The Bandoneon – Part II


Talk A Tango. By Eduardo Lazarowski

Talk A Tango – The Bandoneon – Part II,

Several bandoneón players had gained popularity at the beginning of the XX Century. An incomplete list of these pioneering bandoneonists should include Juan Maglio (“Pacho”), Augusto Berto, Vicente Loduca, José Severino, Genaro Espósito, Arturo Berstein, and Vicente Greco. However, with the exception of Berstein, who had received formal music instruction, most bandoneonists of the 1900’s played intuitively, “by the ear”. Because they were not digitally fluent on the keypads, the bandoneón sound was dominated by the bursts produced at the closing of the blower, with rapid digital flute-like whistles in staccato tempo interposed during the opening of the box.

Unlike the piano, guitar, flute, and violin for which learning methods were available, no written method existed for the bandoneón. Learning how to play this instrument was a formidable challenge. The bandoneón player is a “blind” musician because he cannot see the 71 keys distributed along eight or nine rows at the sides of the instrument. In addition, the musician needs to coordinate the digitalization on the keypads with the opening and closing of the blower. When the piano became the dominant rhythmic voice of the Oquesta Típica (circa 1910), bandoneonists struggled to catch up with the colorful new style. The bandoneón voice became slower, lazy, and dragged. Around 1910, Vicente Greco introduced the “ligados” (linking the notes played on the right keypad, as opposed to the short strikes of the stacattos), thus imprinting a slower, more melodic voice to the instrument.

However, a fundamental factor contributing to the evolution of tango music was the new interpretative style in the execution of the bandoneón that took place around 1920. Eduardo Arolas, “El Tigre del Bandoneón” (The Tiger of the Bandoneón), with his romantic and at times dramatic style, proposed a more melodic role for the fueye, signaling a transition towards the modern bandoneón school. He also composed beautiful tangos that remain young and vibrant nowadays. But, like the preceding guardiaviejistas (Old Guard men), Arolas did not dominate the execution technique needed to lift the bandoneón to its current role in tango orchestras. This task was reserved for the New Guard generation of bandoneón players.

Pedro Maffia was the most salient expression of this group. Pedro Laurenz, Luis Petrucelli, Ciriaco Ortiz, Minotto De Cicco, and Carlos Marcucci also made enormous contributions to the new bandoneón school.

At the age of 12, Pedro Maffia accompanied his father to a Buenos Aires downtown café where famous bandoneón player Juan “Pacho” Maglio was performing. So much was Pedro impressed by Pahco’s bandoneón, a novel instrument to his eyes, that he became obsessed with learning how to play it. He soon took initial lessons from a neighbor, a self-proclaimed bandoneonist that hardly knew the basics. After a week into bandoneón lessons, the improvised teacher gave up; the young student had overcome the rudimentary music knowledge of the good neighbor. Losing his instructor did not discourage Pedro from continuing making progress on the bandoneón. By adopting old piano exercises that he had learned at the conservatory, Maffia developed a method for studying the “fueye”. Soon he attained such a digital domain of the instrument that a short age he began creating harmonies that would become the foundation of the modern bandoneón school.

A turning point in the evolution of the role of the bandoneón within tango orchestras was the pairing of Pedro Maffia and Pedro Laurenz –the “Great Pedros”, as first and second bandoneonists, respectively, of the Julio De Caro’s Sextet in 1925. Maffia and Laurenz had contrasting personalities and styles. But they understood and complemented each other to the point that they formed the best bandoneón duet of tango history; an orchestra inside the orchestra. Maffia and Laurenz played together within the De Caro Sextet for a brief period (Maffia formed his own orchestra in 1926 and Laurez did the same in 1933), but they maintained a close friendship and continued collaborating as musicians and composers for the rest of their lives. Both Pedros also were a source of inspiration to younger musicians that would become icons during the Golden Forties. The most salient follower of Maffia and Laurenz was Aníbal Troilo (“Pichuco”), for whom the “Day of The Bandoneón” is celebrated every 11 of July. Pichuco, in turn, was the inspiring genius for another genius, Astor Piazzolla, but this is a story for the next column….

To be continued…

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