Néstor Pinsón
| Ricardo García Blaya

Orquesta Típica Roberto Firpo

uis Adolfo Sierra says in his book Historia de la Orquesta Típica: «Roberto Firpo and Francisco Canaro monopolized the public interest, precisely at the time when the instrumental arrangement of the tango orchestra was definitively structured».

And he adds: «The interpretive ways of one and the other presented a noticeable contrast. Firpo overtly evolved towards a melodic trend with unhurried beat, paying careful attention to nuances and conveying a certain atmosphere of compact sonority, though perfectly suitable for dancing. On the other side, Canaro, scarcely sensitive to the influences of harmonic character, tried to impose a markedly fast beat on his orchestra, and a sort of tendency towards shrillness that, in later stages —even though those profiles were somewhat tempered—, he would keep as a typical feature of his brisk style of interpretation».

Tracking down the name of all the players that appeared in the different periods of the Roberto Firpo orchestra, or mentioning all its line-ups and changes of personnel is a hard and almost impossible task. We shall try to approach the issue as faithfully as possible.

Let us begin in 1907, when he appeared in Palermo where there were important venues: Hansen’s, El Velódromo, and El Tambito. At the El Velódromo he appeared with his piano along with Federico Lafémina (violinist) and Juan Carlos Bazán (clarinetist). Then they switched to the Hansen’s because there was a better pay. At that venue the violinist Francisco Postiglione replaced Lafémina. In 1908 Postiglione quit and was replaced by Alcides Palavecino. They had a long tenure there, taking advantage of some occasional invitations to play at other locals. Later Tito Roccatagliata substituted for Palavecino.

In 1910 Juan Carlos Bazán put together his own quartet with Luis Bernstein (guitar), Tito Roccatagliata (violin) and Modesto Rodríguez (piano). The latter two were later replaced by El Pardo Alcorta and Roberto Firpo. Among other venues, they appeared at the Café Oriental, on Entre Ríos Street between Estados Unidos and Carlos Calvo. Bazán was permanently linked to Firpo and, from 1916, he played in the latter’s orchestra when he was summoned. From that time and until his death, each time we hear a clarinet in a recording by Firpo, it is Bazán’s clarinet.

In 1913, Firpo led from the piano, firstly, a trio with Genaro Espósito (bandoneon) and Tito Roccatagliata (violin) and, some months later, a quartet to play at the Armenonville cabaret and at the café El Estribo, with Eduardo Arolas (bandoneon), Tito Roccatagliata (violin) and Leopoldo Thompson (double bass). By the end of that year he co-wrote “Fuegos artificiales” with Arolas. In 1914 Bachicha (bandoneon) and Agesilao Ferrazzano (violin) were included, and in 1915, Pedro Festa (violin).

In 1916, in the city of Rosario, the orchestras led by Firpo and Canaro were reunited to play together at the carnival balls of the Teatro Politeama. The same happened in the two carnival seasons that followed, but at the Teatro Colón. The big orchestra included Roberto Firpo, José Martínez (pianos), Eduardo Arolas, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Polito, Bachicha (bandoneons), Francisco Canaro, Agesilao Ferrazzano, Julio Doutry and Alejandro Scotti (violins), Juan Carlos Bazán (clarinet), Alejandro Michetti (flute), Leopoldo Thompson (double bass). In 1918 the violinist Cayetano Puglisi and the bandoneonist Minotto Di Cicco were added.

Furthermore, in 1916, he traveled to Montevideo to appear at the then barroom La Giralda, which was located where now the Palacio Salvo is. It is famous because there he modified and premiered the tango “La cumparsita”. The orchestra was lined up by Bachicha (bandoneon), Agesilao Ferrazzano, Tito Roccatagliata (violins), Firpo (piano)

Thereafter he was hired by the Armenonville cabaret of Buenos Aires and put together another group which he called the Rondalla Criolla Roberto Firpo, later named Típica Criolla Instrumental, but many knew it as the Orquesta Armenonville. He recorded for the Atlanta label and soon thereafter he switched to the Odeon label. It included Tito Roccatagliata, Agesilao Ferrazzano, later Cayetano Puglisi (violins), Alejandro Michetti (flute), Firpo (piano)

Between 1917/1921, the personnel was Pedro Maffia, José Servidio (bandoneons), Cayetano Puglisi, Adolfo Muzzi (violins), Alejandro Michetti (flute), Luis Cosenza (harmonium), Ángel Corleto (double bass) and Firpo (piano).

In 1923 Ángel Corleto (double bass), Juan Bautista Guido, José Schumacher and, in 1929, Gabriel Clausi (bandoneons), Elvino Vardaro, Cayetano Puglisi, Octavio Scaglione, later Antonio Rossi and, in 1927, José Nieso (violins), Luis Cosenza, later Miguel Nijensohn until 1929 and, alternating with other orchestras, Rafael Giovinazzi until 1930 (piano), then Firpo only as conductor.

In 1928 he hired Teófilo Ibáñez, his first singer. They appeared at renowned venues in the city and also in the chain of movie theaters owned by Max Glücksmann, who besides was the owner of Discos Nacional, the recording company in which they cut a large number of tracks.

Carlos Varela told us that, before the end of 1930 and, for some public appearances, Firpo put together a trio with Miguel Nijensohn (piano), Héctor Presas (bandoneon), D’Amore (violin) and himself, the singer.

Between 1930/31 Armando Federico, as from 1932, Carlos García (piano), Vicente Toppi, Héctor Villanueva (aka Osvaldo Novarro when he devoted himself to jazz), Rafael Margaruccio, El Torito Francisco Marino (bandoneons), Nicolás Kornitz, Antonio Rossi, Enrique Forte, Raúl Vera (violins), Ángel Corleto (double bass), Príncipe Azul (singer).

The orchestra at the Ambassadeurs cabaret at the Barrio Parque (1936) was: Carlos García (piano); Vicente Toppi, Calixto Sallago, Rafael Margaruccio and Francisco Marino (bandoneons); Enrique Forte, Raúl Bera, Antonio Rossi and Claudio González (violins); Ángel Corleto (bass).

As said above, so many were the musicians that passed through its ranks, that it turns out impossible for us a detailed mention of them. Some of them had occasional tenures, others played for longer periods: Julio De Caro had a short tenure in his beginnings, Rafael Tuegols, Enrique Cantore (violinists), Osvaldo Pugliese also had a short stay in 1926, Horacio Salgán in 1936 (pianists), Alfredo Corleto, Ángel’s brother (bass player), Ricardo Brignolo (1914) at the Bar Iglesias instead of Genaro Espósito, Ciriaco Ortiz, in Córdoba (1920), when he was only fifteen replacing Maffia who was ill, Eduardo Del Piano in 1930 to play at the Palace Teatro, Alberto Mancione in the late 30s (bandoneonists).

A special mentioning deserves the case of Juan Cambareri, with a long career, to whom Firpo paid a wage only to keep him until a project of his came true, which became an outstanding success time later. Cambareri himself told Néstor Pinsón about this in his domicile on Aranguren Street. It was the creation of the Cuarteto los de Antes, with Juan Cambareri (bandoneon), accompanied by José Fernández (violin), Fernando Porcelli (double bass) and Juan Rizzo (piano). They started on December 19, 1936 and played until October 22, 1956. They recorded for the Odeon label. When Cambareri retired, Firpo put together a new quartet, this time with the inclusion of vocalists. They were Américo Podestá, Alberto Casares and Héctor Berardi.

Even though they were not members, due to a clause by the recording companies, the orchestra backed up, in 1925, the singer and guitarist Mario Pardo in six songs and Ignacio Corsini once. The same happened with the female singers Carmen Moreno, Mercedes Alfonso and Las Porteñitas.

As for his own vocalists: Teófilo Ibáñez (1928) who cut around 140 renditions. Likewise Carlos Varela recorded (1930). Others of his singers were Príncipe Azul (with several duos along with Dorita Davis), Amanda Las Heras, Carlos Viván, Roberto Díaz, Luis Díaz, Francisco Fiorentino (on September 28, 1929 he recorded only a piece by Francisco Lauro, “Tal vez mi nena”). As a curiosity, we can mention that the violinist Enrique Forte stopped playing to sing the second voice for several singers, and even in a couple of pieces he sings all the refrain alone. Finally, his latter two singers: Alberto Diale (1939/41) and Ignacio Murillo (1941/44).