Gaspar Astarita

ango que habla de recuerdos,
gris amigo de añoranzas;
tango grave a cuya voz
se estremece el corazón
y se aviva la nostalgia.

(Carlos Bahr, “Tango y copas (Otro tango)”)

The prolific contribution made by Carlos Bahr to tango literature through lyrics of so valuable and varied contents, makes his name be necessarily mentioned when the diffusion of this genre is concerned. So many works of impeccable elaboration, devised with clear ideas and literary neatness —in most of which he achieved the exact blend between art and craftmanship—, permanently update his name because all that production was included in the repertories of all the orchestral groups which were able to record. Furthermore, almost all the numbers we have chosen in the selection enclosed in this work were recorded by various groups simultaneously, to which were added many interpretations by soloists. And because of that simple and, at the same time, powerful reason, the present diffusion of tango —when having to turn to that abundant discography— must rely unavoidably on Carlos Bahr´s name for the mentioning of many titles. To remember him is, then, mandatory and permanent.

However, little do we know about this author who arrived at tango poetry by precocious inclination to literature, who, in his beginnings, dug native songs, to later be attracted by our urban music. Without high school instruction, his training was that of a typical self-taught who through reading —made since childhood, disorderly and lacking an adequate guidance— was equally finding the means that his natural intelligence was awaiting, until gathering some basic knowledge to polish his language, enrich his intellect and stimulate his literary inclination. This was evidenced when he was very young, by writing some tales which did not catch anybody´s attention. But in his neighborhood —La Boca— he had achieved a certain fame as a young intellectual and, with those tales that nobody read, there were besides a bunch of rhymes sung by costumed gangs from the neighborhood at carnival parties, stanzas which time would also bury with oblivion. This may have been the first antecedent of his approach to song, which began to get stronger with some numbers as of 1936, to be consolidated in the famous 40s, to whose literary plenitude and dignity contributed with the gravitation of his work, which was sustained by a stressed expressive delicacy, plain and direct, full of images and metaphores of genuine popular origin.

Furthermore, thematic diversity was clear in Carlos Bahr, and even more evident by the fecundity of his work.

But his preferred subjects were love and tango itself, which he portrayed and recreated on different compositions and with different treatments, never far from the romantic flight and all them full of urban taste and sincerity.

He was in touch with all the important leaders and composers of that time, and vibrated with them on a similar spiritual tuning, with tango and with the city of Buenos Aires, when both, tango and city, were simultaneously historians and witnesses of an exceptional circumstance in the country («Argentina was a party!»). All directed through a specific wish of aesthetic consideration for a repertory improvement. Leading that innovation crusade were then Homero Manzi, Homero Expósito, José María Contursi. Although Carlos Bahr did not establish a definite style as they did, his influence in the genre and on that generation was unquestionable.

Carlos Andrés Bahr was born in Buenos Aires, on Almirante Brown street, neighborhood of La Boca, near the old River Plate stadium (soccer club). His parents were Augusto Bahr (a German from Hamburg) and Colette Dierken (French). Before Carlos Andrés, a brother and a sister, Guillermo and Emma were born.

His father, a sailor, was owner of a whale ship, and when World War I started, in 1914, he left for Europe with his ship to enroll for his country service.

His departure was the last thing known about the seaman. Maybe he reached Hamburg, but there all clue concerning his whereabouts was lost. His grandson, Bahr, has made uncountable negotiations through Chancellery and other organisms, but with no positive result. Was the ship torpedoed? Was he accepted in the German Navy? What happened to this man and his ship? An unsolved mystery for the family, and they are still trying to find an answer for it.

This event damaged the family budget, and the Bahrs moved to Bernal (a suburb in the city of Buenos Aires). Carlos ended his grammar school studies and later he was walking on the streets.

He had some occasional occupations; he even was in the mechanics school in the Navy. But artistic life, reading and literature caught him early. He left home and tried fortune on the streets, living as he could and where he could, with no permanent domicile, always writing. Journalism, theater, poetry especially, but without any important result. And so, disorderedly, he was growing up.

He read with voracity everything he put his hands on and managed, with self-taught perseverance, to reach an important intellectual level (he achieved command of three languages: German, French and Italian). From that period of bohemianism and youth is the following quixotism: when the Spanish civil war began, he decided to travel to Spain to fight for the Republic. He arrived in Montevideo (República Oriental del Uruguay), where he planned to embark, but he was rejected in the medical checkup, because they found he had a lung trouble and sent him back home.

After this return he started his steady direction towards popular song. In the mid- 30s, and reaching 1940 he entered the list of the most outstanding tango lyricists who brought hierarchy to its literature. Also at that time his life began to be in order.
On Radio Porteña he met the female singer Lina Ferro, a relationship which continued with more frequent meetings at the Academia PAADI, owned by his friends Luis Rubistein and Fidel Pintos, where Lina Ferro studied.

Finally, in spite of their different ages —she was much younger—, they fell in love. They married in 1942 and moved to the neighborhood of Almagro, on Medrano street and Corrientes avenue; later they settled on Pringles and Corrientes. From that marriage, two children were born Carlos Alberto and Inés María.

And an unexplainable contradiction. In spite of Carlos Bahr´s enormous production, with a high percentage of broadcasting and popularity, he never received from SADAIC (Sociedad Argentina de Autores y Compositores) a payment according with the importance, in quality and quantity of that work. To help his family needs he always had to turn to other activities. As he was also familiar with entomology, he produced and personally sold pictures with preserved butterflies, he commercialized chinaware and other things, in short, he permanently had to manage with ingeniousness, skill and perseverance to live with self-respect.

Possibly, had he taken care with a better disposition of his work´s destiny and somewhat adapted to the demands of the bureaucracy and policies to which this institution has always been tied, he would have achieved, in the latter, a better advocate for his interests as author. But this type of negotiations for Bahr —a man with strict standards of ethics and behavior—- meant, from his point of view, a sort of renunciation to those codes. And he kept on writing and staying at home.

So as years were passing by, he grew accustomed to the austerity imposed by a modest retirement and the mean payments by SADAIC, but always showing the dignity which was characteristic of all the actions of his life.

His literary vocation, already expressed when he tried other disciplines for which he did not find the adequate field, was driving him nearer to popular song. With a bandoneon player of his neighborhood, Alfonso Gagliano, he started with his two first numbers “Cartas viejas” (waltz) and the tango “Algo bueno”. This happened around 1934 or 1935. One year later, his association with another bandoneonist Roberto Garza (José García López), made him be more self-confident and firm. With him he wrote his first successful number, the tango “Fracaso”, which Mercedes Simone committed to record on April 21, 1936 («Llevao por un ansia que quiere ser muerte/ castigo mis noches con vago ademán,/ y fallan mis manos que buscan perderte/ porque en cada impulso te vuelvo a encontrar»).

This association with Roberto Garza —then member of the group which accompanied Mercedes Simone— was the rung where Carlos Bahr firmly stepped in his early attempts. After Fracaso followed another tango, “Maldición”, always with Garza, and La Negra Simone left a good recording of it on September 1, 1936. Then in 1938 Carlos Bahr got the first prize on a contest of milongas organized by SADAIC, with a number composed by the bandoneonist José Mastro (José Mastropietro), named “Milonga compadre”, committed to record by Pedro Laurenz on May 15, 1938, with Juan Carlos Casas' voice («Me largó un candombero,/ me agarró un mayoral,/ y entre blancos y negros/ aprendí a milonguear»).

When the famous 40s started also the Carlos Bahr's consecrating numbers began. One maybe, in the rush of that first production, could be “Desconsuelo”, a tango with music by Héctor Artola, bandoneonist and leader to whom he would be associated in many hits, “Tango y copas” and “Marcas”, amongo others. His made his most famous hits having as partner the pianist Manuel Sucher: “En carne propia”, “Prohibido”, “Precio”, “Muriéndome de amor”, “Nada más que un corazón” and the wonderfull “Dónde estás”. He would keep on producing booms by the dozen, associated with the most important composers and very close of the musicians of the major orchestras, with whom he would put forward his most remarkable works. Of all this associations, the closest possibly had been the one held with Miguel Caló's group, with whose members he achieved a lot of booms: “Mañana iré temprano”, “Pecado”, “El mismo dolor”, “Canción inolvidable” (Francini); “Cada día te extraño más”, “Corazón no le hagas caso”, “Cuando talla un bandoneón” (Pontier); “Caricias perdidas” (Stamponi); “Valsecito”, “Con la misma moneda” (Caló); “De vuelta”, “Estás conmigo”, “Como una de tantas” (Carlos Lazzari); “Gracias” (Elías Randal); “Sin comprender”, “Siempre”, “Quise ser un Dios” (Nijensohn); “Cosas del amor” (Domingo Federico).

Of that association with Miguel Caló's orchestra —among many other hits made popular by the group and about that time—, one remained as an example of what a tango canción (tango with lyrics) is. I am talking of “Mañana iré temprano”, whose music belongs to Enrique Mario Francini. This beautiful melody by the then first violin in Caló´s orchestra, so moving, so neat, so painful we should say, found in Carlos Bahr the literary treatment which its extremely beautiful deepness was asking for. Those notes were suggesting sadness, so it could not accept the contribution of a story which was not breathing the same mood. The piece, so splendidly conceived, was committed to record on August 10, 1943, and other two factors helped in its exaltation. Firstly, the admirable instrumental arrangement by Osmar Maderna, with wide exposure for the three basic instruments in Caló's orchestra: bandoneon (Armando Pontier), violin (Enrique Francini) and piano (Osmar Maderna). And secondly, the remarkable vocal interpretation by Raúl Iriarte, who achieved the exact emphasis to express that story. No dramatic raptures, no crying accents, which the stanzas could have easily tempted to. However, the protagonist's distress and affliction were displayed only through the voice.

This rendition of “Mañana iré temprano” was, is and will keep on being a classic of our popular music. There is, besides Julio Sosa's version, another important recording of this composition by Osvaldo Fresedo orchestra, with the voice of Oscar Serpa.

Published in Tango y Lunfardo Nº 108, Chivilcoy, 16 August 1995. Director: Gaspar J. Astarita.