D’Arienzo & the 1930s: consolidating the crown

2017-07-18 - D'Arienzo - Recording Statistics 1935-1939

In 1935 Juan D’Arienzo was re-inventing himself for popularity. For dancability he brought back the older “dos” rhythm, the 4/8 of the canyengue era that had propelled tango to international fame 2 decades earlier, although he speeded it up to get people onto the floor, and updated the arrangements. Vals was riding on its 19th century success and was still one of the great popular dances in the 1930s, so D’Arienzo incorporated plenty of vals as well. But vals was also a victim of D’Arienzo’s success. The tango rhythm that he and Biagi presented over 2 and a half years became overwhelmingly popular with D’Arienzo’s target audiences, and from 1937 he responded to this market pressure by reducing his vals recordings in favour of more tango recordings; overall vals recordings from across the industry followed suit.

D’Arienzo’s first two recording sessions with RCA Victor in 1935 were in successive months, July and August, and the next was only 7 weeks later. Under his contract D’Arienzo maintained an annual recording rate of 13 sessions generating 2 recordings each throughout the 1930s. It is a gruelling schedule as the 2 pieces of music had to be selected and rehearsed over only a few weeks in between maintaining 6-12 live performances a week. But at this time D’Arienzo was paying his musicians more than anyone else, and the money was generated by the phenomenal sales that these recordings drove.

So a basic framework of one tango and one other piece of music per recording session underpins D’Arienzo’s recordings with RCA Victor through to the end of the 1930s. To start with there was a lot of valses, but after two years D’Arienzo experimented with other models. From 1937 the second recording might be a vals or milonga, or might be something else—a polca on two occasions—and towards the end of that year he settled down to regularly recording two tangos per session.

Accordingly the proportions of milonga to tango in D’Arienzo’s recordings remained pretty constant over the 1930s at approximately 1 milonga for every 6 tangos, but the proportion of valses drops from nearly 1 to 1 in 1935 to something closer to the milonga ratio of 1 to 6 by 1939.

Significantly, all of the recordings from D’Arienzo in 1935 are instrumental; none have singing. Avoiding the melodic component of singing was another part of D’Arienzo’s strategy for focusing the dancers on the dance rhythm. In fact, for the first 3 years all recordings except 5 were instrumental (the 5 being 1 milonga in January 1936 and 3 valses in mid-1936 sung by Walter Cabral, and a single tango sung by Enrique Carbel in October 1937). It was not until 1938 that D’Arienzo started to incorporate the melodic accompaniment of Alberto Echagüe as estrabillista. But even then Echagüe is only present less than half (43%) of 1938 output, singing 2 valses, 4 milongas, and 6 tangos. In 1939 his involvement is lifted slightly to 3 valses, 4 milongas and 8 tangos, representing 58% of D’Arienzos’ recordings that year, as D’Arienzo adjusted to the market pressure around him. Echagüe left a few months later, in March 1940, but the 1939 recordings are the last legacy of that working relationship.

Rodolpho Biagi was with D’Arienzo for about half of this time, but not right at the start. Lidio Fasoli played piano on D’Arienzo’s initial recordings with Victor, but was replaced by Biagi in the final session for 1935, on 31 December that year. Two and a half years later, 22 June 1938 was the seventh recording session for that year and the final one with Biagi on piano. Thereafter Juan Polito played a heavy rhythmic style that worked well enough with D’Arienzo’s by now well-established sound.

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