Talk A Tango. By Eduardo Lazarowski
Talk A Tango – The Bandoneon – Part III : Anibal Troilo,
Anibal Troilo “Pichuco”, also known as “El Gordo” (the fat man), was an icon of the greatest period of tango music and his name remains a symbol of both Tango and Buenos Aires. Troilo was a great bandoneón player, conductor, and composer. He inspired and continues inspiring generations of tango musicians around the world.
Pichuco was born in 1914 in the porteño district of Almagro, close to El Abasto market, the neighborhood that witnessed the rise and glory of Carlos Gardel. Thus, Pichuco’s childhood was marked by tango. As most kids, Pichuco loved playing futbol (futbol, deformation of the word football, i.e. soccer). Running after a loose ball during a street game was precisely how he ended up next to a group of tango musicians, who were entertaining the public during a neighborhood outdoor party. The impact of seeing the bandoneón up close was so strong that, that night at home, he started “practicing” the instrument with … a pillow!!! Soon after, his mother (his dad had just passed) purchased a real bandoneón and encouraged the boy to take music lessons. Pichuco was very intuitive and had a gifted musical ear. At 11, after six months studying the bandoneón with Juan Amendolaro, he had outplayed his teacher. After a few more private lessons, this time with none other than the great Pedro Maffia, Pichuco had acquired a vast domain of the instrument technique; he was ready for the big challenge.
Pichuco began playing the bandoneón, professionally, in nearby theaters during the screening of silent movies. His career spanned from his debut in an “orquesta de señoritas” (orchestra of young ladies) in 1927, to accompanying Juan “Pacho” Maglio in 1929. During these and following years, anticipating the glorious times in tango history known as the Decade of the Forties, Pichuco played with other rising stars, such as Elvino Vardaro, Osvaldo Pugliese, Alfredo Gobbi, and Orlando Goñi. He was recruited by Julio De Caro during a grand orchestra presentation series in 1932. Under the conduction of maestro De Caro, Pichuco played the bandoneón next to Pedro Laurenz, who also had an important influence on Pichuco’s style. Having accompanied Pedro Laurenz and studied with Pedro Maffia could have fulfilled the greatest expectation of any young bandoneón player of those times. Pichuco had more than such a luxury in his curriculum – he also scored a “bonus goal” when he was recruited as accompanying bandoneón by Ciriaco Ortiz.
When in 1937, at the age of 22, Pichuco formed his own orchestra to debut at Café Marabú in downtown Buenos Aires; he was a mature musician who had absorbed the best from the best masters of his time. He symbolized in one person the technicality of Pedro Maffia, the energy of Pedro Lauernz, and the digital fluidity of Ciriaco Ortiz. Inside Pichuco’s bandoneón hid the soul of these three “monsters of the fueye”. As a conductor, Pichuco was influenced by Julio De Caro’s style, a style that he helped to expand to new frontiers. Pichuco’s 38 year-long career in front of his orchestra was only ended when he died in 1975.
Pichuco was a great composer. Paired with his friend, poet Homero Manzi, they wrote some of the most beautiful chapters of the tango-canción (tango song). Tangos such as Sur, Barrio de Tango, Romance de Barrio (waltz) and Che Bandoneón were the work of the Pichuco-Manzi collaboration. He composed other jewels, including Toda Mi Vida, Pa’ Que Bailen los Muchachos, Garúa, María, Una Canción, La Cantina, and La Última Curda in collaboration with José M. Contursi, Enrique Cadícamo, and Cátulo Castillo, as well as Resposno, La Trampera (milonga), Tres y Dos, and many more instrumental compositions.
Several tango singers who were celebrities during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, were first “discovered” by Pichuco. Francisco Fiorentino, Alberto Marino, Florial Ruiz, Edmundo Rivero, and Roberto Goyeneche became famous while singing for Troilo’s Orchestra. All of them initiated successful careers as soloists after singing for Pichuco.
Everything that Pichuco touched was magically transformed to gold. His bandoneón, his orchestra, his singers, and his compositions are unpaired icons of a time that would be hardly repeated.
Describing the role of Aníbal Troilo as a bandoneón player is not a simple task. Nothing that we could say about the miracle of his bandoneón’s sound would be enough to explain the feeling inspired by Troilo’s tender and unique execution of the instrument. Just listen to his solos in his orchestras recordings such as La Maleva or El Marne, to name a few, or the many beauties with his quartet (with Roberto Grela on the guitar) to feel a magical joy in the heart. It is no wonder he was called “The Greatest Bandoneón of Buenos Aires”.
Troilo is synonymous with Tango in the most liberal meaning of the word: Tango to dance, Tango to sing, and Tango to listen to. In other words, Tango to be felt and lived.
Two years from now, on the 11th of July 2014, the world will celebrate the 100th birthday of Anibal Troilo. During our recent visit to the 2012 World Tango Festival of Buenos Aires, we had the honor of meeting the organizers of Trolio’s 100th Aniversary celebration (see picture). The celebration will be centered around the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, where 100 bandoneón players will converge to honor Pichuco. One hundred milongas and tango festivals around the globe will accompany the celebration. A campaign to collect 50,000 signatures is now in place to ask the UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization) to declare the 11th of July as the International Day of the Bandoneón. Be part of the celebration by signing the petition at:
or visit the Aníbal Troilo Centenario website:
This series of articles about the bandoneón could not be complete without mentioning another great bandoneonist, composer, and conductor, who was born in the Atlantic city of Mar del Plata, south of Buenos Aires, and grew up in New York. Back in Buenos Aires as a teenager, the still unknown musician spent entire nights at café Marabú, admiring Trolio’s performances. When on one night of 1939, a bandoneonist of Troilo’s orchestra called in sick, our young musician offered his service as a substitute. Troilo was skeptical, but after auditioning the young man, he accepted to include him in his orchestra for that night. The new bandoneonist performed brightly and was so well-received by the audience that Trolio offered him a fixed post within his group; they became life-long friends and collaborators. Astor Piazzolla, thus the name of the Mar del Plata-born musician, spent five years as a member of the Troilo group. Eventually, he initiated a career as conductor of his own orchestra, taking tango music to new boundaries. Astor Piazzolla fused tango with erudite chamber music and jazz. His New Tango favored the music over the dance and, while resisted by traditionalists, conquered new audiences worldwide. Piazzolla’s popularity together with the success of “Tango Argentino” and other majestically choreographed presentations of tango dance companies in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. contributed greatly to the rebirth of tango traditions and opened the door to the return of tango as a social dance in the 1990s. But this is another story.
Toda Mi Vida (Anibal Troilo), by Oscar del Priore. JVE Ediciones. Buenos Aires 2003.
Aníbal Troilo, in La Historia del Tango Vol. 16. Various authors. Ed. Corregidor. Buenos Aires 1999.