Raúl
Pianist, leader and composer
(15 October 1896 - 11 June 1956)
Place of birth:
Montevideo Uruguay
Horacio Loriente

n downtown Montevideo —Buenos Aires and Ituzaingó— Raúl Courau was born. A studious pianist, he had a solid training with maestros Martín López and Tomás Mujica.

His professional debut as orchestra conductor, with a classical repertoire, took place at the Cine Doré, a nice theater located on 1376 Mitre Street. But before he had performed as pianist of a small tango outfit at the Café Liropeya, a few meters from the Doré, at the corner of Sarandí. He carried out these activities for around five years and they came to an end in the early 1920.

Hired by the Max Glücksmann company he appeared at nearly all the cinema theaters of that important organization. Because of the inclusion of drums in his group and a conflict with the Asociación de Pianistas, he had to quit that association. At the cinema theaters, either with tango or classical orchestras, he used to make special performances and accompanied the tenor singer Enzo Fusco and Libertad Lamarque, among other famous artists.

Alarmed by the boom of the Uruguayan authors which was encouraged by the representatives of the Victor company, don Bernardo Glücksmann offered a job to Raúl Courau in exchange for the exclusiveness of his output, according to what Víctor Soliño told us.

In 1927 Courau presented two tangos at the contests organized by Nacional records. At the one held in Buenos Aires “En silencio” won the 4th prize and it took place at the Palace Theatre. The one held in Montevideo, at the Teatro Urquiza, “Canchero viejo” (not to be mistaken with the Ricardo Brignolo’s tango with the same title) was awarded a special mention. Both tangos bear lyrics by Víctor Soliño.

The following year, the composer started a connection with the Montevidean carnival by writting the repertoire music for the American Dancing troupe. Among those pieces, the one which stood out was the tango “Artículo de lujo” which was awarded the first prize by the Comisión Municipal de Fiestas (Municipal Committe for Celebrations). The recordings made by Ignacio Corsini and the Francisco Canaro Orchestra with Agustín Irusta on vocals meant the first popular hit for Raúl Courau. Meanwhile, by that time, he made his debut on CX20 Radio Montecarlo and at the cinema theater Stella d'Italia.

In 1929 during the carnival season he wrote the music for the troupe Black Botton (sic). Among the numbers he composed on that occasion we highlight “Mientras llora el tango” with lyrics by Esteban Barabino which was sung by Amadeo Violante. The piece presented at the second contest of Nacional records at the Cine Cervantes of Montevideo (Soriano 866) was awarded the first prize because it was performed by the Francisco Canaro Orchestra with Charlo on vocals.

Courau was keeping, for the Glücksmann contest of Buenos Aires, a piece with a difficult structure with which he achieved the top award when it was performed by the famous orchestra led by Roberto Firpo. The tango was entitled “Rancho embrujao”.

In the carnival season of 1930, probably still hired by Nacional records, the Raúl Courau’s numbers began to be released by the Victor label but under the name of Carlos Courau. And the sheet music publications, too. During that carnival, and always collaborating with the Black Botton troupe, he launched one of his smash hits: the tango “Marquesita de arrabal”, with lyrics by Raúl de Castro and the waltz “Florcita primaveral”, with words by Luis Viapiana. The tango won the first prize and the waltz, a special nomination.

The following year, and included in the songbook of the Black Botton group, his tango “Dulce gitana” was premiered, with Raúl De Castro’s contribution.

For a musician of his level it is not strange that he was also a winner in other genres. His maxixas “Cascarita” and “Che, Antenor hacé el favor”, the ranchera “Trago amargo”, “Venganza de Pierrot”, a beautiful tango recorded by the Roberto Firpo Orchestra which was not filed in the record of compositions, the fado “O ninho dos passarinhos”, made popular by the Uruguayan singer Luis Díaz, and “Cubanita flor”, a rhumba. The numbers he composed are over 60, according to his record file in AGADU.

For many years he was linked to CX30 Radio Nacional, where he headed different groups and he was also the art director of the radio station. In 1935 he formed a classical quartet which was named Méndez Pérez as homage to the memory of the great violinist Patricio Méndez Pérez. He also fronted a jazz ensemble named Harry.

He was always concerned with spreading our music and was a great contributor to this art. He stood out for his gentlemanly behavior and his honorableness. His last number filed in the record of AGADU is a polka entitled “El coronel”, dated on April 16, 1956. Precisely that same year he passed away. Less than two months after filing that polka in his composer’s record.

Originally published in the book Ochenta notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos, Ed. La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Sponsored by the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.