Emilio De La Peña

Real name: De La Peña, Emilio Julio
Pianist and composer
(15 November 1929 - 22 June 2009)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Néstor Pinsón

n 1986, at the birthday party of our friend Carlos Palmero, member of the staff of teachers of the School of Popular Music of Avellaneda (Escuela de Música Popular de Avellaneda), after the toasts music was played. The host sat on the stool and played on the piano some numbers of his, later he invited the secretary of the institution to sing. From the group of people there a little bit fat pretty girl sprang up and sang several tangos in so nice way that her name remained in my memory. Time later I came to know that she was a Ramos Mejía neighbor, that he had reduced and that her name was Patricia Barone.

Putting aside the digression, when she finished Palmero introduced a peer and said something like this: «You have to pay too much attention to this friend. He works as a lathe operator and runs a small metallurgical enterprise near here but what he does best is playing piano». And so De La Peña played some tangos, some folk music pieces and some classical music excerpt as encore.

Skinny, quiet, as if embarrassed —not boastful at all—, he impressed the people present for his feeling, his subtle and delicate way of sliding down his fingers on the keyboard.

Thereafter from time to time his name appeared in the papers with a short little notice announcing his appearances. On November 29, 2003 Jorge Götling wrote in the Clarín newspaper:

«The show business life of Emilio De La Peña, one of today most renowned pianists, offers a series of chiaroscuro nuances and resurrections. He started at age 14 with a neighborhood tango orchestra and he even played at some legendary venues like the Ebro Bar or the Marzotto. But for reasons he only knows (surely a secure and profitable job) he quit in 1950.

«Thirty years later, in 1980, he became acquainted with the pianist Manolo Juárez. With the latter he studied composition and orchestration and, furthermore, he also introduced him to the poet Hamlet Lima Quintana. That was a fruitful relationship because in that decade they shared the creation of 25 pieces, mostly tangos. By that time he also wrote music for three lyrics by Héctor Negro. These numbers attracted the attention of his peers.

«In 1985, he appeared at La Peluquería, a small venue where he was billed with Juárez himself, Cuchi Leguizamón, Horacio Salgán, “El Mono” Villegas, Eduardo Lagos and Lito Vitale. By that time the famous jazz pianist Teté Montoliú came to our country and his colleagues paid homage to him with a live performance on Radio El Mundo where De La Peña was one of the guest artists».

On December 11, 2008, the Tango Day, at the Teatro Gran Rex he appeared again —for only once— with The Café de los Maestros. An idea of Gustavo Santaolalla’s inspired in the Buena Vista Social Club, a film by Ry Cooder about the Cuban musicians of the 50s. Among the outstanding tango figures was De La Peña and, after more than twenty years, I had the pleasure of admiring again the strong finesse of his style.

Below we transcribe the obituary of the Clarín newspaper of June 24, 2009 signed by the co-writer of this note, Eduardo Slusarzuk: «Farewell to a piano master. Emilio De La Peña passed away. An exquisite musician that was 79 years old».

The chronicle began as follows: «The speech is the melody. The harmony is nothing else but something to create the mood. This is a concept that I am going to include in an audiovisual treatise on harmony and composition I’m planning to write after I finish recording a number I have already composed. My intention is not to teach anything new. My intention is to help people so as not to be so ignorant. That is enough for me.

«Some months before, behind the pile of written music on the piano, his face was illuminated when he described his didactic project: “The one who knows hurries up to teach”, he said without raising his profile, although Gustavo Santaolalla had already included him in his Café de los Maestros.

«But a heart attack cut his time all of a sudden when at the Hospital Sirio-Libanés when he was trying to recover from another heart attack he had had the previous week.

«Porteño to the marrow, tango came for him after Schubert, Bach and Chopin. Of the latter he played everything, the others, including Mozart, came later.

«And also De La Peña dived into tango when he was rather old. “When I was young I used to think that I would work hard on the lathe until I was 40 and that after that I would devote myself to music. But it wasn’t so, when I was 66 I still was unable to fully devote myself to it”.

«However he had enough time to record four discs with numbers like "La vieja ausencia", "Demos vuelta la historia" and "Avión de papel", among others, develop a style and harvest recognition. Official recognitions like his recent award as Outstanding Personality (Personalidad Destacada porteña) and by peers like Lito Vitale who highlights “his personal technique and good taste. A style, —according to Vitale—, very Bill Evans-like”. De La Peña acknowledges that the latter was one of his models when he defined his way of playing:

«“To play a long note is more difficult than playing a scale at high speed because you have to do it with expression. And that is what I learned from the greats”».