Virgilio Expósito

Real name: Expósito, Virgilio Hugo
Pianist and composer
(3 May 1924 - 25 October 1997)
Place of birth:
Zárate (Buenos Aires) Argentina
Ricardo García Blaya

on of anarchist parents, he was born in the city of Zárate, in the province of Buenos Aires.

A prolific author, with hundreds of songs, he was forteen when he composed the tango “Maquillaje” and, a few years later, the monumental “Naranjo en flor”, two indisputable classics of the genre, both inspired in the lyrics of his brother Homero.

His most outstanding compositions, according to my taste, are: “Vete de mí”, his most popular bolero with a great number of renditions, the waltzes “Absurdo” and “Tu casa ya no está”, the tangos “Farol”, “Afiches”, “Oro falso”, “Siempre París”, “Chau, no va más”, all them with lyrics by Homero, and the instrumentals, “Chau Piazzolla” and “Parisien”, in collaboration with Héctor Stamponi. Also he and his elder brother finished the posthumous work by Enrique Discépolo: “Fangal”.

He was a composer with remarkable melodies and he made a great number of his hits, either recognized by the artistic quality of his oeuvre or by the commercial acclaim. But he was a polemic character.

I remember that one afternoon in a restaurant on Talcahuano Street I saw him playing piano for the last time. It was a venue that was not at the level of his artistic stature and his talent. Indeed his unfortunate opinions about Carlos Gardel had segregated him from the tango milieu. But I don’t think that this is the reason for an indifferent audience or that he was there for the money. I’m inclined to think that he was there for his need to go on playing tango.

He was rather conceited and he used to utter some irritating statements. I’m not referring only to his expressions about the sexuality of our Zorzal, but also to his opinions about the works of his peers and the development of popular music. But otherwise he was a generous person and a very good teacher.

As an example here are his own words: «When I speak of those who I admire I speak about myself. I was in touch with many greats and each day I see them greater. The same happened when I grew up. I began to regard my father as a greater person than what I had thought before. I think I was born with art. Since an early age I understood without need of explanation.»

In an interview published in the Clarín newspaper in March 1976, he boasted: «When one has composed over two thousand songs, when one teaches and has disciples, when everyday one gets up with a new project of life like now that I’ve just put together a trio and I sing, and you come to ask me how old I am, I have to answer you that I’m not immortal but I’m an artist, and artists don’t count their years but their works.»

He used to say that good authors were but a few and that the popular song nowadays is clumsier, with less melody and improvisation than before: «When a fellow writes a song seriously he is telling everybody where the truth is and he wins by that simple detail in the comparison, nothing more.»

He criticized the artists that musicalized works of important poets. As for Joan Manuel Serrat he was severe: «You have to be careful with that, poetry is a genre has it own raison d’être. It is like a finished bird with feathers and wings that flies without the need of a guitar. I would even tell you that poetry must not be read aloud. What Serrat did with the Machado’s romancero, in fact, was done by the romancero itself because it is in itself a song. But when he began to sing Miguel Hernández’s poems, the only thing he did was betraying the poet and his poetry because he makes use of it without understanding it. I think that before adding music to a poem you have to think it over for a while.»

On several occasions he also criticized the poets in vogue. He used to say that in this country any drunkard who has written a little lyric can file it in the record of authors and since then be regarded as an author. He was convinced that the poetry of tango is not held in high esteem because it is considered a minor form of art. «I can’t understand how in the Sociedad de Autores (Society of Authors) there are 17.000 members and in the United States only 3.000. And it’s not because here we have more geniuses, the difference is that there they have to comply with standards of quality.»

As for the new ways of interpretation: «In tango there are two different periods: one of formation (evolution) and another of deformation (involution). Here starts my theory. In the first the De Caros, Maffia, Contursi, Manzi were building an altar, stone by stone. It was a process of enrichment, a culture of the song that people knew and also understood. Until then the thing had a logical order. The disciplines were subject to those who knew and the bandleader was the leader and the arranger was the arranger. After that another epoch comes. It is when the tango singer became a prima donna and began to behave as if he were above the musicians, the lyrics, the bandleader and everything. Aureate and bewildered by his own image, like Narcissus, he abhorred poetry, he is no longer subject to an authority, invents gestures, assumes a ridicule role and sings for himself not for the song he is rendering. One of the few that does not fall into this categorization is Edmundo Rivero».

Following his line of thought, this deformation had consequences on the audiences, it spoiled their ears and so he used to affirm: «It was worse ‘cause tango fans are stacked. And so they gladly accept that the singer goes on kicking on the floor like forty years before when he kicked on the stage floor because the people who were dancing did not pay attention to him. Then the singer is enticed with his tricks and strives for an applause at the end of his performance. And he does not care if that ending is soft, with a cadence like that of “Mi noche triste”. He, all the same, shouts and gets a reluctant applause and everybody is at a loss.»

Notwithstanding his controversial opinions, Virgilio Expósito was a learned man —he had command of four languages—, a magnificent pianist and, above all, a stupendous creator of beauty. Because of that, by the side of his brother Homero Expósito, he is in the Great Hall of Fame of our popular music.