José Gobello
| Néstor Pinsón

A Baron and a Pope in the social ascent of tango?

aron Antonio De Marchi was born in Pallanza, Italy, on August 25, 1875 and died in Buenos Aires on February 20, 1934.

It is not fair to talk about the development and evolution of tango without mentioning this distinguished character that opened the salons of our aristocracy to our Buenos Aires dance.

He arrived in Buenos Aires in the late years of the nineteenth century. His grandfather Silvestre had come seventy years before as representative of Switzerland and had installed a very prosperous drugstore. His father Antonio had married Mercedes Quiroga, daughter of Facundo. The young Antonio, who with his brother Alfredo was in charge of the family drugstore, married María Roca, daughter of the General Julio Argentino Roca who was president of the Argentine Republic for two periods (1880-1886 and 1898-1904).

His profile corresponded, mainly, to the one of a sportsman and a pioneer. In fact, he founded the Sociedad Sportiva, the Cercle de l´Eppé to spread fencing, and he encouraged car racing; he organized the Boy Scouts of Buenos Aires; he formed school battalions that paraded in the Centennial celebrations (1910); he promoted horse-racing; he was a friend of Jorge Newbery’s, he allowed the Aero Club to use the Sportiva field (now area of the Planetario of the city) from where on December 25, 1907 the Pampero balloon departed manned by Newbery and Aaron de Anchorena.

Thereafter when World War I broke out he returned to his country and joined the combatant troops. Back in Argentina, after the armistice, he promoted the visit of the Italian Aeronautic Mission and presided the Aeronautic Committee, among whose leaders was Daniel Videla Dorna, another great tango man that, in 1913, that had been member of the board for the contest at the Palace Théatre on 757 Corrientes Street. These activities had to be added to so many others.

In 1912 the man to whom the King of Italy had granted the title of Baron organized at the Palais de Glace an evening to display before the dazzled bourgeoisie of Buenos Aires the Argentine dance that was a boom in Paris and against which the French bishops were beginning to launch hard diatribes (there is even a legend about a dance show at the Vatican).

The orchestra was lined up by Genaro Espósito (bandoneon and leadership), Vicente Pecce (violin), Vicente Pecci (flute) and Guillermo Saborido, Enrique’s brother, (guitar). According to other source Juan Bautista Deambroggio —Bachicha— was the leader of the orchestra.

The following year in September, under the auspices by the board of the Sociedad Sportiva a contest at the Palace Theatre took place and on that occasion the orchestra was led by the cellist Carlos Marchal.

The tangos that contended were 62 and one of the chosen ones was “Tony”, signed under the pseudonym J. Nirvassed by to a farmer of French origin who played by ear and was named José de Wavrin. It was published under the title “American Cirque Excelsior”.

Another was recorded as “Pocho”, but it was wrongly spelled, in fact, it was “Pacho Número 5” by Juan Maglio. And finally, “El aventurero” was also awarded but there is no information about it.

When they were played most of the «high life» people present there went out to dance. After that day the then well-known Vicente Greco and Francisco Canaro were requested for the important parties at the great palaces. Juan Carlos Herrera one of the present ones and outstanding dancer was the chosen instructor of the «Haute» society. Even though tango was always present within this social class, it was only danced privately at the same time it was danced in the outskirts of town. But since then there has been a wide acceptance and tango openly began its journey. It was found at cafés and cheap venues, garçonnieres, Paris, the Palais de Glace, the Palace Theatre and at so many dancehalls frequented by middle class people. (Excerpted from the fascicles Letras de tango editorial Meralma)

Director's Note:
The preceding text is in the antipodes of what Hugo Lamas and Enrique Binda say about this guy whom they regard as an execrable individual in their book El tango en la sociedad argentina 1880-1920. In this publication they show that tango was something customary among the high-class youth. And they quote, among other evidences, an article published in the La Nación newspaper (Buenos Aires, Dec/10/1911) which criticizes with irony the Sociedad Sportiva created by the Baron and complains by saying «Support and even popularize tango more! Why? What for?».

Explanation about a legend.
It is costumary to hear among tango fans about an episode that involves Pope Pius X. The one played by the dancer Casimiro Aín who, being in Rome, was allowed to have a meeting with the Pope in order to show him that tango dance had nothing connected with sin. It is said that for the occasion, he put aside his dancing partner Peggy (whose figure was not appropriate) and was accompanied by a female employee of the Vatican whose family name was Scotto (and curiously knew how to dance it) and, with the accompaniment of a harpsichord played by a collaborator of the Holy Father, danced in a straight manner a piece by Francisco Canaro.

Some years back the musicologist Enrique Cámara de Landa, on our request, taking advantage of the fact that he was working in the newspaper library of the Vatican and after we gave him a summary of the story he thoroughly checked the copies of the Vatican journal —a documentation which contains even the slightest movement of what happens there—. But he told me in advance, knowingly, that it was strange for him that a Pope would pay attention to such a trifle, because for those cases he used to send a subordinate person.

After a time he gave us a negative answer. He found no mention of it. A couple of years later I asked it again and confirmed dates and some other information. But he neither found anything connected with tango at all.

As a conclusion for this issue he was able to find out that everything was born out of the imagination of the Roman correspondent of the Le Temps journal of Paris, Jean Carriére.

Then it is a fake story like the end of this tale which says that after that tango was accepted by the society and started to be danced without a guilty feeling. Cámara de Landa is now based in Valladolid, Spain, and his center of operations is located in the university of that city.