Roberto Améndola

Twin tangos

here is no absolute certainty about the origins of tango. Many theories that come close to reality and which have points of contact among them, with accurate or presumptive data, have been stated but there is not a definitive account.

Different circumstances which were involved in shaping our popular music converged to consolidate what we know for over a century as Tango.

In opera, for example, the plot of what was intended to be created was previously prepared through many experiments carried out by connoisseurs of the subject. And so, one day of 1598 in Florence, for the first time an opera (Daphne) was played, which years later was adjusted to the passing of time, to the different nations and languages and the changing tastes of the peoples but always remaining as an opera.

In popular genres, things do not happen this way. Little by little they are acquiring their definitive shape.

Due to the fact that different factors took place in the creation of tango, curious and anecdotal events which attract our attention appeared during its development.

One of them is the existence of tangos we may call twins. They are those which share, partially or totally, the same sheet music but bear a different name, or have a different composer, or different lyrics. These events take place due to reasons not similar among them but which, in all the cases, are connected with the sloppy, disordered growth of tango and the lack of a legal channel for copyright in its early times. On other occasions, this phenomenon appeared due to the intention of changing its image or its destiny with the agreement of all the intervening parties.

A very special first case is the one corresponding to “Comme il faut” and “Comparsa criolla”, instrumentals composed by Eduardo Arolas and Rafael Iriarte, respectively, but musically, the same tango. What is the story of this duplication?

When the Victor company came to Buenos Aires for the fourth and last time in 1917, before settling in Buenos Aires, Eduardo Arolas recorded his tango “Comme il faut”, which was preceded by an outstanding success and in which Arolas was mentioned as the only composer.

However, it was a piece co-written with Rafael Iriarte a couple of years before and under this character it was played by the orchestra put together by its authors, Eduardo Arolas, who already mastered bandoneon, after giving up guitar playing, and Rafael Iriarte who played that instrument and who was going to have an outstanding career. The group also included Vicente Pecci, on flute, and the well-known violinist Tito Roccatagliata.

The authors were personal friends and, at least publicly, no problem arose due to the fact that Arolas was attributed as composer of the one which would be his first tango, even prior to “Una noche de garufa” which was regarded as his primeval tango, even when at that time Arolas lacked the knowledge of music notation.

After the death of El Tigre del Bandoneón, in 1924 in Paris, Iriarte released his rendition which he called “Comparsa criolla” and which Ricardo Tanturi committed to record in 1941 mentioning Iriarte as the only composer. The Francisco Canaro orchestra had already recorded it in the same way at the 7th contest organized by the Nacional label, in 1930, under another name, at the Electric cinema theater on 836 Lavalle Street.

Eduardo Arolas also appears in the second case we present. And it is not something to surprise us. Arolas was the greatest composer of all times. Along with Carlos Gardel in tango song, they were the two most important figures in the creation, progress, spreading and hierarchy of tango around the world. Two backbones on which a large number of interpreters and creators were nurtured.

And a mysterious fate links the lives and the souls of Arolas and Gardel: a short, fruitful existence, French blood flowing through their veins and a huge love for Buenos Aires which idolized them.

And these two great men have something to do with this case we introduce. Eduardo Arolas composed an important tango, not very often heard lately but it was not forgotten however: “La guitarrita”. Pascual Contursi, after this tango had become well-known, added lyrics to it and Carlos Gardel committed it to disc, backed by José Ricardo’s guitar. On the same music by Arolas he added a festive story and, with its new name, a gentle merry piece was born which we can still hear in the unforgettable Gardel’s voice when listening to his recording: “Qué querés con esa cara”. It was also played by Aníbal Troilo, with Jorge Casal on vocals, in the movie Mi noche triste of 1951. But the soundtrack of the above film is the only recording of this rendition that survived.

Another case is the one of the tangos “Callejas solo” and “Nada más”, both by Luis Rubistein and Juan D'Arienzo.

In 1928 the authors of this tango dedicated it to Callejas, a member of a family devoted to horse racing, so important at that time. One of the members of that family was Mangangá’s caretaker, but many others had an outstanding performance. Caretakers and jockey too. The latter died when his horse fell down at the Palermo horse racing track.

“Callejas solo” was recorded by El Rey del Compás in 1928 for the Electra label with Carlos Dante on vocals. The latter made his debut on record with Juan D'Arienzo with this tango.

There was also a previous version, less known, in 1926, which was entitled “Rodolfo Valentino”, dedicated to this actor and always with the same music.

But in 1938 a third version was made and it was the one which definitively consecrated this piece and was entitled “Nada más”. D'Arienzo recorded it with Alberto Echagüe on vocals in 1938, later he cut it with Jorge Valdez and, much later, with the Chilean female singer Mercedes Serrano.

Another case takes place with “De flor en flor” and “Desvelo”. The first one written by Enrique Bonessi with words by Domingo Gallichio, and the second, with new lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, keeping the same melody.

The story is something like this: when World War I ended years of peace came for the sea transport which crossed the Atlantic Ocean. About that, Néstor Pinsón says: «One of these boats was the Antonio Delfino», and he continues «… this ship carried Carlos Gardel on his first voyage to Spain. On that ship traveled, besides Gardel, José Razzano, Eduardo Bonessi, José Ricardo and Guillermo Barbieri, among others».

And Pinsón continues: «In the middle of the voyage, Bonessi made his fellow travelers hear a composition of his. It received an excellent response by the guys. And as on the ship the comedy playwright Domingo Gallicchio was traveling, Gardel asked the latter to write lyrics to it. Back in Buenos Aires, Gardel recorded for the first time this tango, which its authors named “De flor en flor”».

In 1938 the movie Una prueba de cariño was presented. In it the tango “Desvelo”, with lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo, was premiered. The lyrics were written on the same music that Eduardo Bonessi used for the tango “De flor en flor”. On this occasion it was sung by Roberto Páez, an excellent singer of the mid-30s who was starred in five movies but who left few, almost disappeared, recordings.

De flor en flor”, besides Gardel’s recording, was sung and committed to record by Alberto Marino with the accompaniment of the Héctor Artola orchestra in 1949. Less than one year before, Floreal Ruiz had recorded “Desvelo” with the Aníbal Troilo orchestra. Both tangos were also recorded by different important artists and both had wide public acclaim. As an instrumental, Bonessi’s music can be heard in a rendition of the Nuevo Quinteto Real in 1996 (Horacio Salgán, Antonio Agri, Néstor Marconi, Ubaldo De Lío and Omar Murtagh), under the name “Desvelo” (CD Mis buenos tangos queridos).

Another case is with “A pan y agua” and “Añoranza campera [b]”, two tangos with music composed by Juan Carlos Cobián. The latter bears lyrics in the first section, and Cobián added a second instrumental section which is no other but his tango “A pan y agua”.

The story is as follows. In 1928 Juan Carlos Cobián was based in the United States, willing to return to Buenos Aires after several years in that country where his career had not turned out to be as good as he had expected. Mainly, because tango was not as popular for the American people as it was in Europe. Furthermore, he was tired of whisky forged by bootleggers and because he had to play jazz whenever he wanted to play tango. He came back from the United States (where Prohibition was still in force) in 1928.

Under those circumstances he recorded “Añoranza campera [b]” with his orchestra in the States. This tango has a first section which is sung, which in this recording had Genaro Veiga on vocals and, next comes a second instrumental section that, as we said above, is no other but his tango “A pan y agua”.

He had composed this famous tango when he was withheld in some of the Army facilities because he had not appeared in due time to comply with the military service and was considered a deserter. Time later, he appeared to comply with obligatory conscription, which lasted more than what was reasonable because for the months that corresponded to him a penalty was added for having deserted. We insist, under these conditions he composed “A pan y agua”, an instrumental tango to which Enrique Cadícamo added lyrics and which became so famous with the passing of time.

We conclude this essay with “La cumparsita” and “Si supieras”. While in the world the madness of World War I was taking place, in the peaceful days of Uruguay a young student of architecture was writing “La cumparsita”, so giving birth to an endless sequence of doubts: 1) Who played it in public for the first time?; 2) Who was the first one to record it?; 3) Who wrote the first arrangements which gave it a new face?; 4) Who changed its structure to make it a tango (because in the beginning it was a march); 5) Who made it famous?; 6) When was it composed?, etc.

And as if this were not enough, in 1924, and without permission by its author, while the fame of “La cumparsita” was declining, Pascual Contursi and Enrique Maroni created a similar tango, with a new section and a different name. And to make matters worse, it was sung and recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1924, in one of his most impressive recordings (this is my personal opinion). This attitude made the author, Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, very angry and started a lawsuit that only would be settled in 1948. Firpo also said that he had composed one of the sections for the primeval “La cumparsita”, but its young composer did not accept to share it with the great pianist.

But let us go back to our issue: “La cumparsita” and “La cumparsita (Si supieras)” argue about which of the two is more cumparsita. Every tango man has his own. But as maestro José F. Junnissi used to say: «“La cumparsita” is a 15-year-old girl and all clothes are suitable for her». That is to say, most people like nearly all the arrangements written for it. And as singers, orchestras and groups in general have recorded an infinite number of renditions worldwide, and all the arrangements, as said above, suit it well, it is very hard to say which are the most beautiful versions.

Let us put aside disputes. In this space it is only pertinent to point out the issue of two similar tangos, with similar sections and others that are different and with different names and authors. And it is a story that is not definitively cleared out. Courts have judged about that. But the heart of each tango fan is a court of appeals which will say its final word in infinite.

We have tried to bring some cases of twin tangos. Surely there are many more.

I want to thank the scholars who nurtured my mind with memories of those facts, because I am not a contemporary witness of what is said here. In the manner of a bibliography I must mention Enrique Binda, Néstor Pinsón, Héctor Ernié, Ricardo García Blaya, Horacio Ferrer, Sergio Pujol, Abel Palermo, Nardo Zalko, Julio Nudler and some others whom I cannot remember now.