Horacio Loriente

his important figure of the Uruguayan popular music was born in Montevideo. In 1918 because of an illness of his elder brother, José Romanelli, who was an excellent pianist of that time, he made his debut at the Café Rodó (18 de Julio between Defensa and Municipio Streets) as harmonium player along with Mateo Cóppola (violin), Miguel Gianotti (bandoneon) and Antonio Pucciarelli (double bass).

Selftaught in his beginnings, he later had some musical instruction —not as much as he would have liked, as he used to say— and by the time he started he had hard times by facing family tragedies: his father's death and later the one of his brother José that was only 19.

With the violinist Antonio Yrrazabal and he on piano, they appeared on the boarding house of Rosa Vilaza on Ejido Street between Mercedes and Colonia. They played at other similar venues: the boarding house Kiss on Ciudadela Street next to the La Tribuna Popular newspaper and, later, at the La Princesa de Borbón (Soriano between Río Negro and Julio Herrera y Obes) where Francisco De Caro had already appeared.

In 1920 he appeared at the famous Café Prefumo, at the Cerro (Grecia and Nueva Granada, today Juan B. Viacaba) with a trio with Félix Laurenz (bandoneon) and Pedro Aragón (violin). They played on Saturdays and Sundays with a daily pay of four pesos each. It was a long and successful season. After that and as a frequent customer of the Café Bon Jules he had the chance to play in the trio led by Eduardo Arolas by replacing the regular pianist Luis G. Casanovas from time to time. The violinist was by then Ataliva Galup. Thereafter at the same venue he joined the orchestra fronted by Pedro Laurenz.

Later he played in the Minotto's orchestra at the Café Welcome in the afternoon performances by replacing Fioravanti Di Cicco. Romanelli used to recall with a heartfelt feeling the encouragement given by Julio De Caro —his partner in that aggregation— to go on carrying out his profession.

In 1921, Orlando Romanelli was founder of the Asociación de Pianistas, an important entity that paid attention to all the work at different kinds of venues, cafés and movie theaters. The members were not exclusively pianists but players of different instruments. In 1922 Orlando formed his first orchestra and its debut was at the Welcome, a venue owned by Pedro Hermosilla. They later worked at several neighborhood movie theaters.

A great number of Uruguayan musicians passed through the ranks of his orchestra: Américo Perelló, Pedro Facello, Fructuoso and Víctor Aurucci, Miguel Gianotti, Silvio Bloes, Orestes Moccia, Marcos Olmedo, Roberto Kellog, José Delisante, Rastelino and Rogelio Coll (Garabito).

In 1923, the year when Salvador Granata launched his troupe Un Real al 69 and Romanelli dedicated to who always would be his great friend —Granata— his famous maxixa “El Chana”. The prestige of the troupe attracted crowds. In 1927 the Victor company used to send the group to Buenos Aires for recording. There Romanelli was showcased on piano.

In 1924, he started as composer in the tango genre with two numbers completely different. “En la vía”, a beautiful melodic piece that deserved an excellent recording by the Roberto Firpo Orchestra and “El milonguero”, with words by Granata, with a more rhythmical character as is evidenced by the recording of the Francisco Canaro orchestra.

The merry youth of that time also liked other dances and Romanelli wrote as well the fox-trots “Noé Noé” and “Petetit” —co-written with Américo Perelló—, the shimmy “A mí me gusta así”. The above three with lyrics by Alberto Munilla; the maxixa “Me gustan los ojos negros”, with lyrics by Granata and “Hopa hopa”, a fox-trot with words by Pepito Romeu that was part of the musical premiered by the Compañía Almanzor at the Teatro Albéniz which had music by Granata and Romanelli.

On the cover of the sheet music of “En la vía” we find one of the line-ups of his orchestra that appeared to great acclaim at the Avenida Concert movie theater (18 de Julio between Municipio and Joaquín Requena). The members were Romanelli, Pedro Facello, Américo Perelló, Fructuoso Auricci and Orestes Moccia. The orchestra leader used to say that Gabriel Demarco and José Tolosa had also played with him. With the arrival of sound movies the Romanelli orchestra ended its performances in movie theaters in 1931.

The above two tangos were followed by “Chiquilina”, one of his great pieces that fortunately was recorded by Julio de Caro in 1926; “Pancho Talero” co-written with Granata, dedicated to the Argentine magazine El Hogar that published a famous comic illustrated by Lanteri; and two numbers with a popularity still in vogue co-composed with Salvador Granata: “Pobre mascarita” and “Cuento criollo”. The former was a smash hit by Agustín Magaldi and by Roberto Fugazot in Spain; the latter was known only by Alberto Vila on vocals because the Victor company authorized the renditions of Ignacio Corsini and of Charlo with the Francisco Canaro orchestra only to Chile.

In 1930, Romanelli formed the Trouppe Centenario. He had split with Salvador Granata but they continued their friendship. Now with doctor Alberto Munilla as lyricist he wrote the tango “Sacate el antifaz” and two maxixas, a beat in vogue by that time: “La tiznada” and “Casariola”.

That tango soon became popular in the singular rendition of Alberto Vila. The following year, 1931, the Centenario premiered two tangos: one of them was forgotten because it was not committed to disc. The other, instead, made popular in Alberto Gómez's rendering, was one of the big satisfactions of Romanelli: “Ahí va un tango”. Another novelty launched in the carnival balls was the ranchera “La choza de María Chucena” widely aired by Evaristo Barrios.

The Centenario's tenure ended in 1937 but he went on working hard, appearing at dancehalls, restaurants and the main theaters for several years fronting tango orchestras or características. He recalled that at that time his fellow musicians were Juan Spera, Adalberto Banchero, Garis, Ángel Mazzeo, Ruben Tobía, Carlos Marchelli, José Castro, Escamés, Zambarelli, Cosmito, among others.

In the mid- 40s he recorded for Sondor records with his orquesta característica. He also recorded with a tango orchestra. In 1946 he composed the tango “Borrón de niebla”, its music was co-written with Granata with words by Gerónimo Yorio. The following year Carmelo Imperio invited him to practice his Trouppe Jardín Musical in which he played with his orchestra.

Those were ten years of close collaboration between Imperio and Romanelli which resulted in great popular hits like “Muelle gris” with lyrics by Luis Caruso and many numbers like: “La conga del siete velo”, the polka “Los borrachos”, the waltz “El carrousel”, the pasodoble “Paisaje español” and a little before: “Que te digan los muchachos”, tango also co-written with Luis Caruso, and “Carrousel musical”.

In the 70s he formed a sextet to cut recordings for the labels O.R.O. and Patria with the singers Washington Rodríguez and Carlos Cautelar. He recorded a long-playing record in the Orfeo label. Several of his tangos were included in those recordings.

He was always present in the musicians associations. He was founder of the A.G.A.D.U. and became its president, a renowned official of the Sociedad Uruguaya de Intérpretes (SUDEIC) and founder of the Asociación Uruguaya de Músicos (AUDEM). In those circles his word was highly respected. He was also member of the Federación Latinoamericana de Artistas, Intérpretes y Ejecutantes.

In sum, he carried out a prolific labor and hard work which was not an obstacle for him to build an exemplary family home. With his good temper and gentleness he conquered a huge legion of friends. We were lucky and honored to be among them.

In the winter of 1989 we got the sad news of his death. A great figure of popular music who had been a permanent protagonist of the genre since his debut in 1918 had passed away.

Excerpted from: Loriente, Horacio: Ochenta Notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos, Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Under the auspices of the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.