Carlos E. Benítez

The tango “Silencio” and a tragic context

ardel recorded the tango “Silencio” on three occasions for the Odeon company. Two of them accompanied by the guitarists Domingo Julio Vivas, Ángel Domingo Riverol, Guillermo Barbieri and Horacio Pettorossi (five matrices, four on February 14 and the other, on May 13, 1933), and one with the Francisco Canaro orchestra. All them had the addition of a female choir.

The choir in the recordings with guitars included the Guillermo Barbieri’s daughters: María Esther and Adela, (aunts of the actress Carmen Barbieri). For the recording with Canaro, the choir members were: Blanca del Prado, Felisa San Martín, Élida Medolla, Corina Palermo, Emilia Pezzi and Sara Delar.

It was one of the musical themes of the movie Melodía de Arrabal, shot in the Paramount studios of Joinville, France, under the direction of Louis Gasnier (premiered in Buenos Aires on April 5, 1933 at the Cine Porteño on Corrientes Street). Carlos Gardel sang it in the movie, accompanied by the orchestra led by Juan Cruz Mateo in which Horacio Pettorossi was one of its members.

A White Russian —Paul Gorguloff–, who had just been released from a mental hospital and, eager to draw people’s attention to his miserable fate, fired several shots that killed Paul Doumer, the recently elected president of France and then the situation of the Russian émigrés began to be unbearable. The murder was on May 6, 1932.

Years before, four of the eight children of the victim, had been military and had died in World War I (1914–1918): Captain Marcel Doumer, dead in air combat on June 28, 1918; Captain René Doumer, dead in air combat on April 26, 1917; Lieutenant André Doumer, dead in front of his mother Nancy on September 24, 1914; Major Medical Assistant Armand Doumer, dead on August 5, 1922.

The commemorative tombstone for Paul Doumer and his four sons is in La Ferme de Navarin, an ossuary monument where the remains of 10.000 combatants are resting, placed 45 km east of Reims, around thirty km far in the northern area of Châlons-en-Champagne in Somepy-Tahure (Marne).

This dramatic mourning touched and, quite probably, inspired in 1932, one of the saddest songs expressed by Gardel. Either Alfredo Le Pera or Pettorossi imagined the pain of Mrs. Doumer.

The lyrics of “Silencio” would mean the homage to the loneliness of mothers while soldiers die in the battlefield.

Paul Doumer was the 14th president of the Republic of France, from June 13, 1931 to May 7, 1932. In 1896 he was Governor-General of French Indochina where he conceived its colonial structure. Firstly, he was president of the Senate and, later, of the Republic. He liked to be in contact with the public which finally turned fatal to him. At the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, at a writers’ conference, Gorguloff sprung out among the crowd and wounded the president with three shots. He was rushed to the Beaujon Hospital where he was not well looked after and fell into a coma state. He died the following night before he has fulfilled a year in office. After the funeral held at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, his wife did not allow his burial at the Pantheon and he was buried in the family vault. The murderer was guillotined on September 14, 1932.

Blanche Richel de Doumer, «la viejecita de canas muy blancas» (the little old woman with whitish gray hair), who, as can be seen in the photo, had very dark hair, was born on June 8, 1859 in Soissons (Aisne) and passed away on April 4, 1933. After the assassination of her husband, she got sympathy letters from State leaders and the most important personalities. Thereafter, she disappeared of the public scene. The former first lady, in despair, survived only one year after her husband’s death. She was rolled down by a car in April 1933.

Pettorossi and Le Pera were in a country where the wounds caused by “the big war” had not healed yet. Many French citizens, including a great friend of Gardel’s, Marcel Lattes, used to talk about these misfortunes. Among them, the assassination of Doumer and the deaths in combat of his sons.

But the tango “Silencio” is not an exact transcription of this tragic story. In fact, we checked that there is only one family vault, in contradiction with the «five graves’» story. The military who died were four instead of five as the lyrics says. Furthermore, Blanche Richel, had very little time to weep for her children because she died in 1933. And also, the old woman with whitish gray hair had very dark hair.

It is to be pondered the imagination of the poets who, from these life lessons, wrote one of the most heartfelt tangos in history which was wonderfully sung by El Zorzal.