And a table set for love.

The standard layout for a tango-club in Buenos Aires in the 1920s consisted of a central dance floor with a small raised platform at the back for a four or five piece tango ensemble. The dance floor was surrounded by tables for two, three, four and larger if and when necessary set for dining normally with a small. ornate, coloured glass jar with a single votive-sized candle.

Along the perimeter of the room, to the left-hand side facing the bandstand was a small bar with stools where single men or women could have a drink and watch the dancers without having to pay the nominal table-charge. On the right-hand side of the perimeter, next to the kitchen entrance, there normally was a service bar which provided the drinks for the waiters serving the tables.

Along the rest of the perimeter and facing the dance floor there would normally be a small number of "love-tables": two-seaters with a glass candleholder similar to the rest of the tables except that these tables were partially secluded from the rest of the room by ornate and beautiful room dividers. There was an extra charge for these tables and special waiters to serve at them.

Many different designs and makes of room dividers were available at Maple & Co. at this time and prices went from low to very high. Here are three examples of Maple & Co. room dividers, hand-made to clients' specifications and priced at 1924 Argentine pesos:

Four-fold Japanese Screen (i)

Shaped Top Screen (ii)
Four-fold Graduated Screen (iii)
As advertised:
(i) With handsome gold embroidery on black ground, 1,75m high. Price 7,50 pesos.
(ii) Very strongly made, covered both sides in handsome leather paper and finished with brass nails. Height 1,82m. Price 33,50 pesos.
(iii) Very strongly made, covered both sides in handsome leather paper and finished with leather edging and brass nails. Extreme height 1,72m. Price 40,25 pesos.
Here is the way these special divider-screen were advertised in a Maple & Co. 1904 London catalogue:

NEW SHOWROOMS FOR SCREENS
Maple & Co. have much pleasure in inviting inspection of their MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF SCREENS, which will always be found the largest, most varied, artistic and comprehensive in London. Novelties are constantly introduced and visitors cannot fail to be pleased both with the ample selection and the moderate prices asked. An artistic screen is always an acceptable present.
----------------------------

Tango Ensembles, Orchestras and Compositions

Let us take a moment here to describe what these tango ensembles were in the Buenos Aires of the 1920s. In most less-affluent clubs, the ensemble was not always the same instrumentalists but a hodgepodge of musicians the leaders of such ensembles managed to get together for the evening. They were hired by the day and many a time the club manager found himself without dance music because the leader proved unable to get together a sufficiant number of players. Such clubs did not last long but quietly disappeared and were usually reborn a short time later under a new name and style.

On the other hand, clubs like our '348', for example, would hire established ensembles by the week or, as more often the case, by the month or longer periods. Such ensembles would comprise six to eight established musicians playing, in general, a bandoneón (a small accordion), two violins, a cello, a viola, a double base and a piano. Some ensembles would have a third and perhaps a fourth violin and even a vocalist or two.

In 1916, Francisco Canaro formed his first orchestra with musicians of the highest level: José Martinez on piano, Osvaldo Fresedo and Pedro Polito on bandoneons, Rafael Rinaldi on violin, and Leopoldo Thompson on double bass. This, for many years, identified the "orquesta típica". These masters achieved prestige of such significance that they came to monopolize the public's interest in the genre.

The music of the tango was born of elements whose combination provided one of the most original musical expressions: the rhythm of the milonga Pampa (associated with the habanera), the melody of "couplé Madrid", and the choreography that the hoodlums adopted from the Candomble would give a surprising result: the "tango criollo". A very good example would be the famous "El Choclo". This style of tango would reign until 1920 when a great change came about: the slower, more rythmic and more emphatic composition. The "tango criollo", played in 2/4 was still very close to the milonga, but the new tango of 1920 was plain and played in 4/4 which lead to a smoother dancing style.

The classic tango quartet: bandoneon, violin, flute and guitar would evolve into the typical orchestra with bandoneon, violin, piano and doublebass. The early tangos, sometimes sung with joyful lyrics and written in first person, told of the exploits of the protagonist, but after 1920 tangos became instrumental songs creating the division between tango-milongas, whose structure is special for dance, and romance tango-like compositions with a strong melodic development of romanticism. Now and then these two styles would cross paths to create a surprising development of variations of styles that will over time affirm the richness of the Argentine tango.

Previous