Mittwoch, 6. Juli 2022

Paris and New York before Canaro - Chapter 2: Argentine Tango travels North

by José Manuel Araque 

While Thomas A. Edison was granted a patent for the first cylinder phonograph in 1880, his original design was flawed in many respects. For one thing, his prototype used a thin foil to record the sound, which proved too brittle for continuous operation. A few years later Alexander Graham Bell introduced the use of hard wax, a much more durable material for Edison’s cylinders. In 1887 Emil Berliner patented the gramophone, an alternative design to Edison’s, consisting of a flat record where the stylus would travel along a spiral from the center to the edge of the circular surface. Eldridge R. Johnson, an associate of Berliner, perfected the original design of the matrix plates, and is credited with introducing shellac as the ideal medium to print the records. Berliner and Johnson also formed the Gramophone Company in England, and the Victor Company in North America, to produce contents for their player. In 1894, Columbia Records in the United States, and Pathé in France, companies dedicated to recording and distributing cylinders, started selling their own phonographs. Edison himself did not quite understand how revolutionary his invention would be, it wasn’t until 1897 that the first recordings of Music appeared in his cylinders. By 1901, Columbia was also selling records for Berliner’s players. Cylinders were produced until around 1914, but eventually Berliner’s design triumphed over Edison’s, and the cylinder became a historical curiosity.

What both designs did share was the use of large horns to capture the sound waves that moved the needle that recorded onto the matrix. Until 1925, when the microphone was introduced, these horns were the essential element in this process, and a limitation too. For one thing, instruments like violins were difficult to record because the acoustical-mechanical device relied on the loudness of the sound to move the recording needle. Enter the Brass Marching Band, which had become one of the most popular ensembles in the United States after the Civil War. Military Bands were also a regular feature in England and France, and played regularly in gazebos around the World. Up until the end of the cylinder era, these ensembles were favorites in the new era of sound recording. The major recording labels, Edison and Columbia, even created their own Bands (and other ensembles) to record music. From the beginning, the repertoire of these ensembles spanned the Classical to the popular, and from the North American and European to the "International", including Cake-walk and Spanish Fandangos. The Habanera was well known, and Sebastián Yradier's popular La Paloma was committed to cylinder by Edison as early as 1898.

In the Edison Cylinders Catalog there's a listing dating from 1897/98 for one Argentine Tango, "La Belle Créole", composed by one Richard Farban, and performed by the Grand Concert Band. Farban was a conductor from England, known in the 1890s for composing some dances. The cylinder is lost, but the entry in the Catalog serves to illustrate the fact that Argentine Tango was already known as a distinct musical genre around the turn of the Century, even before Tango composers from the Rio de la Plata were known in the Northern Hemisphere. This Tango, as many others of the Era, are not quite what we recognize today as Argentine Tango (Criollo), the form was evolving.

The recording industry was seeing exponential growth, by the year 1900 at least 5000 recordings had been made by Gramophone. Many new labels arose in Europe, most were licensing Berliner’s designs. Since at least 1902, recordists were traveling to remote regions of the World in search of talent, with Gramophone’s Fred Gainsberg conducting recording sessions in India and Japan. Similarly, the Zonophone company, an offshoot of the Berliner companies, sent recordists to Buenos Ayres in 1902. They recorded an eclectic mix of more than 200 matrices, including Uruguayan folk singer Arturo de Navas, and the first Tango ever recorded, Eduardo Lalanne's "Ensalada criolla" by the Orquesta del Teatro San Martín. The latter had been featured for years in a popular play, it was through theater than Tango reached the Argentine mainstream. By 1903 Zonophone had folded, its assets were sold to Gramophone.

While recordings were already being registered in Buenos Ayres, the actual manufacturing of records and cylinders still took place in the US or Europe. It was the visit to London of Uruguayan singer Diego Munilla (payador), and monologuist Eugenio López, that formally introduced Argentine Tango to the Northern Hemisphere. In early April 1905 the Royal Military Band (Banda Real Militar), under the direction of Norfolk Megone, published a notice in the journal Talking Machine News advertising its availability "to make Records".


We presume this is how Munilla engaged Megone, and went on to record a handful of tracks with the Royal Band for Gramophone. In these sessions the Band also recorded a Pericón by Antonio Podestá; the popular march Ituzaingó; and other pieces from the Rio de la Plata, a hint that Munilla brought sheet music with him, and shared it with Megone. On May 2nd, the Band recorded José Luis Roncallo’s Tangos Guido and La Payada. From the matrix suffix we infer that Will Gainsberg (brother of Fred) was the recordist. Munilla and López then traveled to Paris, where Munilla recorded the Tango Bartolo.

According to researcher Dick Spottswood, as early as April 1905, Columbia Records sent recordists to the Rio de la Plata, with Ángel Villoldo committing to record some of the earliest matrices of the 55000 Series. Villoldo was an all-round performer, singer, jester, actor, composer, and is considered by some to be the Father of Tango.

In mid-1906, espouses Alfredo and Flora Gobbi, and Eugenio López, from the Podestá troupe, traveled to London to make some recordings. The Gobbis (who also went by the surname Campos) registered 56 cylinders for Edison-Bell's Series 2M-9000, including the first recording of the Tango La Morocha by Enrique Saborido (with lyrics by Villoldo). And on July 19 of the same year, the Gobbis and López, arrived in New York from Liverpool on the liner Majestic.

They were in the US to record for Berliner’s Victor Company, in their Philadelphia recording studio. Over the next two weeks they recorded dozens of tracks, with solo and duo renditions of many popular songs, milongas (camperas), monologues, recitations, and even comic dialogues. They also recorded a few Tangos, including some by Antonio Podestá, some by Villoldo, and a new version of La Morocha.

The momentum was building up, and the American "Victor Argentine Orchestra" was formed to record in Philadelphia, alongside the Gobbis. The Orchestra recorded two dozen instrumental tracks, including several Tangos from Argentine composers like Rosendo Mendizábal and Próspero Cimaglia. They also recorded instrumental versions of La Morocha, and Villoldo's El Choclo. Both Tangos were huge hits in Argentina, as well as in the US and in Europe. After the Philadelphia sessions, the Gobbis returned to Buenos Ayres.

In an apocryphal story, told by Enrique Saborido himself, the Tango La Morocha arrived in France in 1906 aboard the frigate Sarmiento. The pride of the Argentine Navy since its construction in 1898, the ship sailed across the oceans, in goodwill missions representing the Argentine Republic. The French press took interest in the ship since early on, but there is no evidence it went to France in 1906. But in August 1907, the frigate did visit Bordeaux, and from there Commander José Moneta and some officers went a few days later to have dinner with President Fallières in Rambouillet. And on August 9th they even offered a social gathering of sorts aboard the frigate, with music and dance.

On June 21, 1907, the Gobbis were back in the US on the S.S. Byron (which sailed from Santos, Brazil). Columbia invited them to record in the studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they recorded yet another version of La Morocha. These recordings were eventually released in the Columbia T Series, which was produced for the Argentine market through 1920. Since 1906, Columbia was also recording Tangos with Charles A. Prince's Military Band, which used the name "Banda Española" to market Tangos to the Spanish-speaking markets. Among others, they recorded a brilliant version of El Choclo, with Alfredo Gobbi doing the introduction.

The Gobbis returned to Buenos Ayres later that year, where they recorded yet again for Victor. They truly were all over the place those years, recording for the Gath & Chaves, Era and Homokord labels in Europe the next year.

In May 1909, and January 1911, the Gobbis traveled from France to New York, and recorded cylinders for the Edison Series 19000 and 4M-7000 (BA 22100). The Edison Symphony Orchestra also registered some Tangos for this Series, with a notable rendition of Metallo's El Otario.

Back in France, the famous Musique de la Garde Répubicaine, under the direction of Gabriel Parés, was recording Tangos for Gath & Chaves. And the Bal Tabarin's Orchestra recorded Bergamino's Joaquina for Pathé.


The advent of the gramophone awakened people's interest for music from far away places, and for a new repertoire to challenge the Classical tradition. Since early in the decade, the Cakewalk had become a popular act at the Casino de Paris and other venues. Also, around 1905, the Brazilian Maxixe (Matchiche) entered the race for the newest dance craze. And in 1908, at the Moulin Rouge, Mistinguett and Max Dearly premiered their Apache dance

The Apache and its depiction of violent love, became a sensation in itself, and soon the newspapers in the United States were talking about it too. By the end of 1908, Joseph C. Smith and Louise Alexander were performing it in the musical The Queen of the Moulin Rouge, in Washington and in New York. And by the end of 1909, Smith was performing the Apache in Chicago, in the play The Flirting Princess, along other novelties like the Vampire Dance.

From 1908 through 1910 there is still scant evidence of Tango in Paris or New York. Although the French press took great interest in Argentina, the cultural life of the porteños took second seat to the romantic views of the Pampas. In August 1908, the journal Comoedia started writing an occasional column from Buenos Ayres, with special attention to the newly inaugurated Teatro Colón, and the role of Charles Seguin in the Theater life of the metropolis, and his new trip to Paris. And in late 1910, Georges Clemenceau, the great French Radical leader, visited Argentina and wrote extensively, with his articles translated and published by The New York Times in early 1911. But Clemenceau barely mentioned Buenos Ayres, he wrote yet again about the possibilities of the vast Pampas, still seen as the frontier of Colonization. He even wrote about how the Gauchos "danced the Pericón and the Tango". This fixation with the rural, is one of the reasons why Europeans believed for years that Tango was music of the countryside, and not a product of the confluence of the Criollo with the increased sophistication of Buenos Ayres.

As researcher Enrique Binda points out, it's not like there was a gold rush for Tango either, or at least it did not seem apparent. Before 1910 less than 400 Tangos had been recorded. But there was demand for more content, and the Argentine rose to the occasion with the formation of new bands that played Tango accompanied by a bandoneon. The Era of the Orquesta Típica was inaugurated by Vicente Greco's ensemble, which included Francisco Canaro on the violin.


In Paris' Belle Époque there was a heightened sense of the possibilities of the new medium too, and of the brave new world of music and dance, and spectacle. On the August and September 1909 issues, the French fashion magazine La Vie Hereuse, reported for the first time on the craze for new dances, including the Maxixe and the Tango. In Paris, they wrote, "there's tango-lessons, tango-thés, tango-exhibitions, tango-conferences, tango-surprises, tango-dinner, champagne-tango, intimate-tango, charity-tango, etc etc etc". On August 19, the English paper The Wells Journal, quoted one Dancing Master from Paris, frustrated by "these ugly and ungracious dances [that] come from America".



1. The Sarmiento also visited France in October 1909, for the inauguration of the statue of General José de San Martín in Boulogne-sur-Mer. It got significant press coverage, and there was plenty of pomp and celebrations in the ports it visited. But Tango fever was well on its way already, this is not the trip that Saborido was talking about.

2. Villoldo composed at least two Tangos dedicated to Charles Seguin, El Fogonazo and El Esquinazo.
3. Greco's was not necessarily the first band that played with a bandoneon, but it was the first one recorded. According to Canaro's memoirs, bandoneon pioneer Juan Félix Maglio, aka Pacho, was playing around the province of Buenos Ayres well before Greco's recordings. 
4. In his autobiography, Maurice Mouvet claimed to have co-invented the Apache dance with Max Dearly. As Richard Powers documents, Mistinguett herself had created the concept of this dance at least 5 years earlier. Maurice was in Paris in May 1908, and he danced at the Ambassadeurs with one Mlle. Polo. Incidentally, Maurice does not mention Mlle. Polo by name at all, she walked on him. By the end of 1909, Maurice (who also went by the name Morris) and his new partner Leona, had made a name for themselves dancing American rhythms, and with their performance of the Apache.


1. This piece would not have been possible without the generous advice from Enrique Binda, and his book "Los primeros 25 años de la Fonografia Argentina". Binda's books (see Bibliography below) have demystified much of the lore that accompanied the stories told by early Tango historians, it's mandatory reading. In short, at the beginning of the 20th century Tango was not the music of the Buenos Ayres underworld, it was already enjoyed plenty by the Argentine middle class. Binda also has his own YouTube Channel where he shares his amazing collection of shellacs.

2. The New York Public Library recently acquired a machine that reads cylinders using an optical contraption (laser). Their invaluable collection includes the cylinders for La Paloma and El Otario referenced in this piece.

3. Camilo Gatica for his corrections, annotations, etc.

4. The Discography of American Historical Recordings, an invaluable resource hosted by the University of California in Santa Barbara.
5. Dick Spottswood for his advice and support.

6. for that wonderful Joaquina, and many others.

7. Brian Bockleman for that pic of Villoldo

8. for the pic of the Sarmiento

9. Juan Cruz Rosas for the picture of Maglio.



1. Enrique Binda - Los primeros 25 años de la Fonografia Argentina - Rich with detailed info about records.

2. Enrique Binda - El Tango en la sociedad porteña (1880-1920) - A fantastic introduction to Tango in 19th-Century Buenos Ayres, before the Gramophone. And then some more.
3. Richard Powers' page on Social Dance hosted at Stanford University.
4. Dominique Lescarrret wrote about the frigate Sarmiento in France
5. R. S. Baker wrote about Charles Adam Prince for The Syncopated Times

Paris and New York before Canaro - Chapter 1: La Belle Époque

by José Manuel Araque 

Paris was in love with Dance forever, it seems. Certainly, well before dancing steps were coded into manuals, Parisians were going out to public dancing halls.

The consequences of the French and the American Revolutions went far beyond politics and economics, cultural life and the Arts changed too. The World seemed slightly bigger back then, it took a ship two weeks to cover the distance from Buenos Ayres to New York, Barcelona, or Marseille. Paris became a huge destination when the fourth Exposition Universelle took place there on the Centennial of the Revolution,
from May through October 1889. The Eiffel Tower was built as part of the Expo. Some countries still under monarchies boycotted the Expo, but it was a huge success nonetheless. Suddenly everyone wanted to go to Paris, not only to see the French, but to see other cultures, and to be seen. Paris became “full of people that were not French”, 32 million visitors came in the 6 months the Expo was open.

Exposition Universelle was a significant cultural affair like no other the World had seen, it was a "spectacle to end all spectacles" [Fauser]. It showcased the achievements of the French Revolution, but it also acted as an enormous Encyclopedia of knowledge, and a huge display of products from all around the World. And it served as a turning point in the understanding and appreciation of Music. New technologies were demonstrated in the Galerie des Machines and other pavilions. Edison's cylinder phonograph was at the Expo (it was patented in 1880, but mass-production started in 1888), as well as Bell's telephone. People lined up for hours at times, to see and listen to these wonders. Edison himself visited the Expo in late August, he got a hero's welcome.

In accordance with the increased interest in the concept of "the national", the music of "the peoples" (folk) was on display too. Javanese, and Gypsy music took center stage, though there was also a message that Classical music was superior to others, the zenith of human achievements was European culture after all.

Argentina made a big splash at the Exposition with its costly pavilion (1.5 million francs)

but there is no evidence that anything "cultural" took place there, the centerpiece of their display was a refrigerator showcasing fresh meat and vegetables.
Everything Spanish was the rave in Paris those days, and Classical composers like Emmanuel Chabrier followed suit with compositions "a la Espagnole" that were featured in the Exposition. But it was the arrival of dancers from Granada, dancing the Tango, that truly captivated the audience. This was the first time Europeans heard of this derivative of the Habanera.
Three years after the Expo, in 1892, the Pôle Nord (North Pole), Paris’ first ice-skating rink opened on 18-20 Rue de Clichy, around the block from the Théâtre de Paris.

Since the late 18th Century, as attitudes changed, the nightclub was born, going out at night was democratized. The legendary Ambassadeurs in Paris dates back to 1772. The music-hall (or cafe-concert) blossomed too, a sort of small theater for the common man, unencumbered by the stodginess of the Classical tradition. Other places followed, like the Alhambra in 1866, the Folies Bergère in 1869, and the Théâtre Marigny in 1883. And following the Expo, the Jardin de Paris, which later became the cabaret Moulin Rouge, opened in Montmartre. The Moulin became famous not only because of the creation of the can-can, but for the novel design that allowed for rapid changes to the décor and stage.

In 1893, the Casino de Paris opened next door to the Pôle Nord. The Casino was a multi-purpose venue, it was as much a music-hall, as a place to see theater, dancing, circus attractions, even wrestling. It was gorgeous, extravagant, and it became one of Paris’ major attractions too, performers from around the world came to show their acts there.

By 1899 the Pôle Nord had folded, and the location was up for grabs.

Yet another Exposition Universelle took place in Paris in 1900, and the incipient field of Motion Pictures was one of the technologies that was prominently showcased. At the turn of the Century, the Paris of the Belle Époque was probably the hottest destination on Earth, everything that happened in Paris set trends for other capitals to follow. The boom in the Arts was unequaled, and so was the proliferation of venues of leisure.
But when La Belle Otero danced at the Marigny and others, it was the Andalusian Tango that was still front and center, and there was little or no Argentine Tango in Paris.

Following the latest Expo, the brothers Lumiére opened up the Photorama at 20 Rue de Clichy. The Photorama is a historical curiosity, a testament to the inventive mind of the Lumiéres, but it did not stay around too long.

By 1903 the Photorama had folded too, and La Boucle, a music-hall of sorts, operated at the address. Next door the Casino was booming, but 20 Rue de Clichy seemed a bit in need of a renovation, to keep up with its neighbors. To be sure, it's not like Paris needed a new music-hall, in 1904 Auguste Bosc opened the famous cabaret Bal Tabarin too.

Charles Séguin was born in Paris in 1877, and in 1895 he moved to Argentina. Since 1870 until 1910, there was a large influx of immigrants from France into Argentina, following incentives by the Argentine Government meant to counter-balance the even larger influx of Italian immigrants. In time, more than 100 thousand French moved to Argentina, specially Basques. The traffic of steamships from Europe to the River Plate rivaled the traffic between Europe and New York. The population of Buenos Ayres saw a five-fold increase during that period. In Paris, there was a growing contingent of Argentine aristocrats too.

Séguin was highly ambitious, and moved up very quickly. Ten years later, he had investments in all sorts of enterprises, he was a developer, an industrialist, he ran "trusts", and he became fabulously wealthy. The source of Séguin's wealth is the stuff of legend and speculation, he seemed extremely adept at staying "behind the scenes".
When Enrique Cadícamo wrote about Séguin in his "Historia del Tango en París" (History of Tango in Paris, 1975), he highlighted Séguin's ties to the Lombard brothers, who were said to be linked to the underworld in Marseille. Cadícamo suggested that the Lombards were linked to prostitution. These were still the days when a woman on stage, dressed in anything but "proper attire", was considered a moral transgression, and the Lombards were known to run places where spectacles "less than decorous" took place. The Casino de Paris itself became known as a place where these kind of performers were featured too.

It’s not known how Séguin came across the opportunity, but in early 1906 he entered in a partnership with Alphonse Rigod and Ernest Rottenbourg in Paris, and took controlling interest in 20 Rue de Clichy. Séguin returned to Buenos Ayres on March 17 of that year, and left Rigod and Rottenbourg to run with the plans.

Did Séguin mean to bring Argentine Tango to Paris? In Buenos Ayres, he was also involved in the Sociedad Treatral Ítalo-Argentina, and at the same time he took ownership of a lot where he started building the Teatro Esmeralda (later Teatro Maipo). In time, he had his hands all over the night scene in Buenos Ayres, with controlling interests in everything from the first skating rink there (Palais de Glace), to legendary dance halls where Tango flourished in the first quarter of the Century (e.g. Pabellón de las Rosas, Royal Pigalle). 
In May 1906, the papers for the renovation of 20 Rue de Clichy were filed, the place closed, and a tall fence was erected to block the view of the ongoing works. Almost one year later, on Saturday March 30, 1907, Paris came to see what Séguin and his partners were up to, as the Théâtre Apollo opened its doors in a "soirée de gala". One "maestro Gauwin" conducted the orchestra, there were singers, acrobats, mind readers, even the introduction of a new "danse du Serpent Boa" by Jean Daris. The Apollo had a vast hall leading to the main floor, which was elegantly painted in light blue and ivory, and was illuminated by close to 4000 electric lamps. The total capacity was close to 500 people. Jacques Marcel Auburtin was credited as the Architect.

But the pièce de résistance of the Apollo was the
reversible floor, which was baptized as Le Basculo. The Basculo was the brainchild of Félix Léon Edoux, a friend of Gustave Eiffel known for his invention of hydraulic elevators. It was said to be around 278 square yards (232 square meters), and accommodated more than 300 seats. It weighed as much as 100 thousand kilos, and rotated on a horizontal axle driven by an electric motor, transforming the floor from theater into ballroom in a matter of minutes. For its construction, a large pit almost 30 feet deep (10 meters), had to be excavated on the site.

The Basculo became a sensation in itself, all of Paris went to the Apollo at 11PM for months to see the maneuver that would flip the floor.
The Basculo was an engineering marvel, but the Apollo was still lacking a clear strategy to distinguish itself from the many other attractions of Paris. What exactly would the program look like every night? Was it going to be a theater or a music-hall, both, or something else? While Paris curiously peeked inside, it was the premiere of Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow on April 28, 1909, that really cemented the status of the Apollo, it was a runaway success. The Merry Widow even played in Buenos Ayres before it played at the Apollo. Alphonse Franck, the Apollo's new artistic director, wanted a change, and the Basculo became a footnote. And there was still nary word of Argentine Tango in the French press.


1. Andrée Magda, a French actress, went to Buenos Ayres in August 1905 to play at the Teatro Royal, and stayed for close to 14 months. When she returned to Paris in September 1906, a writer for the journal Fin de Siècle wrote a nice welcome-back piece mentioning her love of Tango, "the favorite dance of the peoples of Buenos-Ayres". Strictly speaking, this is the first mention of the Argentine dance in the French press that we could find, but Mm. Magda apparently did not pursue her passion for Tango any further.

2. The first evidence of Argentine Tango dancing in Europe comes from Madrid, where in December 1906, Las Argentinas performed it at the Teatro Price. But again, there's no evidence they were in France, or where these two were from. And then they "dissapeared" a couple of years later.


1. Annegret Fauser - Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World's Fairm - University of Rochester Press - 2005

2. Carlos Szwarcer - Teatro Maipo: 100 años de historia entre bambalinas - Corregidor - 2010