Composer, Edgardo Donato

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Argentine orchestra conductor, composer and violinist Edgardo Donato is most remembered by the tangos “A media luz” and “Julian.” “A media luz” is one of the three tangos with the most recordings in the world.

The musician was born Edgardo Felipe Valerio Donato on 14 April 1897 in San Cristobal, Buenos Aires to Italian parents. The family moved to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, when he was still a child. The young Donato was born into music. His father, Ernesto Denato, played the mandolin, switched to violoncello and conducted a chamber orchestra in Montevideo. Edgardo had eight other siblings and two of them were also musicians. Ascanio was a cellist and composer and Osvaldo a pianist and composer as well.

Donato first studied music with his father and then at the Franz Liszt conservatory. He began his professional work at 21 in the opera field with his father. The scene was very stiff and serious, but Donato soon broke free and joined the orchestra of bandoneonist Negro Quevedo. In 1922, his first hit, the tango “Julian” was created with lyricist Jose Panizza. The tango was dedicated to the Uruguayan leader Julian Gonzalez. The tango is notably humorous and erotic and Donato initially had trouble editing and selling it, initially at 20 pesos. It was finally launched to great success by actress and singer Iris Marga and the recording of Rosita Quiroga.

His second famous tango, “A media luz” (“At Half Light”) was composed in 1925 and premiered in Montevideo on the musical revue “Su majestad la revista,” with the voice of the Chilean vedette Lucy Clory. Donato said he composed the tango while riding a streetcar. The tango would later be recorded by tango legends Roberto Firpo, Francisco Canaro and Carlos Gardel.

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In 1927, Donato formed his own orchestra, Orquesta Típica criolla Donato-Zerrillo. They debuted in Montevideo on 14 July 1927 and was hired to play for the Select Lavalle cinema theater of Buenos Aires for a season. However, after a brief tour in 1930, the group dissolved. But a new orchestra was soon formed with bandoneonists Juan Turturiello, Vicente Vilardi and Miguel Bonano, violinist Armando Julio Piovani and Pascual Humberto Martínez, string bassist Jose Campesi, and on cello his brother Ascanio.

The 1933 film “Tango!” featured Donato’s orchestra. The film was the first ‘talkie’ complete with soundtrack in the history of Argentine cinema. In 1944, aside from his orchestra, Donato formed a quartet, Los Caballeros del Recuerdo. He returned to cinema in 1948 with “Pelota del trapo” (“Rag Ball”).

Donato was known for being absent-minded. “He lived on the moon,” some people said about him. Even his daughter shared a story that her father, while riding a streetcar, bumped into a friend and became so engrossed in their chat that they got off the car together. After walking for some time, Donato realised he had been traveling with his wife but she had not gotten off the car with him. One other story goes that Donato mentioned he would like Adolfo Rivas to join his orchestra, but the singer was already in the group. Donato passed away on 15 February 1963 from acute myocardial infarction.

The Origin of the song ‘Oblivion’

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Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla created the piece ‘Oblivion’ in 1982. It was famously featured in the 1984 Italian film ‘Enrico IV’ (‘Henry IV’) directed by Marco Bellocchio. The song has been described as “haunting” and “atmospheric,” and is considered to be one of Piazzolla’s most popular tangos.

The film ‘Enrico IV’ was adapted from the play by Luigi Piradello. The lead character is an actor-historian who suffers a fall during an historical pageant. Upon regaining consciousness, he assumes the identity of the character he was playing, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. The nostalgic tune starts out as a slow milonga, a genre of Uruguay and Argentina music considered to be a forerunner of tango.

Milonga dance allows for a great relaxation of the legs and body. Movement is faster with less pauses. The dance mimics a kind of rhythmic walking without complicated figures.

‘Oblivion’ has many recorded versions, including for klezmer clarinet, saxophone quartet, and oboe and orchestra. The featured instrument enters immediately over a subtle, arpeggiated accompaniment with a melody of extreme melancholy — long-held notes alternating with slowly falling and weaving figures. A middle section offers a minimally contrasting theme, lush but less intense.

‘Oblivion’ evokes sadness, despite its lyrics speaking of love. It also has a harmonic sophistication and whispered sadness.

Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy the linen and velvets of your bed when our love passes to oblivion Heavy, suddenly they seem heavy your arms embracing me formerly in the night

My boat parts, it’s going somewhere people get separated, I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting

Later, at some other place in a mahogany bar the violins playing again for us our song, but I’m forgetting

Later, it splits off to a cheek to cheek everything becomes blurred and I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting Brief, the times seem brief the countdown of a night when our love passes to oblivion

Brief, the times seem brief your fingers running all over my lifeline.

Without a glance people are straying off on a train platform, I’m forgetting, I’m forgetting.

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Piazzolla revolutionized tango and created nuevo tango (new tango), which is a blend of tango, jazz and classical music. ‘Oblivion’ is considered to be more traditional and less ‘jazzy’. The song was composed during the peak of his career, just a year after he performed in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The 1980’s are considered his most popular years, having held concerts all over the world including Europe, South America, Japan, and the U.S. He composed music for other films as well and was awarded in 1986 the Cesar Prize for his score for ‘El Exilio de Gardel.’ He has over 90 credits as composer for film and television. As one of their leading tango composers, he was named an exceptional citizen of Buenos Aires in 1986. In 1990, Piazzolla suffered a massive stroke and two years later, the Tanguero died in Buenos Aires on July 4. He leaves behind more than 1,000 works and the legacy of having revolutionized tango forever.