Wednesday, January 17, 2007

From The Rin to the Arrabal: The lost Fueyes

By Natalia Lifchitz
translated by Dolores Iglesias Rocha

"It bodders me to confess it
but life is also a bandoneón"
(Mario Benedetti)

The bandoneón and the tango are almost inseparable, an ideal couple, two faces of the same coin. From the songs dedicated to the instrument to the opinion of experts, it is unquestionable the inveterate ligature that has been established starting with the approach of the "fueye" (bellows, slang for bandoneón), between it and the music that cradled it, incorporating it immediately.

Gold Cradle?

In spite the fact that there are diverse versions about the birth of the bandoneón, the strongest says that its invention was in charge of the German Heinrich Band (originally from Hamburg) in the year 1835. The wind instrument, composed by a bellows, with a wooden box and keyboard with forty four buttons, was at first created with the purpose of cheering up the Bavarian peasants and also, to supplant the organ, though supporting its solemnity in the countryside masses. The bandoneón way then, at first played a more sacrum roll rather than artistic, that is why some compare it to the harmonium.
Its the first denomination -band-union- naturally derived from the creator's last name and apparently, a sort of cooperative in charge of solventing its fabrication.
Its following names were bandonión, bandolión, bandoleón, mandolín and mandoleón.

The first samples arrived in Buenos Aires at the end of the nineteenth century, presumably around 1870. The versions on its arrival also vary: apparently it was introduced by a German sailor (although there are those who say that he could have been English or Brazilian). Some assure that it was José Santa Cruz, one of Mitre´s soldiers that was coming back from a victorious war of the Triple Alliance, the first one who played the instrument since he might have obtained it from a barter for clothes and victuals, done the deal with a blond crewman from a German freight-carrier moored to the Rio de la Plata.
Now the question would be why did the bandoneón failed in its native land and had, instead such favorable welcome in this region. One possible answer would be that "a new intrument like this one, was destined to failure in such an old town, and it was precisely this particular young and turbulent land who inserted a heart into that small wooden box, turning it into the tango's sonorous spokesman, in its own soul.

"Like a child whose mother has abandoned"

At the beginning, the first bandoneones with forty-four or fifty-three knobs performed tango without accompaniment in intimate parties of family ones. It was Domingo Santa Cruz (son of José, the soldier) who incorporated it to the musical ensemble. The tangos were performed by flutes tercets, guitar and violin. Occasionally the accordion or mandolín and the harmonic were included.
Later, when included the bandoneón, it began displacing the flute until it took a stand and became the star of the ensemble.
Some changes were also made on the button knobs, the instrument evolved including seventy one keys (that is thirty eight buttons on the singing box and thirty three on the lower one) becoming diatonic, that means that it would play different sounds when it was opened and when closing it. According to Zucchi "the bandoneón has a dual artistic feature: when opening the bellows, its sonority is brilliant and clear, but when closed it sounds extinct, muffled, as well as noisy and quarrelsome, as if they were fighting between beatitude and the malindraje".
The country that purchased most of the bandoneones (mostly manufactured, in general, by the German Alfred Arnold) since 1922 until 1930 was Argentina, and the instrument in the advertisement proclaimed to be "the ideal one for a perfect interpretation of argentine tango".
With the inclusion of the instrument in the tango, this last one earned more harmonic richness richness and varied the role of the rest of the instruments, and to its influence it adopted a more deep grumbling tone due to the "sonorous" color of the bandoneón, and basically varied its rhythm.

Since the bandoneón was a totally unknown instrument, there was no previous experience in order to make possible the application of resources originated from other musical genres. But, it had the capacity of being an instrument willing to learn and mold, and that is precisely what made possible its quick affirmation and consolidation in tango, and improntu creative performance typically Creole.
At first, the teaching of the instrument was rather difficult, considering that there existed no competent teachers, and the conservatories considered that it was degrading to include it as a subject. Once the experienced executants would learn the pieces "by ear", that would pass them on to the beginners, teaching them the hand settings, not knowing which note corresponded to such key, being their only guide the ciphers on each knob. Considering this, it was even possible to "pass on" a piece by mail (letter).

"Its the one that expresses what I want to say"

There is no doubt that it is difficult to try to explain in a rational way the relationship between the tango composer and the tango. In any case, it would be more judicious to suggest poetically an idea of this wise and profound communion between them.
Ever since the beginning, it has been established a relationship between them, a relationship of mutual forsakes: both accompany each other in solitude. The bandoneón stops being a simple musical instrument, to replace the inseparable singer and the poet. Both share a deep sorrow, a dark anguish, a restrained cry, the cry that can only come out if certain poetry is supported by the sweet and sonorous melody of the bandoneón. Its the instrument that traduces most faithfully sleepless nights and the grief of the poet, its it who with its melancholic and deaf complaints intones the pain impossible to even name with words.
Its notorious and persistent the personification of the figure of the bandoneón in the very many songs that name it (Calla bandoneón! ...calla por favor!).
Clearly the bandoneón is neither for the poets or interpreters a simple instrument, but a friend, which can comprehend, and can also be the voice, whether its what one's voice can no longer intone, the ring and tone that complement the voice with a griefless perfection.
It is also the witness, sometimes mute of the poets sorrow and always, in comparison to the traitor woman, its loyal and faithful to its interpreter.
It has in itself the dichotomy, the sadness and sweetness, expresses the deep melancholy of the tango and exalts it to its limits. Without him, the tango would lack of its most deep and plaintive notes.
Cries the bandoneón, and so does the tango when they get together, it is there where thay acquire the style, its true nostalgic spirit, the broken melody, there dwells its charm, in the profound grief of the bandoneón.



  • Portable wind instrument of single with notes vertical keys (chord-keys free) operated by a bellows played with both hands on the right and left side of the bellows.
    There exist chromatic models, on which by pressing a key the sound is the same, whether when opening it or when closing the bellows, an achromatic bi-sonorous, in which by pressing one same key will emit two different notes according to whether its while opening it or by closing the bellows, this is why the chords vary.

  • Accordeón: Cretaed in Viena, Austria in 1829 by Cyrillus Damián . In our country it was known since Juan Manuel de Rosas´s epoch and the black musician Jorge Machado would play it in the wild milongas in San Telmo.

  • Concertina: The date of its creation is uncertain, and it is due to the fact that the German Carl Uhling, luthier and clarinet solo player. For each key, whether when closing or opening the bellows, one would obtain a different note which would constitute the germ of the creation of the bi-sonorous.

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