Osmán Pérez Freire

Real name: Pérez Freire, Osmán
Pianist and composer
(29 January 1877 - 2 April 1930)
Place of birth:
Santiago Chile
Ricardo García Blaya

his Chilean pianist is one of the pillars of trans-Andean music in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. His compositions trespassed the borders of his country and were acclaimed in Latin America and Spain.

He belonged to a high class family. His maternal grandfather, general Ramón Freire, was president of Chile and one of the commanders of the general José de San Martín’s army. His father was a doctor, his name was Cornelio Pérez Bustos. His mother, Mercedes Freire, was very fond of music and she greatly influenced her son’s devotion.

In 1891 his family fled from Chile because of the civil war —in which president Juan Manuel Balmaceda died— and settled in Mendoza.

He was a learned and restless man. His musical inspiration was wide and versatile. He composed folk songs of traditional origin, popular numbers, classical pieces and, also, many tangos. He is one of the most clear examples that confirm our theory that aristocracy and high classes, in general, did not despise tango.

In the Antología del Tango Rioplatense of the Instituto Carlos Vega we have found some interesting features of his work:

«In 1910 he began to monthly publish the Álbum Musical Centenario, which was sold to people of his positions who became subscribers. In it he included tangos he wrote and the latest news in Argentine and European salon music. Pieces by Rosendo Mendizábal, Alfredo Bevilacqua and other names of the sort appeared on the pages of the luxurious album which finally ceased to be published due to financial reasons.

«Osmán Pérez Freire devised an original system to make music reading and tango playing easier because it was rather badly understood by family pianists at that time. It consisted of some faint vertical lines (eight per bar, that is to say, one for each sixteenth note) symmetrically interspersed among the bar lines.

«In the tango “Andate a Punta del Este”, published in the number of September 1910, he wrote a footnote: “This new system used for the first time and explained in the Álbum Musical Centenario helps the player to exactly interpret the rhythm of Argentine tango”.»

But his great fame was due to a song that reached international acclaim and whose title was attached to his name forever: “¡Ay, ay, ay!”. So strongly did the lines of this melody touch people that they meant an inspiration for other great artists. For example, his compatriots Víctor Jara with the lyrics of “El cigarrito” or Violeta Parra with “Qué he sacado con quererte” or the Mexican Quirino Mendoza with “Cielito lindo”.

In 1913, he came to know Carlos Gardel and José Razzano and offered them his number “Ay ay ay”. The duo recorded it some time later. He also appeared on the radio along with Roberto Firpo.

As for the movies he appeared in a film of the famous German director Fritz Lang entitled Doctor Mabuse in 1922. Its background music is a shimmy that he composed. The following year he was one of the main announcers at the debut of Radio Chilena and he sang his now popular “Ay ay ay” and made the opening speech.

After a long stay in Argentina where he married an Uruguayan girl, María Adela de Lara, and had two daughters he decided to travel to Spain where he lived and worked with intensity until his early death in 1930.

His activity in the peninsula connected him with the king of Spain, don Alfonso XIII, who adopted for the change of the royal guard in his palace the “Himno del soldado español” (Hymn of the Spanish soldier) by Pérez Freire. Furthermore he dedicated to the monarch his tango “Alfonsito”.

He composed over three hundred pieces. Among the tangos we can mention: “Canillita [a]” (with lyrics by Antonio Viergol), “Capitán Arocena”, “Conde Orsini”, “El beso de muerte”, “El mascotón”, “El triunfo del tango”, “Entre dos luces”, “Está muy del Centenario”, “Guarda con el automóvil”, “Horas felices [b]”, “Maldito tango” (with lyrics by Luis Roldán), “Mar de fondo [b]”, “Media luna”, “Meta merengue nomás”, “Mi nene”, “Mi regalona”, “Mi reina”, “Mi ricurita”, “Mi tirana”, “Pan criollo”, “Probá que te va a gustar”, “15 días de filo”, “Trade mark”.

With Viergol he also signed two well-known tonadas: “El delantal de la china” and “La tranquera [b]”, and the cuplé “La telefonista [b]”. Furthermore, he composed the estilos “Por tu ausencia”, “Bajo el alero [b]”, “El conscripto”, among many other pieces of different genres.