Juan Manuel Peña

Escuela del Tango: A unique publication

t turns out important to mention the diatribes that tango received, especially, at the beginning of its history, which, we can say, encompasses over a hundred years. Its critics have been many and, some of them, of a high intellectual level. Dr. Enrique Rodríguez Larreta, writer and diplomat, the poet Leopoldo Lugones, the writer Juan Pablo Echagüe, the historian and jurisconsult Carlos Ibarguren, are the élite of those who most savagely attacked this music, which was born among the people and which today is a World Heritage, something that could not be thought twenty years before.

I have held in other works about tango that the communicating vessels between different social classes have a great importance and so it happened with the music of Buenos Aires, which was adopted by the «rich boys» of the high class in their night adventures. Thereafter they took it and spread it in Paris. They were men like Ricardo Güiraldes, Vicente Madero, Alberto López Buchardo who wrote the tango “Germaine”, Germán Videla Dorna, «Macoco» Álzaga Unzué, all of them great tango dancers, and many others. When they came back from the City of Lights, Argentine tango was regarded as decent music and could be danced by everybody and everywhere not only in Paris, but also in London and later in Madrid, Barcelona and Germany.

I want to especially mention the composer Alfredo Bevilacqua, who wrote some of the tangos known as «patriotic», like “Primera Junta”, “Independencia”, “Emancipación”, “Reconquista”. One of them, “Independencia”, was played before the Spanish Infanta Isabel de Borbón by a music band on Avenida de Mayo, when the celebrations of the Centennial of the Independence were held in 1910.

Back in 1911, Bevilacqua had the idea of publishing a small-size manual, with 45 pages, with a small number of prints and today impossible to find, with the following name on the front cover: Escuela de Tango. It is filed under the number 12.138 and, according to Enrique Binda and Hugo Lamas, it was on November 12, 1914, but Puccia says the date of release was in 1911.

After its first page, we could read: «Theoretical-Practical Treatise in Spanish, French an Italian. Rhythmic studies for piano by Alfredo A. Bevilacqua, Editor-owner. Billinghurst 2122, Buenos Aires». And he later mentioned the dealers and the printing house: Imprenta Musical Ortelli Hnos. Belgrano 2067. B. Aires.

Next comes the Summary, which includes «the Preface, Warning, 6 Preliminary Studies, 24 studies first part, 14 studies second part, General considerations, 12 rhythmic examples for composing, 4 rhythmic examples for learning to accompany». And he closes with: «Complement. 2 tango studies, 22 danceable tangos, 2 tangos salón».

And then the dedication is significant and surprising, because it says: «To the Jockey Club. A progressive institution. The highest exponent of culture of the Argentine Society. The author dedicates this very humble work of music teaching methodology, the result of long years of study».

A Warning later, also in three languages: Spanish, French and Italian. And it later says: «To study rhythm with positive results is indispensable to play a tempo. To achieve this, it will be necessary to study with special attention, firstly, the six preliminary studies complying with its corresponding indications which have to be strictly followed and, secondly, neither use (p) piano or F (forte) until you play study 42; because the demands of nuances do not influence the disposition of a player who is not a consummate tempo player».

He later continues suggesting other technical recommendations. The album also includes, as complement, the music of six tangos, as follows, all written by Bevilacqua: “Primera Junta”, “Reconquista”, “El popular”, “Improvisación”, “Monterrey”, “Expresión criolla”.

Furthermore, Puccia mentions in his own book, other tangos of the composer like: “Venus”, “Apolo”, “Recuerdos de la Pampa”, “El orillero”, “Cabo Cuarto”, “Minguito”, “La criolla”, “El fogón”, “Emancipación”, “Marconi”, “Gran muñeca”.

The researcher Puccia rightly supposes, that if this work was dedicated to an aristocratic institution like the Jockey Club of Buenos Aires, the latter must have contributed to its financing or, at least, Bevilacqua, without the authorization of the same, would not have dared to publish that dedication in his work, and sell it, as it was done, at three pesos each copy.

All this explanation about the special release of the Bevilacqua’s booklet, emphasizes the theory which states that tango was already known and accepted by the high classes of the city, which is also proven by the tango contest at the Palace Theatre, in September 1913, which board included ladies of the high society of Buenos Aires.

This manual by Bevilacqua is destined, not to the pianists who professionally played our urban music, «...but to that group of young people of both sexes, who, belonging to rich or well-to-do homes, managed to afford a piano in their places».

And Puccia accurately states: «Then it means that tango music, far for being rejected, was widely welcomed in environments that boasted a level of certainly refined culture». We would maybe say today: «middle-class homes».

The naïve clean lyrics, recently published at that time, of the tango “La morocha” by Ángel Villoldo with music by Enrique Saborido, with reminiscences of habanera rhythm, must have certainly contributed to make that people would not have so bad opinion of tango as before.

Binda, Enrique y Lamas, Hugo. El tango en la Sociedad porteña, 1880-1920. Abrazos, Buenos Aires, 2008.
Novatti, Jorge y Cuello, Inés. Antología del tango rioplatense. Vol. 1. Instituto Nacional de Musicología "Carlos Vega", Buenos Aires, 1980.
Peña, Juan Manuel. El tango en el Teatro Colón. Buenos Aires, 2004. Marcelo Oliveri Editor.
Peña, Juan Manuel. "Los primeros tangos en el Teatro Colón". En Revista Tango Reporter N° 194, julio - agosto 2013.
Puccia, Enrique Horacio. El Buenos Aires de Ángel G. Villoldo 1860-1919. Buenos Aires, 1976. Author’s edition.
Rivadaneira, Tito. Ángel Villoldo. Editorial Dunken, Buenos Aires, 2014.
Salas, Horacio. El Centenario. Editorial Planeta, Buenos Aires, 1966.
Silbido, Juan (Emilio J. Vattuone). Evocación del tango. Biografías ilustradas. Edición con apoyo del Fondo Nacional de las Artes. Buenos Aires, 1964.