The first Tango musicians in the early decades of the 20st century were amateur musicians without a real musical education, but partly in the tradition of the Payadores, the Argentinean country bards. These musicians (like Vincente Greco, Juan Maglio, Eduardo Arolas or Angel Gregorio Villoldo) introduced the milonga from the countryside and other criollic elements into the young Tango and started to form the first orchestras. Until that time, no tango orchestras have existed and so the characteristic instruments and the way to play them had to be defined and invented. The early Tango musicians are called “Guardia Vieja” (old guard), but the first orchestras played a very significant role to develop the style of the orchestral tango and the musical tools and performance structures to fit the character of the Tango. In terms of historical structures, the Guardia Vieja closed around 1925 and then a transition period began with tango orchestras exploring the quality of interpretation but also developing the musical reception of the Tangueros to finally create the EDO around 1940.
One Musician was very important in this context: Roberto Firpo, who was born on the 10.5.1884 in Las Flores. Today we have to imagine, that in the early days of Tango, there was no radio and only occasionally the first few phonograph cylinders. Tangos were mainly published as sheet music for the piano. Roberto may have listened to Tango music on the piano during his childhood in Las Flores, Bahia Blanca and later in Buenos Aires starting the desire to learn how to play piano, which was not really recognized as a Tango instrument, mainly because pianos are not mobile and only a few Tango places were able to afford one. At the age of 19, he saved enough money to buy his first piano and he is typically quoted with this sentence: “The happiest day of my life cost me two hundred pesos” . Lessons with Alfredo Bevilacqua, a famous composer prepared him to start his career 4 years later in 1907 as a musician and composer . So Firpo was one of the first Tango musicians, who received an education for his instrument and composition skills.
For his first trio he added one violin (Francisco Postiglione) and a clarinette (Juan Carlos Bazan) . In 1913 he formed a bigger orchestra and they started to record in 1914 for “Nacional Odeon”. Firpo used the format of the Orquesta tipica criolla, which was developed by Vincente Greco (2 violins, two bandoneons, Flute, Guitar), but he exchanged the guitar in favour of the piano. A lot of famous musicians started in his orchestra, among them: Eduardo Arolas, Osvaldo Fresedo, Pedro Maffia, Elvino Vardaro, Juan Deambroggio and even Francisco Canaro .
In 1914 he composed his most important Tango “Alma de bohemia” which introduced a more lyrical style into Tango .
Apart from his adaptation of “La Cumparsita” , another one of his most famous Tangos is “El Amanecer”, for which he used the violin to imitate fireworks, birds and other animals. In the film “Tango” from 1933 he and his orchestra are filmed playing “El Amanecer”.
By introducing the Piano, Firpo changed the sound of Tango Orchestras significantly, mainly because the bass line of the piano was able to increase the harmonic framework of the music. Additionally to that, the piano could be used as a rhythm instrument with much more power than the rather silent guitar. This helped the orchestra to be present in bigger venues.
Firpo had a very long lasting career and he recorded until 1959 (apart from a short break, where Firpo unsuccessfully started a career as cattle rancher ), spanning the whole EDO. Unfortunately, he never developed his style any further, so he kept the sound of the late Guardia Vieja and transition period.
Roberto Firpo died on 14.6.1969 and left us a huge musical work of about 200 compositions and around 3000 recordings .
Finally here are just some of the more popular compositions of Roberto Firpo:
-Richard (DJ Ricardo)