The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

German Tango “Schlager”


During the second Tangomania one of the capitals of Tango was Berlin [1]. Original Argentinean Orchestras played here and also German Orchestras tried to copy the popular Tango music. People were crazy and asked for more. A tango was even incorporated into the “Threepenny opera” of Kurt Weill in 1928 [2].

Especially in Berlin, big ballrooms opened, one of them, the “Femina” had 4 stories, 400 tables for 2000 guests and 4 dancefloors [3, 4]. The tables even were connected with telephones [5]. Original Argentinean orchestras played in the European capitals, among them an orchestra led by a brother of Francisco Canaro which played in “Gaucho” outfit. The situation was described by a Tango written by Friedrich Holländer: “Gugg doch nicht immer nach dem Tangogeiger hin”. The song was performed by a couple of singers, among them Curt Bois, Leo Monosson and Weintraubs Syncopators.

Interestingly, the composer Friedrich Hollaender sings the refrain personally in the last example.
The vocals describe a Gentleman who complains that his wife/girlfriend always looks towards the Tango Violinist who wears a uniform jacket (like a monkey…). Here are the German vocals and the English translation:
Gugg doch nicht immer nach dem Tangogeiger hin, was ist schon dran an Argentinien ?
Du siehst ja garnicht dass ich auch noch bei dir bin, ich hab doch auch ganz schöne Linien.
Der Junge wirkt auf Dich wohl „spanisch“, jedoch aus Dir macht er sich gar nichts,
Also bitte: Gugg doch nicht immer nach dem Tangogeiger hin, was ist schon dran an Argentinien !
Sicher ist es bloß die olle Uniform, die wirkt wie Chloroform auf jede Frau,
zöge ich mir so ne Affenjacke an, fängt sie mit mir was an, ich weiß genau.
Doch ich verschmähe gottseidank solche Tricks, mich muss man lieben wie ich bin, oder nix,
Wenn sie sich verknallt, bitteschön – mich lässt es kalt.

Don´t always look at the Tango fiddler, what is all about Argentina ?
You don´t notice that I am with you, I am also looking quite handsome.
This guy looks for you really Spanish, but he doesn´t notice you at all.
So please: Don´t always look at the Tango fiddler, what is all about Argentina ?
Surely it is only the old uniform, it works like chloroform for all the women.
If I would wear such a monkey jacket, she would fall in love with me, I am sure.
But I dislike such tricks, I want to be loved like I am – or not at all.
If she falls in love – well I don´t care.

It seems, the composer has seen some Argentineans in special outfits (maybe the Canaro orchestra). Above that, the Germans were a bit jealous, but well aware that Tango originates from Argentina. If you look at the first video, you will see pictures of Curt Bois and maybe you recognise one of them. Curt Bois played a small role in the 1942 movie Casablanca, so you should have seen him before.
German orchestras tried to copy the Argentinean way of playing the Tango, but usually were not really successful. There are two reasons for that. Even in the Country that has invented the Bandonion, these instruments were not present in dance orchestras and usually replaced by the Accordion if at all. The other problem is the way rhythm is created inside the orchestra. One of the most important characteristic of Latin American music is the fact that all instruments together create rhythm. For a European orchestra, the role of rhythm and lead instruments is fixed and not variable. So in later phases, rhythm is created by drums and the vital characteristic of the original Tango is castrated into a military marsh.
There have been good musicians who really studied the Tango. One of them was Juan Llossas, originally a Spaniard, who started his carreer in Latin America and studied Music in Germany (Darmstadt and Berlin). There he founded his Spanish-Argentinean Tango Orchestra. This Orchestra played when the Femina in Berlin was opened in 1929 [6]. He was called the German “Tango König” (Tango king). Here three of his pieces, the second one sung by Leo Monosson:
Other orchestras played European compositions, here an example of Donna Clara (original a polish composition by Petersburski), here the orchestra of Marek Weber:

From 1929 here another example played by L.Bernauer:

and finally another song sung by L.Monosson:

After the second World War the time of German Tango “Schlager” was over, one of the last ones was Hazy Osterwalds Kriminal Tango (criminal tango) from 1959 [7]:

Today modern orchestras play nostalgic Tangos in the original style of the 20ies. One final example is the Palast Orchestra of Max Raabe:




3 Birkenstock A, Rüegg H: Tango – Geschichte und Geschichten. DTV, 2001.

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