Pedro Maffia

Real name: Maffia, Pedro Mario
Nicknames: El pibe de Flores
Bandoneonist, leader, composer, teacher
(28 August 1899 - 16 October 1967)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Julio Nudler

t is not known what secret gift made Pedro Maffia find in the core of the bandoneon sounds that nobody had discovered before. Oscar Zucchi, who will be concerned of Maffia in the third volume of his gigantic history of bandoneon in tango, which is being launched by the Argentine publishing company Corregidor, explains that until the second decade of the twentieth century bandoneon players had a tendency to imitate the flute —gradually displaced in the early quartets— and the barrell organ with their instrument. After undergoing in his chilhood the frequent beating with a chain made by his brutal father, who forced him to beg money after each tango he played, Maffia was who delivered the bandoneon needed by this popular genre so to leave behind the playful Guardia Vieja (old stream) and turn serious, concentrated, fairly dreaming and frequently sad.

Zucchi tells us that Maffia fled from home when he was a teenager to seek shelter at the Negra María´s place, mother of several musicians with different fathers and connected with scoundrels from the south of the huge province of Buenos Aires. Towards those southern brothels and cheap coffee shops, bordering on the Patagonia, this woman sent “Tanito” (this nickname alluded to Maffia´s Italian origin), who had not left the “costilludo” (ribs) (one of the popular names for bandoneon) in his escape. It was in Punta Arenas, one of those remote towns, where Carlos Gardel and José Razzano, who by then formed a folk duo, discovered that precocious fugitive that played as no one did, and the pianist Roberto Firpo, also on tour of those wide distances, brought him to the city of Buenos Aires. But Maffia disliked the straight beat of that orchestra, because he was already inventing the displaced accents, the phrasing, the rubato.

When joining in 1922 the Juan Carlos Cobián sextet (the famous composer of tangos like Los mareados and Nostalgias), he met with the violinist Julio De Caroa> (with whom he had already formed a quartet), Maffia started to take part in the sprouting of the revolutionary Decaro school (escuela decareana), whose mentors were at least four: the brothers Julio and Francisco De Caroa> (pianist), Pedro Laurenz and Maffia (the most well known of all bandoneon duos). In his History of the Tango Typical Orchestra (A. Peña Lillo Publisher), Luis Adolfo Sierra stands out that in the early stage of De Caro´s sextet (born nearing the late 1923, modelled on the one led by Cobián) "it was clearly perceived the temperamental influence exercised by Pedro Maffia´s bandoneon, of unhurried manner, with an inclination towards embellished nuances and effects of pianissimo dynamics, besides a strong tendency to legato sounds..."

Sierra, with his great authority, regards Maffia as "the great stylist", and points out even "a physical attitude in the handling of the instrument". As soon as he opened his “jaula” (cage)(as also the bandoneon was known), "getting rid of the spectacular creases of the bellows in fan-like manner...". Because Maffia –Zucchi says- did not have need of more air. In 1926 he assembled his own sextet, with a dark sound, muffled, which became even mellower when Nerón Ferrazzano´s cello was later added. The pianist Julio Medovoy, born in 1918, retained forever, as a chilhood memory, the vision of those musicians, of rigid postures, dressed in black, solemn. Maffia was almost still, he did not bend on his instrument, he did not curve it upon his knee. His ways were gentle, motionless. His gesture was neither inspired nor torn. He saluted with a slight bow of his head.

Pedro Maffia and his orchestra

He was one of the first to play bandoneon “a cappella”, after Juan Magglio "Pacho", Vicente Greco and the Tano Genaro, and who inaugurated the bandoneon duos with different voices and tunings, in historical pairs like those he formed with Luis Petrucelli, Laurenz, Alfredo De Franco and Gabriel Clausi. His variations were famous, like the one Aníbal Troilo played in "La maleva". In 1935 he formed, with other outstanding figures, the group Los Cinco Ases Pebeco, and the following year he was member of an anthological quintet, named Los Virtuosos, whose players were chosen in a readers´ poll organized by the Sintonía magazine. The era of the big orchestras, with ten or more instrumentalists, which began in the mid- 30s, was not favorable for him. The Uruguayan bandoneonist and genial arranger Héctor María Artola reasonably explained: for him, Maffia´s was a chamber bandoneon, whose velvet sound was lost in big line-ups and in ample rooms.

As composer, very few were like him. Among his great tangos these stand out “Pelele”, “Diablito”, “Triste” (with Francisco De Caro), “Tiny” (with Julio De Caro), “Amurado” (with Laurenz), “Taconeando”, “Ventarrón”, Amarguras (renamed “Abandono” when Homero Manzi added lyrics to it), “No aflojés”, “Arco iris” (with Sebastián Piana), “La mariposa”, “Se muere de amor”, “Cuándo volverás”, “Te aconsejo que me olvides”, “Heliotropo” and “Pura maña”.

Aníbal Troilo dedicated to him “A Pedro Maffia”. For decades he was bandoneon teacher and he wrote an important method to learn it. In 1933 he was starred in Tango, the first Argentine feature film with soundtrack, and, besides various other films, in 1967 he was protagonist in Fuelle querido, a valuable film by Mauricio Berú.