Ismael Spitalnik

Real name: Spitalnik, Ismael
Bandoneonist, leader, arranger and composer
(27 August 1919 - 12 October 1999)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Gaspar Astarita

n last October 12, in Ramos Mejía (Buenos Aires), Ismael Spitalnik passed away. A bandoneon player, composer, arranger and leader with a very long career in tango. A cruel ailment, from long since, had seized his body. Consequently, his late days were a hopeless waiting time. He was born in the Capital of Argentina on August 27, 1919.

Since early childhood he was in touch with music and the bandoneon. With the teacher José Junnissi (Alejandro's brother), he got his early musical instruction, and he began his practice with the juvenile aggregation that the latter led. As a teenager, he teamed up with the pianist Armando Cupo, and they toured Córdoba and Santa Fe.

In 1939, he joined the outfit of Emilio Balcarce, he lined up for a short time in the Orquesta Típica Nobel and joined the orchestra of Ángel D'Agostino, with whom he remained until 1943.

At the same time he went on seriously studying. With Jacobo Fischer he studied harmony and composition, and attended Paco Requena´s lessons. And besides all that task of work and learning, he finished his studies of industrial chemistry.

He split with D'Agostino, and in 1944 he was member of the first orchestra of Horacio Salgán, to later, when the musicians of Miguel Caló disbanded in 1945, join the latter´s orchestra.

Later he began to lead the orchestra that accompanied Fiorentino, which had been previously led by Piazzolla. He put together an orchestra for accompaniment to Raúl Iriarte, to Aldo Calderón, and to Hugo Del Carril. He was member and arranger of the last aggregation put together by Juan Carlos Cobián.

Parallel to this professional activity, he deepened his studies, specializing in arrangement and instrumentation, making an important labor with works for the orchestras of Aníbal Troilo, Francini?Pontier, for Editorial Korn.

In 1956, he joined Osvaldo Pugliese, with whom he besides shared political ideas. In the orchestra of “La yumba”´s composer he remained until the mid- 1961, and he took part of the tours the outfit made throughout the Soviet Union and China.

Later he retired for a long time, until 1987 when he made a trip to nine cities of the Soviet Union, what meant his comeback to the roads of music. In 1990 he appeared with a septet lined up by the following excellent musicians that joined the bandoneon of their leader: Normando Lázzara (piano), Carlos Piccione and Gabriel Rivas (violins), Osvaldo Gurnitz (double bass), Andrés Rivas (viola) and Patricio Villarejo (violoncello).
With a similar aggregation (with minor changes in its personnel) he had been playing until these latest months on television, on the channel Sólo Tango.

Through all these years he was much interested in this musical work, arranging, so achieving real findings in adapting an original piece to a specific orchestral style. An evidence of that is the labor he performed for Francini-Pontier, for Osvaldo Pugliese, for José Basso and, especially for Aníbal Troilo (for the latter orchestra he devised a little pearl that is a kind of model of good taste, of adequate combination of voices and sounds, which included a violin solo masterly interpreted by David Díaz: the tango “La viajera perdida”).

For his own groups, or for the standard orchestrations he wrote for Editorial Korn, he evidenced a special ductility and a strong tango feeling, quite modern, but without going to extremes, where tango essence was always before exhibitionism. He was an evolutionist, but up to the limit where tango can still be called tango. All these trends are fully displayed in his last septet, Bien Milonga, with which he appeared on television and at other Buenos Aires venues.

His best works as composer were, according to our point of view, that series of tangos milonga of modern style: “Fraternal”, “Bien milonga”, “Anónimo”, “Gente amiga”, “De buena estampa”, “Presencia tanguera”, etc. Among the tangos to be sung we can mention “Todo terminó” (the first one), “San Pedro y San Pablo”, “Ni me entrego ni me voy”. Other instrumental tangos of his, among others, are: “Bandoneón melancólico”, “El troesma” (dedicated to Osvaldo Pugliese).

He was an extremely simple man, with deep political beliefs. He lived disregarding advertising promotions. Externally, he was, as today we say, of a low profile. Even in the way of playing bandoneon he was calm without showing off. He used to slightly open the bellows, only what was strictly necessary. There were neither false attitudes, nor passionate fits nor exaggerated gestures in him.

So he lived and so he died, modestly but with dignity as a man of ideals and as an outstanding professional.

Published in the Tango y Lunfardo magazine, Number 158, Chivilcoy, November 16, 1999.