Héctor Ángel Benedetti

n May 15, 1998 he would have celebrated his hundredth birthday. For history, a century is nearly nothing, hardly a whisper. Let us imagine, then, what that means for an artist: having into account that almost everybody dies before, for him it even turns out less sufficient. This may seem a prologue for anyone’s biography, and maybe it is so, but on but a few occasions it proves so true as in Francisco Nicolás Pracánico’s.

Perhaps the citizen of Buenos Aires today would find it hard to imagine the city of San Fernando as a country town distant from Buenos Aires, so much we have grown accustomed to see it as an extension of Buenos Aires, with continuous buildings and with no hint of the Pampa Húmeda (humid pampa). Well then: around 1898 it was a remote spot, a hall to the Delta. Further North we could find Tigre and the river bearing then a different name. Other few small villages, somewhat near, were San Isidro and San Martín, recently founded and which have justices of the peace as their legal authorities.

He was born in that San Fernando. If you imagine him as a child in a faraway afternoon long ago, from a ravine looking at a full freight ship that slowly went up the Luján, that would infuse his portrait with an excessively romantic mood, but it is likely that that afternoon had existed.

Although to be frank, there was no much time in his childhood for ravines and freight ships. At eight he had to quit school to help his home’s economy by working as a shoeshine boy. He discovered music on the streets, he spent the hours when there were no customers by playing a harmonica. Someone that passed by gave him a flute. Another, a guitar. And a generous neighbor gave him a terribly worn out piano. With it he learnt music and also piano repairing: so that the keys return to their position once they were pressed, he had to devise a spring system for each hammer.

He made his debut at a cinema with café in San Fernando, where he worked washing dishes. The pianist that used to play at the saloon did not turn up and the audience, annoyed, was beginning to threaten the safety of the local, and in spite of the lack of confidence of the owner, a certain Mr. Lamberti (he might have thought . . . disaster for disaster), the boy dared to replace him. The year, 1913; the tango, “El Caburé”.

A few months later he was already getting 150 pesos a month at the Cine-Teatro Variedades. His first composition, the tango “Monte protegido”, belongs to this period and to this place. It would be premiered at the Círculo de Obreros (Workers’ Circle). At the Variedades he put together his first orchestra as well, which was lined up with his two brothers on bandoneon and violin, Moncagatti on double bass, Scagliotti on violoncello and he himself as pianist and leader.

The Bates brothers wrote that «...that orchestra was known under the name of Pancho, not only because its leader was named Francisco, but due to a stronger reason, there was certain similarity between Pancho and Pacho, the nom de guerre of the already very popular Juan Maglio».

He arrived in Buenos Aires city in 1919 to play at the Bar Domínguez as pianist of the Augusto Pedro Berto’s outfit. He split to put together another orchestra of his own and with it he played at the Jockey Club, the Tigre Hotel, the Conte in Mar del Plata an the Chantecler.

He accompanied Azucena Maizani in the opening night at the Astral and later he collaborated with the female singers Mercedes Carné, Ada Falcón and Carmen Duval.

All his compositions are memorable pages, often possessing a sorrowful melody of rare and precious nostalgia. After his “Monte protegido”, he released “Pampa”, and since then his output did not stop. Maurice Chevalier, in 1925, premiered his “Tango porteño”, with lyrics by Manuel Romero (Tango porteño, tango divino,/tu melodía es mi obsesión..., sings Carlos Gardel on the Odeon record no. 18.299).

At a contest organized by Max Glücksmann he won the second award with the ranchera “Hasta que ardan los candiles”. He composed the music, among others, of “Alhucema”, the homage “Ciudad de San Fernando”, “Cuentas claras”, “Dejá nomás que se vaya”, “El cielo en tus ojos”, “Enfundá la mandolina”, “Hijo del fango”, of which a 1931 excellent rendition by Ignacio Corsini exists, “Los muñequitos”, “Milonga para Carriego”, “Nicanora”, “No volverá a tu barrio”, “Soy cantor”, “Tatita”, “Trapito”; the chamamé “Corrientes Poty”, a couple of hits in Magaldi's repertory, such as “Afilador” and “Martín Pescador”, the numbers with lyrics by Celedonio Flores, like “Corrientes y Esmeralda”, “Mentira”, “Si se salva el pibe” and “Te odio”; others with Verminio Servetto's rhymes, such as “Madre”, “Perdóname Señor”, “Pobres flores” and “Sombras”; the zambas “El corazón me robaste” and “Aunque me cueste la vida”, on which he evidenced he might as well have been a poet, and “Malhaya mi suerte”, recorded by the Gardel-Razzano duo. The list generously goes on.

Today he is remembered more as a composer rather than as an interpreter, surely due to the difficulty of finding the recordings of his orchestra. He recorded for Electra, waxing on the disc 722 his first two recordings, both in 1926; the tangos “Violetita”, by Hermes Peressini and Paco Ruiz Paris (matrix 166) and “Abuelito”, by Alberto Laporte, Eduardo Trongé and Carlos Cabral (matrix 167). On the same session, whose exact date we ignore because the book containing the order of recordings is missing, Pracánico recorded “Dulce cariñito”, tango by Alberto Améndola (matrix 169). The inclusion of a tango by Améndola is neither casual nor obeys to a usual choice of repertoire; he was the owner of the recording company and his son Atilio would be later the artistic director. (Directors' Note: We have been informed by our friend and collaborator Christoph Lanner, that according to the Legal Deposit Records the composer of “Dulce cariñito” is Atilio Améndola).

But leaving aside details like this, since Pracánico's early recordings his conditions as leader and his correct choice to pick up authors are evidenced: together with his compositions and own arrangements, there is a parade of compositions by Eduardo Arolas, Rafael Iriarte (El Rata), Vicente Greco, Rodolfo Sciammarella, Ángel D'Agostino and others; and even many times by his musicians themselves.

This group was teamed up with Francisco Pracánico as piano player and leader, Gabriel Clausi (Chula) and Domingo Scarpino on bandoneons, Manlio Francia and Elvino Vardaro on violins and Angel Moncagatti on double bass. Please read again this: it's true, once upon a time in the history of tango all these first level professionals were reunited, and it happened at the Típica Pracánico.

But in Electra, only around 1927, the recordings were really made in the electric system (the name was an omen or an advertising trick, because they still were made with the old acoustic system) and the use of microphone instead of a large horn was adopted. Matrixes now produced a high fidelity sound, never dreamed of with the previous ones; that forced to changes beyond those inherent to the new technique.

In fact, it influenced even the location of the players on the stage. Pracánico kept his style unaltered, with certain similarity to several orchestras of the period, as suitable for dancers as for those who wanted to listen to a fashionable record comfortably at home.

The recording engineer was Alfredo Murúa, a pioneer of our sound films. The artistic director of the house was Pracánico himself, who went on recording up to the disc 771 (“Te están esperando”, tango by Pracánico, “Esta noche me emborracho”, tango by Discépolo). I thank Fabio Cernuda for all the discographic data here mentioned.

And as if all this were not enough to satisfy him, he, an artist of healthy unsatisfaction, left his footprints in cinematography. He appears with his orchestra on Arturo S. Mom's Monte criollo, a film for which he composed two tangos: the title theme, that Azucena Maizani sang, and “Muchacho del cafetín”, on another scene by Florindo Ferrario. His music can heard on Sábado a la noche, cine (1960).

The unforgettable Pancho, that left for the city of Buenos Aires the accurate exaltation for one of its most representative corners, died on December 30, 1971. And on that corner, Corrientes and Esmeralda, that today, weeping, misses those cacatúas that dreamed of having Gardel's look, on that corner —I repeat—, on which either the high life fellow who blew with a cross those tough guys that used to go there, or Milonguita wearing a bundle of plebeian clothes no more appear; every, every night that the rante canguela passes by, someone will drop the dear name of Francisco Pracánico like a toss of generala (a dice game).

Published in the Tango XXI magazine, no. 13, September 1998.