Troilo, Aníbal

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Aníbal Troilo

Bandleader, bandoneón player

Bandleader and bandoneón player Aníbal Troilo was one of the legends of tango music in Argentina in the twentieth century. His more than 400 recordings, dozens of original compositions, and durable career in the nightclubs of Buenos Aires established the basic sound of the tango in the ears of many non-Argentine listeners, especially after he became one of the first tango bandleaders whose recordings were distributed internationally. Troilo brought the tango ensemble to a new level of differentiation and sophistication. He inspired numerous younger players including, most famously, the great progressive tango composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla. Along with vocalist Carlos Gardel, Troilo is considered one of the two giants of the classic tango. It was Gardel who eventually took the tango from the dives where it began to a national and international audience.

The younger of two sons, Aníbal Carmelo Troilo (nicknamed Pichuco and often known by that name) was born on July 11, 1914, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He grew up in the Abasto neighborhood that had also been home to Gardel. As a young boy, Troilo heard the sound of the bandoneón coming through the doors of numerous cafes and taverns. The bandoneón, a rectangular accordion-like instrument closely related to the German concertina, was already a central component of the tango sound, and Troilo would make it even more so. Troilo's father (also named Aníbal) was a butcher, and the family was not musical in the least. Later on, Troilo was fond of saying that he was not a musician, he was a tanguero, a tango player. But he was fascinated by the bandoneón. His mother, Felisa, went to a local shop and bought one for 140 (or possibly 120) pesos, to be paid off in monthly installments.

The investment was immediately successful. The merchant from whom the instrument had been purchased died after the fourth payment, and no one ever collected the rest of the debt. Troilo played the same bandoneón for most of the rest of his life, and his skills developed rapidly. In 1925, at age eleven, he made his first public appearance at the large Abasto market, and was soon hired to accompany silent films at the Teatro Colón. For the next five years he found his services in demand with ensembles specializing in the growing tango genre. One of them was an otherwise all-girl orchestra. Troilo formed a quintet of his own when he was 14, but mostly he played under other bandleaders, and his apprenticeship was a slow and systematic one.

In 1930 he joined the Vardaro-Pugliese sextet, one of the top groups in Buenos Aires. The other bandoneón player in the band was Ciriaco Ortiz, whose highly expressive style influenced Troilo's attitude toward the instrument. The slightly hesitating, hyper-emotional bandoneón playing often associated with tango music was perfectly executed by Troilo, a large man who played the instrument with his eyes closed in concentration, leaning slightly forward. "It is said that I am very often moved and that I cry," he was quoted as saying on the Todotango website. "Yes, it is true. But I never do these things for trivial reasons." After performing with the Vardaro-Pugliese group and several other ensembles, Troilo finally launched his own band in 1937.

The following year Troilo married Ida Calachi and made his first recordings as a leader for the Odeon label. In 1939 he hired 18-year-old bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla, a talented youngster who had grown up partly in New York and had been influenced by classical music and jazz. Troilo made use of Piazzolla's skills as an arranger, and Piazzolla's arrangements grew in complexity as he studied with Argentine classical composer Alberto Ginastera in the early 1940s. Troilo sometimes edited Piazzolla's arrangements to smooth out their rough edges. Finally, Piazzolla's experimental tangos reached a point where they were too much for Troilo, and he asked Piazzolla to leave the band in 1944. Piazzolla would go on to win worldwide acclaim for his tango-classical fusions, but it took him until the 1970s to win acceptance in his homeland. Far from being bitter about his departure from Troilo's band, Piazzolla honored his mentor with a composition, the Suite Troileana.

Indeed, the innovative qualities of Piazzolla's tangos were anticipated in the work of Troilo's orchestra, which cultivated complex arrangements by Piazzolla and others. Recording consistently after 1941, Troilo's music grew in depth and lushness. "His early 50s output in particular is really interesting for the connoisseur," noted the website. "Piazzolla is the main arranger and Troilo experiments freely in a way that makes [bandleader Juan] D'Arienzo from this period feel very backward-looking." Troilo was also partly responsible for the common tango configuration of an established band plus a star vocalist. His recordings from 1941 with vocalist Francisco Fiorentino are also among his most popular.

At the center of Troilo's sound stood his own bandoneón. It was heard to best advantage in one of his moodiest and most beautiful pieces, "Quejas de bandoneón" (Moaning of the Bandoneón), first recorded in 1944 and from then on a constant fixture of Troilo's performances. He often said that he would die playing it, and in fact he passed away shortly after finishing a rendition of it. Troilo's solos were varied in texture and could be quite complex rhythmically, providing a challenge for the best tango dancers. Among Troilo's approximately 60 other compositions were several songs that became tango standards, including "Barrio de Tango" (1942, words by Homero Manzi), "Sur" (South, 1948, words by Manzi), and "La última curda" (The Last Drunken Bender, 1953, words by Cátulo Castillo).

Thanks partly to a rather poetic way of speaking that fit the tango mystique well, Troilo became an icon of the tango scene in his later years, and of the city of Buenos Aires itself. "Of Buenos Aires there are many things to say…. That it is my life, that it is the tango, that it is Gardel, that it is the night … that it is a woman, a friend…. There are many things to say, but much more that cannot be said. But take note of this: I am glad I was born in Buenos Aires," he was quoted as saying (in Spanish) on the El Ortiba website. Asked by an interviewer (and quoted on the same site) how he would describe himself, Troilo responded, "That he is a good person, well acquainted with sadness, and a person with a great ambition: to be counted as having made something important of his life." He remained active as a performer and recording artist until his death on May 18 (or 19), 1975, in Buenos Aires.

Selected discography

Quejas de bandoneón, Music Hall, 1991.
Instrumental 1941–1944, BMG International, 2004.
Yo soy el tango, BMG International, 2004.
Barrio de Tango, BMG International, 2004.
Buenos Aires, BMG International, 2004.
Tinta roja, BMG International, 2004.
Uno, BMG International, 2004.
Obras completas (Complete Works), 26 vols., RCA Argentina.

For the Record …

Born on July 11, 1914, in Buenos Aires, Argentina; died on May 18 (some sources say May 19), 1975, in Buenos Aires; son of Aníbal Troilo (a butcher); married Ida Calachi, 1938.

Began performing at age 11; accompanied silent films; performed with numerous tango ensembles, late 1920s and early 1930s; formed Aníbal Troilo Orchestra, made first recordings, 1937; hired Astor Piazzolla as bandoneón player, 1939; recorded for Odeon, TK, and Victor labels, through early 1970s; issued recordings with vocalist Francisco Fiorentino, 1941; continued performing in Buenos Aires, 1940s–1970s.



Ferrer, Horacio, The Golden Age of Tango, Manrique Zago, 1996.


"Aníbal Troilo," All Music Guide, (February 27, 2006).

"Aníbal Troilo,", (February 27, 2006).

"Aníbal Troilo," Todotango, (February 27, 2006).

"Aníbal Troilo," ToTango, (February 27, 2006).

"Aníbal Troilo 'Pichuco,'" El Ortiba, (February 27, 2006).

"Homenaje: Aníbal Troilo," (February 27, 2006).