Juan Manuel Peña

n his peaceful house on Mariano Acha Street in the neighborhood of Saavedra, surrounded by memories and in full activity until his last days, lived maestro Marcos Madrigal. He was born in Buenos Aires in a house on the corner of Solís and Rondeau.

His father, a Spaniard that liked tango, classical music and flamenco, was attracted to the sound of the bandoneon. It was an instrument that by that time was already included in our urban music. He suggested his son Marcos that he should learn to play it when the kid was about ten.

His father run a restaurant —located on 800 Estados Unidos Street between Tacuarí and Piedras— and Fernando, one of its customers, taught Marcos where the notes were placed on the keyboard. He then went on furthering his knowledge at several academies he attended. Thereafter he went to the conservatory and he remembers Antonio Sureda as bandoneon teacher. When he was a teenager, Madrigal started to play in orchestras of the neighborhood and, accompanied by guitar and drums, at a marketplace which had a raised platform.

His strong connection with the instrument, which today he regards as divine and hideous, made that Madrigal, besides by studying, acquired a great technical skill as self-taught.

At age 17 he played bandoneon in better groups, even though today they are forgotten, and made some tours with them. When he was 20 Osvaldo Pugliese summoned him when he put together his first orchestra. But the latter was not the one with which the pianist definitively succeeded in 1939 and which is mistakenly regarded as the first.

Among the other instrumentalists of this first Pugliesian orchestra we can mention the bandoneonists Alfredo Calabró and Juan Abelardo Fernández, the violinists Rolando Curzel and Juan Pedro Potenza and the bass player Aniceto Rossi. They appeared at the café Germinal on Corrientes 942 when the street was still narrow.

Horacio Salgán summoned him in 1937 to form a trio to back up the female singer Carmen Duval. Their members were Gregorio Suriff (violin), Marcos Madrigal and Salgán himself. Madrigal says that Salgán used to write difficult passages for the bandoneon section and they had to practice a lot.

By the same time the violinist Elvino Vardaro decided to put together his own orchestra to appear at the Café Germinal and his sidemen were Pugliese (piano), Alfredo de Franco and Madrigal (bandoneons), Gregorio Suriff (second violin) and Pedro Caracciolo (double bass).

When he was 22 years old he joined the Enrique Rodríguez Orchestra. The singer in the latter was El Chato Roberto Flores and when he became a soloist the whole orchestra followed him.

He played again with Salgán in the orchestra in 1945/1947. That was the second aggregation of the leader when the vocalists were Edmundo Rivero, Oscar Serpa and Alfredo Bermúdez. They appeared at many venues: the cafés Germinal, Nacional, Marzzoto, Tango Bar, at the cabaret Novelty and on Radio Belgrano. Unfortunately, this orchestra was unable to cut any recording.

In 1949 he was bandoneon player of Francisco Lomuto with whom he also made recordings and traveled to Brazil. He also worked with musicians of the level of Carlos Marcucci, Alfredo Gobbi (with whom he also recorded), Carlos Figari and, in 1953, with Elvino Vardaro.

Vardaro was persuaded by Martín Darré, at that time musical director of the Columbia record company, to put together an orchestra to make a series of recordings of pieces arranged by Héctor Artola. They made two recordings: the tangos “Pico de oro” (Juan Carlos Cobián) and “El cuatrero” (Agustín Bardi).

Also in 1953 Julio De Caro summoned him for his orchestra which had a bandoneon section that included Carlos Marcucci (lead bandoneon), Héctor Presas, Pedro Belluatti, Alfredo Marcucci (Carlos’s nephew) Madrigal and Arturo Penón.

In 1960 for the work Historia de la Orquesta Típica (History of the Tango Orchestra), whose structure and text were devised by Luis Adolfo Sierra and which also included a long-playing record released by Music Hall, he was summoned by the arranger Argentino Galván to join a bandoneon section led by Julio Ahumada and which had also Calixto Sallago and Dino Saluzzi. This work summarizes the tango history from Ernesto Ponzio to Ástor Piazzolla.

In 1963 Julio Ahumada teamed up with Miguel Bonano and formed an orchestra in which Madrigal again played along with Sallago and Saluzzi. For 17 years he was member of the bandoneon section of the staff orchestra of the Channel 9 show: Grandes valores del tango, alongside Armando Calderaro, Daniel Lomuto, Domingo Mattio and led by Armando Cupo.

Between October and November 1979 he joined the Osvaldo Fresedo orchestra to cut the recording of Fresedo 80 in the Columbia label. He played along qualified musicians, all of them were first level players. The orchestra was conducted then by Roberto Pansera because El Pibe de la Paternal was ill. Pansera also wrote the charts.

He joined the outfit led by the pianist Carlos García along with Federico Scorticati —Madrigal had been the latter’s partner in his trip to Brazil with Lomuto in 1949— for a tour of Japan in 1993. The group also included Nicolás Paracino and Miguel Ángel Varvello on bandoneons and Antonio Agri as lead violin.

Besides his professional activity as performer Madrigal has been one of the few bandoneon teachers and author of a method for bandoneon playing. Some of his alumni were: Ernesto Baffa, José Libertella and the young players: Marcelo Nisinman, Horacio Romo, Matías González, Ernesto Molina, Gabriel Fernández and Víctor Hugo Villena. The latter is now educator in the University of Amsterdam.

He co-composed with Roberto Pérez Prechi the tango “Andante y Allegro” which was recorded by Ernesto Baffa and also by Pérez Prechi himself. His command of the instrument has allowed him to play music composed by Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, the Schubert’s Ave María or the Julián Aguirre’s “Tristes”.

In 1996 Baffa formed an orchestra and summoned Madrigal. It included Baffa, Daniel Lomuto, Marcos Madrigal and Nicolás Paracino (bandoneons), Enrique Lannoo (cello), Antonio Agri and Mario Arce (violins), Luis Paz (viola), Sergio Paolo (electric bass), Eduardo Lettera (string bass) and Oscar D'Elia (piano).

They recorded a disc for the Música y Marketing label entitled Calavereando. The numbers were: “La cumparsita”, “Calavereando”, “Pa' la Guardia”, “Alma lírica”, “Con buena onda”, “Con todo mi corazón”, “Tocalo de nuevo” and “Valsango de verano” —all composed by Baffa in collaboration with other writers—, “Troileana”, “Callao 11” and “Suárez y Montes de Oca” (Javier Mazzea) and “Chiqué”.

In 2004 he appeared in the movie El último bandoneón that also stars Rodolfo Mederos and Gabriel Clausi. Madrigal plays a two-hand variation of “El choclo” and, as soloist, the first and second section of “La casita de mis viejos”.

The maestro has been largely praised by his peers. Troilo congratulated him by the way he played when Marcos was with Salgán. Pugliese said that Marcos Madrigal was one of the best as far as bandoneon sound is concerned. The pianist and bandoneonist of La Plata, Horacio Omar Valente, congratulated him for his method for bandoneon. Leopoldo Federico told Villena, who then was Madrigal’s student: «You have a deluxe teacher». And there are tens of praising comments about his unique figure.

However, and despite all the honors and acknowledgements by musicians, a profound humility and unselfishness always accompany Madrigal’s figure. When he talks about his instrument, buddy of all his musical life, he considers it «a charming instrument liked by everybody but very difficult to play, sometimes ignored abroad».