Guillermo Barbieri

Real name: Barbieri, Guillermo Desiderio
Nicknames: Negro
Guitarist, singer, lyricist and composer
(25 September 1894 - 24 June 1935)
Place of birth:
Buenos Aires Argentina
Horacio Loriente

distinguished composer, not only of tango music but also of the whole gamut of Argentine folk music. A creator of melodies designed on his guitar —he inherited that vocation from his father— played since he was a child, without teacher, but nurtured by the love he had for that instrument.

Guillermo Desiderio Barbieri was born in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal in the city of Buenos Aires, on September 25, 1894. At the dawn of the second decade of this century he had already joined a trio with Félix Rodríguez on bandoneón and Pedro Vallarino on violin. They were showcased in serenades and baptisms during their stints throughout the neighborhoods of the city.

In a work published by Gaspar Astarita in a supplement of La Campaña of Chivilcoy on April 17, 1993 the news of the debut of the Gardelli-Barbieri duo on January 1, 1921 at the Español Theater of that locality are highlighted. They went on with that gig for week. Barbieri’s partner was named Luciano Gardelli (El tanito). They had been playing together since 1916.

During 1933, Barbieri is interviewed by the Uruguayan magazine Cancionera and he told them that he met Carlos Gardel and José Razzano at Bastarrica’s stud, in the Bajo Belgrano, when a big party was made to celebrate the triumph of a horse belonging to that stud. Gardel-Razzano listened to him attentively. «When the party was over we said each other goodbye and they told me that they had to talk to me later. The next day Razzano turned up at the Esmeralda Theater (today Maipo) where I was working, he talked to me, we made a deal and since then I hold my seat. It was in 1919. Next February 8 I’ll be 14 years as guitarist for The Mago (Magician).»

Guillermo Barbieri made a mistake when mentioning the year 1919, but instead it is quite difficult that he would have mistaken the day. Our friend, the great researcher Miguel Morena in his important work Historia Artística de Carlos Gardel points out as the first performance of Barbieri with Gardel-Razzano the one that was made on a tour started in Junín on June 2, 1921.

The tango “Los ruiseñores” is the first piece composed by Guillermo Barbieri committed to wax in 1921 in a rendition by the Roberto Firpo Orchestra. For the first time he appeared in Montevideo alongside José Ricardo on guitar, accompanying the Gardel-Razzano duo near the end of that year, at the Artigas Theater on December 6.

Barbieri was working with Gardel-Razzano uninterruptedly until the time the Gardel-Razzano duo disbanded in the late 1925, so he stayed in Buenos Aires, while Carlos Gardel traveled to Europe with José Ricardo as his only accompanist. However, on the previous voyage to Spain made in November 1923 with the Compañía Rivera-De Rosas, Guillermo Barbieri was included.

When Carlos Gardel came back from Europe in the early 1926, Guillermo Barbieri immediately joined the group again and they made tours of Europe until October 1931, when Gardel traveled again, alone.

In Buenos Aires Gardel reorganized his accompaniment, putting together a quartet with Horacio Pettorossi, Guillermo Barbieri, Ángel Domingo Riverol and Julio Vivas. It was 1933 and it would be the last appearance of Gardel in the River Plate area. His guitarists, except Pettorossi who traveled with Gardel to Europe, backed different singers until the late 1934, when from New York the great singer called his guitarists. On their voyage to the north Guillermo Barbieri, Ángel Domingo Riverol and José María Aguilar embarked on the Panamerican ship on January 12, 1935.

Finally the tragedy of Medellín took place where all them, but Aguilar, died. The latter was never able again to carry out his career as artist.

The above mentioned interview of 1933 in Cancionera highlights this phrase by Barbieri: «I know Carlos so well that when he sings I know the meaning of the slightest movement and each bow of his head hides the secret of a language that I only understand...»

After a compilation of his compositions, we are able to know that more than its half was for Gardel. Most of the thirty-five numbers that Gardel sang are incorporated to the anthology of popular feeling and among those which were not included in his repertoire we have “Olvidao” with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, “Tu abandono” with lyrics by Alberto C. Moreno, the chacarera “Doña Rosario” with José Rial, “Milagro” with Francisco Gorrindo, “Trovas galanas” with Eugenio Cárdenas and “Pa' lo que te va a durar” with Celedonio Flores. The latter was found in his luggage and is regarded as his posthumous work.

We think that is necessary to mention the most outstanding Guillermo Barbieri's compositions which were known through Carlos Gardel's renditions: the tangos “Anclao en París”, “Barrio viejo”, “Besos que matan”, “Cruz de palo”, “Dicha pasada”, “La novia ausente”, “El que atrasó el reloj”, “Preparate p'al domingo”, “Pobre amigo”, “Pordioseros”, “Quejas del alma”, “Recordándote”, “Resignate hermano” (in collaboration with José Ricardo), “Se llama mujer”, “Tierra hermana”, “Tus violetas”, “Viejo smoking”; and the waltzes: “Rosa de otoño (Rosa de otoño)”, “Tu vieja ventana” and “Alicia”.

Those were years of difficult rivalry in composition, that Guillermo Barbieri triumphantly passed and many of the tunes of Gardel's songbook were as well hits in the best tango orchestras of the period. Because of all that was said, Guillermo Barbieri rightly deserves to be considered one of the most important names in tango.

Published in: Loriente, Horacio: Ochenta Notas de Tango. Perfiles Biográficos, Ediciones de La Plaza, Montevideo 1998. Under the auspices of the Academia de Tango del Uruguay.