Oscar Del Priore

Cuarteto Del Centenario

n 1910 Argentina had over 6.000.000 inhabitants, of which around 1.300.000 lived in the Capital city and that year the commemorative celebrations of the centennial of the May Revolution were made. The city was honored with the visit of important personalities of the world and there is a display of festive events.

The preparation of these parties lasted for several months. The renowned visitors were the Chilean president Montt, Infanta doña Isabella, Princess of Asturias (House of Bourbon), Rubén Darío, Georges Clemenceau, Guillermo Marconi, the prince Louis of Orléans-Braganza. They saw an embellished Buenos Aires with arches crossing avenues, adorned squares, exhibitions, hotels. The workers, instead, undergoing poverty in their tenement houses, were on strike in the eve of May 25 as a «challenge to the liberties to be celebrated and expressed in front of a civilized world», said the F.O.R.A. (Federación Obrera de la República Argentina ) (Workers’ Federation of the Argentine Republic).

The celebrations of the Centenary were made with the closure of the socialist and the anarchist newspapers and with over one hundred union leaders in jail. The curfew created an artificial calm and the «golden youth» of Buenos Aires, armed and organized in gangs, chased the «anarchist gringos».

The monuments to honor the Spaniards and the Army of the Andes were unveiled. Argentina won the first South American Soccer Cup in which it contested with Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. The Copa Centenario was ours.

On October 12, that year, Roque Sáenz Peña took up the presidency, replacing José Figueroa Alcorta. And, in 1910, tango had already reached a quite definite shape. The groups that played tango were generally quartets. The most famous was the one led by Juan Maglio (Pacho). The instrumental combination was generally: bandoneon, violin, flute and guitar.

But all this happened 59 years ago. Today tango has changed. And how much! Aníbal Troilo Pichuco, Horacio Salgán, Ástor Piazzolla, Eduardo Rovira and a thousand more appeared. And only a nostalgic memory of that time remained. Sometimes tango men want to go back to that time. And they do it by playing an old repertory. But almost never in the style of the old days, the style of Pacho, of Vicente Greco. That style that was heard by the old retired men that take a seat every sunny afternoon on a bench of Parque Chacabuco or at the Núñez railroad station.

The style that surely Cao and Mayol, or Mono (Monkey) Zavattaro heard when they left Caras y Caretas. The style that allowed grandfather Romeo to dance at El Tambito. But there are four crazy guys —the Cuarteto Del Centenario— that long for living at that time. But as they neither have the Flash Gordon’s machine nor are they allowed to enter the Time Tunnel, they turn to old tangos.

And, in their own way, they travel to the Centenary. And the nice thing is that they make us also travel when we hear their tangos. The good Emilio Branca plays bandoneon. He is nearly as fat as Pichuco. But he has less hair. When he cradles the bandoneon on his knees with his working hands it seems as if Pacho were alive with his moustaches and all. The guitar is played by Eduardo Valle who has more hair and messes his hair up when he plays the bass strings of his guitar. On violin, there’s a tango man that played with Roberto Firpo, Florindo Sassone, Domingo Federico, Osvaldo Pugliese, Atilio Stampone, Enrique Rodríguez and many others. His name: Enrique Cantore, short and one of the virtuoso violins in tango. The flute is blown by the kid of the group, Jorge Slivskin.

The Cuarteto Del Centenario maybe had its most important performance in that unforgettable play staged at the Teatro Florencio Sánchez: Tiempo de Villoldo. Or maybe at the Tango Festival of Medellín. And now the Quartet recorded this disc that includes relics: “El queco”, “Dame la lata” and “Bartolo” which are three of the early tangos mainly known. They are a century old and, according to some scholars, they are the first ones that were written.

Later the family Greco, brave men of San Cristóbal, appeared with “Montaraz” and “Qué nene”, composed by Vicente Greco aka Garrote, a pioneering bandoneon and “Martín Fierro” composed by his brother the guitarist Domingo Greco. Also appeared those forerunner pianists that played at dancehalls like Laura’s or María la Vasca’s: Prudencio Aragón (El Yoni) (“El talar”), Manuel Campoamor (“Muy de la garganta”), Rosendo Mendizábal (“A la larga”) or Alfredo Bevilacqua (“Venus”). The tango “La patota” belongs to Carlos Minotti, author of “El orillero” and “El verde”, “Chiflale que va’ venir” by the great Ángel Villoldo, a true precursor, “Cordón de oro” by Carlos Posadas, an innovative composer for his time and “Viento norte” written by Augusto Gentile, author of “Flor de fango” which El Alemán Arturo Bernstein used to play in his days.

A long time passed, it’s true. But these four bohemians are resisting that. We don’t know if it is right or wrong... but how nice they play!

Make up your mind! Enter the Time Tunnel with the Cuarteto Del Centenario. You’re going to have a nice time. Ah! If you meet them send my regards to Evaristo Carriego, José Betinotti, Gregorio de Laferrère, Jorge Newbery and Florencio Parravicini.

Presentation of the record Tangos del Lejano Buenos Aires in 1969.

Director’s Note:
The Cuarteto Del Centenario was formed in 1948 in the neighborhood of Barracas by the initiative of Eduardo Valle with the purpose of rescuing criollo tango that dates back to the heroic times of Villoldo.

It appeared at the most important venues in Buenos Aires: El Viejo Almacén, Café Tortoni, at the Academia Porteña del Lunfardo at the times of José Barcia, at the Teatro Nacional Cervantes —with the Comedia Nacional Argentina— at the Alberto Vaccarezza’s play El conventillo de la Paloma and at the Teatro General San Martín, among others. It also appeared in Paris at the Trottoirs de Buenos Aires and made an extensive tour of 55 Japanese cities along with maestro Jorge Dragone and an important company.

Other long-playing records of the quartet are: Tangos patrióticos, Tangos camperos, Tangos de principios de siglo and some other that now I don’t remember. Besides the musicians above mentioned also played the violinists Eugenio Nápoli and Andrés Sagesse and the flutist Enrique Magaldo. It is worthwhile to highlight the records in which the group accompanied the late singer Walter Yonsky.

Furthermore, they appeared on several television programs: Héctor Larrea’s Amistangos, Antonio Carrizo’s La Raíz y el Canto, Eduardo Bergara Leumann’s Botica de Tango, Pipo Mancera’s Sábados Circulares and Lionel Godoy’s Una noche con amigos.

A special mention for Eduardo Ángel Valle, born in the neighborhood of La Paternal. He is the true creator of the Cuarteto Del Centenario and a great soloist. He began to play guitar at age 4 taught by his uncle Alfredo Palacios, a guitarist with a style that came from the outskirts.

As soloist he appeared on Channel 11 in the mythical Botica de Tango, already mentioned. He played in numerous concerts, among them: at the Colegio de Escribanos, at the Teatro General San Martín, at the Sheraton Hotel, at the Amphitheater of the School of Medicine and, also he musicalized a short movie about the life and work of his friend, the painter Juan Batlle Planas, a Franco Argentine co-production.