el rey del compas

The Strange Case of Don and Mr. Estebanmusic sheet cover

One of the more frequent questions I had about the D'Arienzo discography published on these pages was :

Why is there only one recording of "Don Esteban" listed as obviously two different recordings can be found on CD editions ?

Although I was aware of this, I also felt so lost with it that I didn't attempt to comment or explain.

But now, thanks to my good friend César from Montevideo, some audio material arrived - taken from original 78 rpm records from the collection of Sr. Jorge Debroque, also from Montevideo - which allows to shed some more light on this issue. Muchas gracias César y Jorge...
To have the picture complete, I needed one more recording (from the RCA Victor series "Tango de ayer") which was kindly provided by Luis Mora from Medellin, Colombia. Muchas gracias Luis...

1) Recording and edition history (RCA-Victor)

"Don Esteban", by Augusto Berto, is dedicated to Esteban Benza, secretary (escribano) of the "Z Club", an association (ca. 1900-1910) which organized dance evenings in the "Casa María la Vasca". Pianist (and composer) Rosendo Mendizábal was one of its members.

The tango was recorded by the D'Arienzo orchestra on the 3rd of July, 1936 (master number 93238). That same day, the orchestra recorded the vals  "No Llores Madre" (master number
93239). Both recordings were edited by Victor on the record numbered 37955.

The only other 78 rpm edition I know of is an Uruguayan record in the series "Festival D'Arienzo 1961", number 1A-5033 (together with "Culpas Ajenas" from 1942). On the label, the master number 93238 is mentioned which corresponds to the 03-07-1936 recording. My Uruguayan friends refer to this record as the Edición Casa Morixe (the Casa Morixe distributed the Victor recordings in Montevideo).

Many D'Arienzo 78 rpm recordings have been reedited on LP by RCA Victor, e.g. in the RCA-Camden series, "para coleccionistas" , from the early seventies, but to the best of my knowledge (I may have missed one) "Don Esteban" was not included there. However, it was reedited in the 10 LP-set "Serie Tango de Ayer" (1980): Vol. 3, Juan D'Arienzo y su Orquesta Típica, con Rodolfo Biagi al piano (1936-1938) (TA-4803). Again explicit reference is made to the original record 37955, recorded on 03-07-1936. This LP also includes "No llores madre", the only reedition by Victor of the original B-side that I know of.

"Don Esteban" is absent in the modern CD editions (like the series "Tango Argentino" or "D'Arienzo - 70 años") by Sony-BMG, who owns the Victor catalog. The same holds for "No Lllores Madre". Very likely the original masters belonged to those deliberately destroyed and are now lost forever.


2) Third party CD Editions

Those are the commercially available CDs that include "Don Esteban"
  • Blue Moon, "El Rey del Compás", n°43 of the "El Bandoneon" series (1994, Switzerland), also reedited in the Juan D'Arienzo volume of the "Las Grandes Orquestas del Tango" series (1999)
  • Magenta, "La Morocha" (2002, Argentina)
  • Lantower, "Juan D'Arienzo y su Orquesta, Vol.1", n°5 of the "Grandes del Tango" series (2004, Argentina)
The Lantower edition gives the recording data 3/7/1936, Blue Moon indicates the year of recording (1936) on the Grandes Orquestas CD (but not in the El Bandoneón version) and the Magenta label, already renowned to be not very good with numbers, assigns the complete CD as "grabado en 1939 " wheras in reality it spans the years 1936 to 1939.
Strangely enough, the Lantower track fades out after 2 minutes (although the complete recording is over 3 minutes long). This is a modern artifact, not an indication that it is a different recording (fade out was not part of the available recording technology in the thirties)


For more determined collectioners one more edition exists (although less readily available). It belongs to the comprehensive D'Arienzo collection by Akihito Baba. The CTA-302 CD was edited in 1998 but, already in the eighties, earlier editions must have existed on cassette tape.

Now the problems starts... Many have observed that the Baba edition was different from the 3 commercial editions mentioned earlier.

Baba mentions the source of his material: original 78 rpm records ("...esta grabación ha sido realizada en Japón con discos originales..."). So this must be the genuine and original version ? A human error in a collection of 1000 recordings cannot be excluded (there's one in a similar Canaro collection) ? I am glad that I can now confirm that this is indeed
Victor-37955 by comparing it to the audio obtained from a record from an independent source.

But then, what about the version on the commercial CDs ? This came as a big surprise to me: they can now be traced back to the
Edición Casa Morixe -record from 1961 !!!  In spite of carrying the master number 93238 on its label, the recording is different from the original 37955 record.
If the mistery is not yet solved completely, it is sufficiently pushed back in time so that we can now exclude a cut-and-paste reconstruction from the nineties (as I once suspected). And it is also this version which was reused many years later on the Serie Tango de Ayer-LP (by the way: "No Llores Madre" on this LP corresponds to the one on El Bandoneón n°84).

3) The two recordings compared

Here's my attempt to juxtapose the two recordings visually:


I have labeled the sections by the most prominent instrument,  but as the full orchestra is rarely really silenced this is sometimes subjective.
Even the sections that look structurally similar (like the o-v-b-o at the start) may be different in details (the CTA version has some piano beats which are absent in the others). Other sections are strikingly similar but occur at different positions (like the final o-v-b-b in the first and the o-v-b-b at 10-13 in the second).

The two piano sections in the second half (15 & 19) made it particularly easy to differentiate the 2 versions.

There can be little doubt that the 2 versions must have been recorded around the same time (which, according to the recording practices of that time, could mean: on the same day). However, the differences between the two arrangments are, all things considered, minor, and one may wonder if in those years they would have justified 2 recordings. Only a few more cases come to mind - with more drastic adaptations - like the recordings of "Sos Una Fiera" by Di Sarli (1929) - once instrumental, once with estribillista or "Seguí, No te Parés" by Donato-Zerrillo (also 1929 but for the Brunswick label) -  one featuring bandoneons, the other violins as the main instruments. Nevertheless, the facts are what they are and we have to accept them.

One more remarkable detail: the infamous destruction of original masters by Ricardo Mejia is generally situated in the "early sixties" without further detail. Therefore, it could be that the editors of the "Festival D'Arienzo 1961" series have rescued this version... just in time....




The D'Arienzo Discography:    Chronological Index - Alphabetical index

Addendum: "Festival D'Arienzo 1961"

Those are the records that I could identify as belonging to the series
"Festival D'Arienzo 1961"
The number between brackets is the master number as mentioned on the records.

El Caburé
1937 (93907)
Milonga, Vieja Milonga
1937 (93908)
1A-5019 Independencia
1942 (84210)
 Pobre Mascarita - with Juan Carlos Lamas
1942 (84215)
1A-5022 Corrales Viejos
1943 (77262)
Tinta Verde
1935 (86931)
1A-5024 Canchero - with Alberto Echagüe
1945 (80835)
El Flete
1936 (93139)
1A-5025 Vieja Recoba - with Juan Carlos Lamas
1942 (69555)
La Mañana - with Alberto Echagüe
1944 (79905)
1A-5026 Nada Más - with Alberto Echagüe
1938 (12390)
El Internado
1938 (12389)
1A-5027 Candombe Rioplatence - with Juan Carlos Lamas
1943 (77496 - should have been 77492 ??)
Leguisamo Solo - with Alberto Echagüe
1A-5029 Quasi Nada
1940 (39728)
Amarras - with Héctor Mauré
1944 (79782)
1A-5030 La Payanca
1936 (93195)
1937 (93586)
1A-5032 Ataniche
1936 (93412)
Claudinette - with Héctor Mauré
1942 (69864)
1A-5033 Culpas Ajenas - with Alberto Reynal
1942 (69632)
Don Esteban
1936 (93238)
1A-5035 El Africano
1937 (12014
- should have been 12041)
Vea, Vea
1943 (77072)
1A-5037 Tierra Negra
1942 (69770)
1936 (93092)
1A-5039 Lagrimas
1947 (83390)
Pompas de Jabón - with Juan Carlos Lamas
1942 (69552)

The 1A-xxxx series is not exclusively reserved for Uruguayan editions. Some were edited, with the same edition numbers and content (but with characteristic label colours), by both RCA-Victor Industria Argentina and RCA-Victor Industria Uruguaya. Those belonging to the "Festival D'Arienzo 1961" series however seem to be exlusively Uruguayan. If they form, as it appears, a continuous 1A-50xx series, then there are still many gaps to fill. Some of the recordings in this series have never been edited on CD, other than in the Baba collection.