Hernán Volpe

is huge talent as lead bandoneonist and refined arranger was clearly evidenced in the 24-year tenure he had in the Osvaldo Pugliese orchestra.

His interpretive drive and the sound he got from his instrument gave him a quite personal feature and color. It was that color that we were able to discover after 1968 when he took over the lead seat in the Pugliese’s aggregation when Osvaldo Ruggiero quit. He then began to lead the bandoneon section of which he had been member as fourth piece since 1960.

As Penón himself said, in his book El bandoneón desde el tango, he was always lucky to be around the best musicians from his beginnings as student until the later time of his professional engagements. At age eight in Bernal, his hometown, he had a neighbor named Robertino Acosta, a legendary bandoneon player that used to appear at cheap venues, that charmed him with his sound. Hence, surely, his passion for bandoneon playing was born. His first teacher was in his neighborhood: Domingo Giacoppini and later he furthered his studies with Carlos Marcucci and Francisco Paco Requena, two fundamental names to all the generations of bandoneon players by that time. He reached his theoretical and academic background by studying with maestros Juan Laceiras, Pedro Rubbione, Pedro Aguilar and Jacobo Fischer.

In 1944 he started his professional career in different orchestras, some of them were: the Di Adamo-Flores team (Felipe Di Adamo-Aníbal Flores), Manuel Buzón and Edgardo Donato. He joined the well-known quartets led by the two Roberto Firpo’s, Senior and Junior; and in 1951 he switched to the orchestra of one of the tango patriarchs: don Julio De Caro. In it he succeeded in appearing as sideman on Radio El Mundo and recording some tango pieces in Pathé records (Odeon). Surely he was in the recording sessions of “Todo corazón”, “Ja Ja Ja”, “Esta noche de luna” and “Loca bohemia”, cut between June and July 1951. It is worthwhile to mention the members of that orchestra: Francisco De Caro (piano and arrangements); Carlos Marcucci, Ángel Genta, Pedro Belauti, Penón and Alfredo Marcucci (bandoneons); Bernardo Weber, José Nieso, Manlio Francia (everlasting De Caro’s sideman), Pedro Sapochnik and Luis Álvarez Cuervo (violins) —later Hugo Baralis joined them— and Alfredo Sciarretta (double bass), another historical name in the Decarean school.

In 1954 Penón, together with Marcucci and Baralis, split with the orchestra and switched to the one of Juan Canaro which was the first tango embassy to Japan which included, among others: Osvaldo Tarantino (piano), Héctor Insúa on vocals, the female singer María de la Fuente and the dancers Julia and Lalo Bello.

Other orchestras he joined were the ones fronted by Carlos Parodi, Joaquín Do Reyes, Juan Polito and the ones that backed up Alberto Marino, Andrés Falgás and Enrique Campos.

His militant activity in the Communist Party, as was the case of many other musicians, originated persecutions of all kinds and prohibitions. Far from the professional music activity, for some years he devoted himself to sell books and encyclopaedias from house to house in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. But one afternoon in 1960 on the telephone in his house of Bernal, in the southern area of the Greater Buenos Aires, he heard don Osvaldo Pugliese’s voice inviting him to join his orchestra to replace no less than Ismael Spitalnik who had curiously decided to quit music to fully devote himself to his profession of chemist.

The experience of Spitalnik added three important qualities for the Pugliese orchestra for he was: a solid player, an inspired composer and an arranger well-known in the milieu. Undoubtedly, Arturo Penón was the musician capable of succeeding in such a challenge and Pugliese was not mistaken.

Then he began to develop a stable artistic work with a permanent interchange of musical ideas. He was assigned the fourth bandoneon seat by the side of Osvaldo Ruggiero, Víctor Lavallén and Julián Plaza. On violins: Oscar Herrero, Emilio Balcarce and Julio Carrasco; on viola: Norberto Bernasconi; on double bass: Alcides Rossi. Jorge Maciel and Alfredo Belusi were on vocals.

Soon thereafter he began to write charts for the aggregation. The tango “Inspiración” was the first one of a long list of contributions. Of that initial chart little was left of the original writing because in the Pugliese orchestra everybody was able to express his opinion and make changes in order to improve the final arrangement. At first this would be annoying but later the members got accustomed to that work methodology in a team. Just an anecdote among many ones portrays the way things used to be done: Julián Plaza wrote the arrangement for “La mariposa” and Osvaldo Pugliese himself modified its introduction seven times until he achieved what he aesthetically strived for. (This maestro Julián Plaza himself admitted to me).

In March 1968 Ruggiero, Plaza, Lavallén, Rossi, Herrero, Balcarce and Maciel split with the orchestra to form the Sexteto Tango. There was a short break that lasted a few months and Penón and Pugliese put together again a group by summoning new players: Daniel Binelli, Rodolfo Mederos and Juan José Mosalini (bandoneons) and Mauricio Marcelli (violin). Penón became the lead bandoneon. Also he would write more arrangements for the orchestra repertoire like the outstanding: “Mi noche triste”, “Sur”, “A un artista del pueblo”, “Bien de abajo”, “Adiós pampa mía”, “Tangueando te quiero”, “Malena”, “Quejas de bandoneón”, among others. And co-written with Osvaldo Pugliese: “Desde el alma” and “Tinta roja” as instrumentals. His last chart for the orchestra would be the tango “Después” which remained in the songbook until the orchestra finally disbanded. “Abrazo fraternal” also belongs to that time and was the first composition by Penón that Pugliese recorded, with the vocalists Jorge Maciel and Abel Córdoba teaming as duo.

In 1984 —due to some different opinions with Lidia Elman de Pugliese— Penón decided to quit the orchestra and started a new stage. He split with the orchestra in Paris after a series of appearances made in France and he traveled to Montreal (Canada) to join the groups Tango X 3 and Tango X 4 headed by the Argentine pianist and ethno-musicologist Ramón Pelinski, who told me: «I was fortunate to have two important musicians Héctor Stamponi and José Libertella as collaborators; but my true learning about tango porteño I made it with Arturo Penón. We used to work daily writing arrangements for the groups and it meant my “school”. In fact, the real impact at the concerts was produced by Arturo when he played with his intensity, passion, extreme liberty and finesse of his rubatti, charming the audiences. In Montreal he received the applause and the most important ovations of his career. He left all his blood in each note he played!»

Back in Buenos Aires, he appeared at the homage paid to Pugliese at the Teatro Colón. Two musicians —besides Pugliese, of course— received an ovation that evening: Osvaldo Ruggiero and Arturo Penón. It was, no doubt, the recognition of the followers of the orchestra to the work of these maestros that so much contributed to the style of the group.

As composer he left us tangos with a strong structure and a complex harmony, greatly influenced by a deep “Decarean” and “Pugliesian” root, like “Gente de teatro” and “A un artista del pueblo” (dedicated to Pugliese), “Bien de abajo”, “Ni tristes ni solos” and “Preguntas para mi viejo”.

In 1986, still a young man, Penón began to suffer the first symptoms of a cruel illness: Alzheimer’s disease. Progressively and relentlessly, it was unfortunately depriving us of his talent, of his presence in music until he died in his home in Bernal in the early days of the year 2000. However, nothing will prevent us from enjoying his oeuvre as musician and composer because it is available for all those who want to bring them back to life by just deciding to listen to his recordings.