Osvaldo Pedro Pugliese is regarded as one of the “big four” composers of the Golden Age of tango, together with Juan D’Arienzo, Aníbal Troilo, and Carlo di Sarli. While D’Arienzo was considered “The King of Beat,” Pugliese was hailed as “San Pugliese” or “Saint Pugliese” for his dramatic and passionate melodies. He is also considered to have developed the concert-style tango music.
“Dramatic,” “passionate,” and “lyrical” are some of the words associated with Pugliese’s music. Female dancers would find his violin melodies excellent for decorative footwork. On the other hand, male dancers might have more difficulty as the beat is not as apparent.
At an early age, Pugliese had already been exposed to tango. He was born on December 2, 1905 to Aurelia Terragno and Adolfo Pugliese, the latter an amateur tango flautist. Meanwhile, Osvaldo’s two brothers, Vicente and Alberto, were violinists. The young Pugliese was taught to play the violin by his father and this early training allowed him to join the Odeon Conservatory. Here, he was tutored by maestros like Antonio D’Agostino, Rubione Scaramuzza and Pedro Vicente. Pugliese started playing professionally at the age of 15 as a pianist at Cafe de La Chancha.
In 1921, at the age of 16, Pugliese moved to Buenos Aires, where he met the first professional female bandoneonist in Argentina, Francisca Bernardo Cruz also know by her stage name, Paquita Bernardo. He joined her band, the Paquita Orchestra, as their pianist. They made their debut at a bar, Dominguez, and went around performing at other bars and cafes.
Pugliese eventually left the group and in 1924, joined the Enrique Pollet quartet. Around this time, he wrote one of his most famous compositions, ‘Recuerdo,’ which is considered to be the origin of stylised instrumental tango. The title, which translates to “memory,” is dedicated to Pugliese’s fond memories of his cousins, who would go to La Chancha to hear him play.
He went on to the renowned Pedro Maffia and his Orchestra, which marked the beginning of Osvaldo’s rise to maestro status. The group followed the De Caro school of music characterised by slow and languid phrasing. This would influence Pugliese’s style for the rest of his career.
As the late 1920s and early 1930s rolled on, tango was reaching its peak. During these years, Pugliese was playing at cafes and silent movie houses. He collaborated with musicians like violinist Alfredo Gobbi, bandoneonist Anibal Troilo, Pedro Laurenz, Miguel Calo, and Elvino Vardaro. In 1936, at 31, he fulfilled his dream of directing his own orchestra. He formed a sextet with Alfredo Calabró, Juan Abelardo Fernandez, bandoneonist Marcos Madrigal, Pedro Juan Rolando Curzel, violinist Potenza and Aniceto Rossi on the bass.
In 1939, he put together what’s regarded as one of the best tango orchestras in the world, Orquesta Típica Pugliese. While the lineup of musicians would vary over the years, Pugliese would work with this orchestra for the remainder of his life. The orchestra had a specific style, still following De Caro, with no drums, highly syncopated, bandoneón solos, holding notes slightly longer than expected for dramatic effect (rubato), alternating slow and fast tempos (slargando or slentando). Pugliese coined the term “yumba,” which denotes that the first and third beats should be stressed and the second and fourth beats should be played softly with a bass piano note.
Pugliese made his first recordings in 1943 while traveling the world. Some of his most raved about tangos aside from ‘Recuerdo,’ are La Yumba (1945), Negracha (1948), and Malandraca (1949).
Pugliese was a renowned and committed activist as well. In 1936, he joined the Communist Party of Argentina. This earned him the hostility of those in power and even spent time in jail. While away in prison, he kept on writing arrangements for his tango band. Pugliese was so loved by his musicians that a red carnation would be placed on the piano during his absence.
Pugliese holds multiple distinctions. He is a distinguished citizen of Buenos Aires, a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres of France, and, was an Honorary Academician of the Academia Nacional del Tango. And, when tension between Pugliese and President Juan Perón’s government was eventually resolved, the great tango musician was awarded The Order of May, Argentina’s highest civilian award.
In July 25, 1995, at the age of 89, Pugliese passed away from a short illness. ‘La Yumba’ was played at his funeral. His legacy continues through his daughter Beba, and granddaughter Carla, both of whom are pianists.