Gaspar Astarita

eady to write this portrayal of Roberto Di Filippo, and with the purpose of establishing firstly —in like manner as with the other bandoneonists— a judgement of conceptual value as a sort of introduction, like a kind of necessary positioning and a way of approaching the character at issue, suddenly I found a qualified opinion by Ástor Piazzolla which came, with more than sufficient musical merits and proven technical knowledge, to relieve me from that indispensable task.

Many ones know that Roberto Di Filippo, after he had interrupted his appearances in tango orchestras by the early fifties, did not play bandoneon any more. Being also an excellent oboe player, he had joined the Radio Splendid staff orchestra in 1951 and, later —by competition—, he reached a seat as oboist in the Teatro Colón orchestra in 1961, with which finally, towards 1980, he retired. Then, strictly in a private way, he returned to his beloved first instrument: the bandoneon.

And he recorded, for some friends —among which I have the honor of being included— some cassettes with tango music, carefully chosen, which include pieces like “Divina”, “Recuerdos de bohemia”, “Flores negras”, “Cavilando”, “Rubí”, “Shusheta” and others more, all of them with an exquisite melodic construction, all with unsurpassable arrangements by Máximo Mori and all them masterfully played as bandoneon solos by Roberto Di Filippo.

And one of those tapes was delivered by the violinist Hugo Baralis to Astor Piazzolla in 1981 who then was in France. The latter, after hearing it sent the following recorded comment to the musician: «Frankly I was amazed by the way you play bandoneon, Fats Di Filippo. Now I feel like throwing away my fingers into the river. You know I’m quite sincere and that when a guy plays badly I tell him. It’s been years since I don’t hear playing bandoneon like you do. I listened to you here in Paris and I am deeply touched. Fats, my old friend! I love you very much and I see that you’re better than ever. Some day we’re going to play together and I’ll be your second bandoneon. A hug. Piazzolla». (I have excerpted these words from the tape Astor Piazzolla sent to Di Filippo from Paris on July 15, 1981).

One would be led to think, after the complimentary comment by Piazzolla, that the latter said that influenced by nostalgia or the loving memory of a fellow player with whom he shared the tenure in that well-remembered orchestra in the 40s, when he received —from his faraway country—, that recorded tape that Baralis had delivered.

However, I’m sure that it was not because of that. Astor Piazzolla is absolutely sincere. This is proven by the following new commentary. On June 28, 1984 when he was interviewed by Juan Carlos Mareco on Channel 7 in the program Cordialmente, while he was mentioning other events concerning bandoneon, all of a sudden he said: «The greatest bandoneon player in Argentina is Roberto Di Filippo. After having stopped playing his instrument for nearly thirty years when he retired as oboist from the Teatro Colón orchestra he resumed playing bandoneon and rolled over all of us. I think he is, technically speaking, the most important player in the history of the instrument in our country».

Roberto Di Filippo was born in Peyrano, a small town in the south of the province of Santa Fe. He was the son of don Antonio Di Filippo and doña Angela Colonna. Out of the nine children they had, five received musical education.

Don Antonio, a railroad worker, like any true Italian, had a liking and love for music. So when maestro Eduardo Vétere began to travel from Rosario to Peyrano to run his own academy, five Di Filippo kids enrolled in it. Lucio studied bandoneon, Vicente chose violin, Juan also bandoneon, Dominga was for piano and violin and Roberto —who was not six yet— bandoneon too. And still being kids they formed an infantile tango orchestra that appeared at reunions and balls, receiving applause, sympathy and acclaim by their neighbors.

Roberto, due to his dedication and his inborn capabilities, reached a solid and precocious proficiency and decided to become a professional musician. When he was 17 and was summoned by Roberto Zerrillo in the Federal Capital, he was already a highly qualified instrumentalist. He only lacked the practice of playing in a professional group but he soon reached that. In 1941 he made his first recordings with that orchestra. He played in the recordings of the tangos “El repique” by Elvino Vardaro and “Aquel preludio de amor” by Zerrillo himself.

At the same time he began a busy professional schedule by playing in accompaniments for singers until soon after his arrival in Buenos Aires he was acquainted with three young men that had succeeded in standing out in tango circles: Orlando Goñi, Francisco Fiorentino and Astor Piazzolla.

I shall mention —just for the pleasure of doing it— the members of the bandoneon section in the aggregation led by Orlando Goñi: Jorge Martínez, Eduardo Rovira, Antonio Ríos, Luis Bonnat and Roberto Di Filippo. Later, in the Piazzolla-Fiorentino orchestra, alongside the bandoneon played by the leader, Di Filippo was with two other good instrumentalists: Fernando Tell and Ángel Genta.

But of that transcendental period of tango, maybe what is deep in the memory of us all —thanks, fortunately, to the recordings (Odeon, 1946 to 1949)—, is his performance in the Astor Piazzolla orchestra in which he carried out an extraordinary work along with two other excellent bandoneonists: Abelardo Alfonsín and Vicente Toppi. In that aggregation we can appraise the special showcasing of Di Filippo because they developed a large and important instrumental repertoire. «I’m involved in too many things», he recalled.

Thereafter, in the mid- 1949 he switched to the Julio De Caro Orchestra, joined the aggregation led by Joaquín Do Reyes and finished his career in the Horacio Salgán Orchestra. The latter leader, like Ástor did, specially highlighted him despite an incident that temporarily drew them apart. About that here are the words of Di Filippo himself:

«In April 1950 I joined the Salgán’s orchestra and thereafter we began to record for Victor. We cut the tangos “Recuerdo”, “La clavada”, “Como abrazado a un rencor” and “Motivo de vals”. After we had finished these recordings I told the orchestra leader that I had to split with the group because I had been appointed member of the Radio Splendid staff orchestra. Salgán was furious at it and cancelled the release of those recordings. He cut again all the recordings but this time without me. The album front cover, however, was already printed and on it I appeared at Leopoldo Federico’s side and it was not modified. Then I appear in the photograph but not in the recordings».

After 1950, when the decline in job sources for tango orchestras began to be noticed and, especially for those with a large lineup, Di Filippo decided to secure his financial stability and, after asking advice to Piazzolla, he was determined to devote to the study of another non-conventional instrument that would link him to classical music and would allow him to join some important symphony aggregation. He picked up oboe, an instrument that is extremely difficult to play. He backed up his idea with action, always supported by Piazzolla, and bought a second-hand oboe. He was introduced by the composer of “Verano porteño” to maestro Edmundo Gaspart, former soloist in the Teatro Colón orchestra. With the latter he immediately began to study with his customary vehemence and seriousness.

In 1951 in the staff orchestra of Radio Splendid, which he had before joined as bandoneonist, he switched to oboe and had a nine-year tenure. In 1961, by competition, he joined the staff orchestra of the Teatro Colón in which he stayed for almost twenty years. He retired in 1980, having previously joined other groups like the Quinteto de Cámara Philarmonía (Chamber quintet) and an aggregation of the Federal Police.

Roberto Di Filippo was not blessed with a creative inspiration, therefore he did not devote himself to composition. As he himself says: «My inspiration has always been of a purely interpretive nature».

A fine musician, in the tranquility of his retirement he placed again the bandoneon on his knees, but for the intimate rendezvous, for the homemade recording of some exquisite arrangements for solo bandoneon that his friend Máximo Mori handed him from time to time. Or to remind himself that he had not let down that good Italian –his father- that loved music and that surely had willingly struggled so that music would also be an important spiritual ingredient in the family.