Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gardel's French family and the ghosts of the Dirty War

Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) and colonel Jean Gardes (1914-2000)
As some of my readers might know, one of my "other hobbies" is genealogy, and I often combine tango travels with visits to dusty archives and overgrown cemeteries and quizzing long-lost relatives. Last week's trip to Canada was no exception. I danced to a whole number of tandas which excited me both as a DJ and as a flesh-and-bones tanguero (Noches correntinas, oh my, it turns out that one can dance to it! Rebeldia of a quality which makes me salivate, in a milonga tanda topped with the classic Mi Vieja Linda! Or how about a dramatic tanda united by the voice of Floreal Ruiz with the orchestras of Basso and Rotundo?)
But I also visited a wonderful and very distant relative whom I only knew from our online conversations before. Incredibly, he immediately dropped a name of ... Carlos Gardel. Like, do I know about this singer, who was a big name in tango in his age?
It turns out that Gardel's French relatives were his in-laws, and they liked to talk about their famous Argentine kin. About the mystery of his birth and the horror of his fiery death. About the shame Gardel's well-off and very conservative relatives back home felt about his sexy songs and rumored mob connections. I listened. And now I know that the well-known account of Elena Irene Gardes in her 1996 book "Carlos Gardel y la raíz de mi genealogía" is only part true, that her Gardes ancestors did remember quite a few things about Carlos Gardel's roots correctly, but many mistakes were introduced into the story as the author was trying to "connect the dots". Let me try to fix it, and then to mention a special connection the Gardel's relatives had to the Argentine Dirty War and the infamous torture-center at ESMA.

The outline of the family lore of the ancestors of Elena Irene Gardes went like this: after the parents of Gardel's mother Berthe divorced,  Berthe moved in with her uncle's family, and had an illicit relationship with her cousin, a few years junior. She gave birth to a boy Charles (future Carlos Gardel) and was forced to flee to South America. (To those who sincerely believe that Gardel was South America's native son, born in Tacuarembó, Uruguay, I have to apologize. There is plenty of room for legends in the story of Carlos Gardel, and I respect your faith, but you probably shouldn't read any further). There are also plenty of reasons why the immigrants occasionally need dubious documents and certificates (as did Gardel when he obtained a certificate of birth in Uruguay), but I'm going to stick with El Zorzal's actual genealogy in this post.
"Heartbroken". "Doña Berta" Gardes mourns her son (and right away, we witness another fringe
theory about their identity...) 

Berthe Gardes with her beloved first cousin Marie "Marissou"
and her sister-in-law Charlotte on one of  her many visits
to her home town, Toulouse. More great imagery here.
The story of Berthe Gardes, her involvement with a cousin, and her illicit child has been retold very similarly both by my Canadian correspondent's in-laws in Paris, and by the Gardes's kin in his native Toulouse, Jean-Claude Barrat and Henri Brune. There is nothing surprising about it, as the Gardeses were a tight-knit clan and Carlos Gardel was their one truly famous cousin, so of course every Gardes family branch knew some details of the story of his birth. But who exactly was the uncle with whom Berthe stayed, and who fathered her child? Generations later, these details differ in different families' accounts.

Elena Irene Gardes believed that Berthe's uncle was her own great-grand Louis Geniez Gardes, who lived in Saint-Geniez d'Olt in Avyeron, some 120 miles from Toulouse. Jean-Claude Barrat insisted that the uncle in question was his 2nd great-grandfather Bruno Marie Barrat (the husband of Berthe's aunt, Jeanne Petronille Gardes) in Toulouse, at 4 rue du Canon d'Arcole. Adding to Barrat's story, his 2nd cousin Henri Brune, a great-grandson of Bruno Marie Barrat and Berthe's aunt, Jeanne Petronille Gardes, told about meeting Gardel in Toulouse in 1934, a year before the Zorzal's untimely death. Henri was 13 years old then, and he remembered Gardel as kind and generous, "a real Argentine spirit". They held a family reunion at the house of Gardel's uncle Jean Gardes at 16 Allées de Barcelone.
4 rue du Canon d'Arcole, Toulouse, the birth place of Charles Romuald Gardes better known as Carlos Gardel
In light of the vital and immigration records, the version of Elena Irene Gardes didn't stand scrutiny. In her story, Berthe Gardes grew up in her ancestors' house, but it turned out that Louis Geniez Gardes, his wife, and their 6 children immigrated from France to Argentina in January 1891, barely a year after Berthe's parents Vital Gardes and Hélène Camarès divorced (on 27 December 1889).  And Berthe was actually in her mid-20s then. And whatever the relation of Louis Geniez Gardes to Berthe might have been, it was much more distant than uncle-niece, anyway. He was a son of Louis Gardes and  Rose Courtial, from Combetelade, a tiny village in Saint-Geniez d'Olt. Berthe's grandparents, however, were Toulouse-born Jean Marie Gardes and Marie Anna Pascale Bonnefoy.

As to the identity of Gardel's secret father, Elena Irene Gardes has not just one but two theories. One is that Berthe was romantically involved with a first cousin, several years her junior. Elena Irene Gardes names this cousin as "Joseph, a seminarian" who supposedly had to leave France as well, and lived in Asia and Africa before settling in Buenos Aires, where his descendant, Marie Thérèse Gardes, still lived. No such person can be found on Gardel's detailed family tree, and we must conclude that the story of Joseph's fatherhood must be an invention of yet another Argentine branch of the Gardeses. But the story of Gardel's father being a first cousin of Berthe, and a son of the uncle with whom she lived after her parents' divorce, is supported by relatives in Toulouse and Paris. This cousin is said to have been Jean Claire Barrat, 3 years younger than Berthe.
Gardel's most detailed family tree, a result of much archive and cemetery work and interviews,
published in 1998 by Christiane Bricheteau
The stigma of first cousin's union must have been so great that Elena Irene Gardes insisted that Berthe's cousin, while romantically involved with her, wasn't her child's actual biological father! The alternative hypothesis, possibly originating from Berthe herself, is that the father was Paul Lasserre "who had to leave Toulouse soon after Berthe got pregnant" and started another family. This Paul Lassere turns out to be a close associate of Gardeses in Toulouse. His mom ran an ironing shop, and both Berthe and her mother Helene, in the fashion business, used it professionally. Paul Lassere  worked as an engineer at Sirven paper mills; his daughter Fanny Lasserre mentioned that Carlos Gardel visited their family when they lived in Nice. My belief is that, rather than being a father of Berthe's child, he was a friend of her family who volunteered to help them bury their secret.

But what about the Parisian Gardeses, the ones who gave the initial nudge for this post? They intensely disapproved of El Zorzal and of tango in general, but were well aware of the secret of Gardel's birth. They also had their own, quite sinister, connection to Argentina...

Jean Gardes is said to have been the most decorated
lieutenant of the French Army in 1944/1945
The parents of colonel Jean Gardes moved to Paris even before WWI. He was born there on October 4, 1914. Between the wars they are said to have amassed a fortune of over 20,000,000 Franks, and owned a number of restaurants in the City of Lights. Jean became a career military officer, fighting the Italians in WWII, then battling anti-Colonialist insurgents in the Indochina and Algiers throughout the 1950s. Trained in psychological operations, he became a leader of the "5th Dept" (psy-ops) in Algiers. Intensely conservative, colonel Jean Gardes disapproved of President De Gaulle's course, and started playing an increasingly active role in the "French Algiers" underground and its "Secret Army Organization", better known for its French acronym OAS. The anti-Gaullist and anti-Left efforts of the OAS seem to have been tightly coordinated with the American secret services; they also started liaising with the Argentine military, which have just recently deposed Juan Peron, as early as in 1957.  The French counterinsurgency fight borrowed the pages from the very movements they fought, focusing on the trifecta of propaganda, ideology (of staunch Catholicism and patriotism, in their case), and intimidation and torture. It was in Algiers where the word "death squads" was first put into circulation.

The cover of Marie-Monique Robin's 2008 book
"Escadrons de la mort, l'école française"
("Death squads, French school") juxtaposes images of
1961 OAS putchists with Argentine Dirty War leaders
In January 1960, colonel Jean Gardes was on the OAS barricades, besieging government buildings. Ordered out of Algiers, he was put on trial, but acquitted and allowed to return. The following spring, OAS-aligned and CIA-supported top military brass staged a coup against De Gaulle, but failed to secure control beyond Algiers. Following the failure of the putsch, colonel Jean Gardes was sentenced to death in July 1961. For a while he fought with the rightist maquis guerrilla in the highlands of Ouarsenis, then escaped to Spain. In May 1962, he was rumored (probably falsely) to have been involved in one of many OAS's assassination plots against President De Gaulle (not the most famous Day of the Jackal attempt - that one happened later in summer). The French government pressed Spain to remove the threat of OAS from its borders, and finally, in February 1963, they reached an accord. Colonel Gardes was detained, along with many other OAS fighters. A month later, he was granted asylum in Argentina.

Only it wasn't quite a humanitarian kind of relief. As a French investigative reporter Marie-Monique Robin found out, the condition of colonel Jean Gardes's entry was that he will help train Argentine counterinsurgency forces. His handler was an Argentine Naval intelligence officer, Federico Lucas Roussillon, and his appointment, at the infamous ESMA. Ostensibly a school of naval mechanics, ESMA was already turning into the death squad central. In a few years, it will emerge as the chief illegal detention and torture facility of the Dirty War, and after the end of the military dictatorship - into the memorial museum of the thousands of Argentines tortured and killed there (it is symbolic that on the same Canada trip, I got listen to Mary-Claire King's talk about her DNA work with the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, using genetic testing to reunite grandmothers whose daughters "disappeared" in the terror with their secretly adopted, or rather stolen, grandchildren)

In the late 1950s and the early 1960s the Argentinian security forces were eager to learn from the French counterinsurgency experience. When the influential, and scary, book "La guerre moderne" by the French military ideologist Trinquier has been translated into Spanish, it appeared with a preface explaining that torture is as indispensable in the fight against terrorists and revolutionaries as are assault rifles against enemy infantry or antiaircraft guns against enemy planes.

Colonel Jean Gardes taught psy-ops, reportedly having to resort to a Communist movie denouncing the abuses of the Algerian war as a visual aid (one has to wonder if the Frenchman's secret wish was to be fired from this job...). It doesn't look like his appointment lasted, anyway. Soon, he was resettled in faraway Neuquén, and turned to the family line of business - fine French food, manufacturing paté de foie. 5 years later, he received a pardon and returned to France. The family recalled that he's got back his military rank and decorations. Interestingly, Jean Gardes's grandson followed many of his footsteps, graduating from  l'Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr and serving in many missions abroad - but he is a prominent member of Gaullist Union today!

I believe that Colonel Jean Gardes's  involvement with the Argentine special forces and ESMA has been short and largely superficial, and that he just wasn't a ruthless henchman they wanted. Still, the comparison between two Gardeses' fate in BsAs, between tango's formative years and its Dark Ages, is sad and uncanny... and I would appreciate it if someone with a better knowledge of the matters helps me understand it better

Monday, April 16, 2018

Milonga Sin Nombre Homenaje a Edgardo Donato

April may be my favorite DJing month because it always gives me an opportunity to play lots of Edgardo Donato recordings. The famously absent-minded violinist with his silly-looking round eyeglasses and convention-bending songs lyrics, Donato was the original, and fierce, equal-opportunity employer, featuring blacks, gays, and, most horrifyingly for the night-club culture of his time, women in the leading roles. A darling of the underclass-y dockside establishment which bore an English name, "Ocean Dancing", Donato stuck around in the early 1930s even as the Great Depression and a neo-colonial trade deal with Britain destroyed the Argentine economy and forced all other famed tango orchestras from the dance halls of Buenos Aires. Defying hardship and naysayers, Edgardo Donato has become of one the forces behind the dramatic comeback of tango later in the 1930s.

The primal quality of Donato's music, bitter and sweet, grounded and flying away, always leaves me enchanted. The opening tanda features just one Donato song, from the Old Guard times when orchestra styles were so fluid and interchangeable that it's often easier to assemble a good tanda out of recordings of several groups:
001. Sexteto Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental "Belen" 1929 2:44
002. Edgardo Donato - Luis Diaz "Adelina" 1929 2:58
003. Orquesta Tipica Victor (dir. A. Carabelli)  "Coqueta" 1929 2:47
004. Soda Stereo  "Corazon elator"  0:28
Songs of tears and bluster ... a favorite Donato tanda with the voice of Horacio Lagos
005. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Lagrimas" 1939 2:50
006. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Soy Mendigo" 1939 2:32
007. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Me Voy A Baraja" 1936 2:25
008. Kisty Hawkshaw  "It's gonna be a fine night cortina long"  0:34
009. Carlos Di Sarli - Roberto Rufino "La Mulateada" 1941 2:23
010. Carlos Di Sarli - Alberto Podestá "Entre pitada y pitada" 1942 2:32
011. Carlos Di Sarli - Roberto Rufino "Yo Soy De San Telmo" 1943 2:20
012. Mammas and the Papas  "California Dreaming cortina long"  0:40
Think ca. 1940 vintage Fresedo - and your mind is enveloped in receding waves of harp and the depth of voice of Ricardo Ruiz. The crowning achievement of this period is Buscandote, "Searching for You", a rare verse libre masterpiece of a tango song, written and composed by Lalo Scalise. As luck may have it, Jose Mario Otero just wrote about Scalise and posted a rare picture of the pianist, composer, and poet together with Osvaldo Fresedo and Ricardo Ruiz. Enjoy!
013. Osvaldo Fresedo - Ricardo Ruiz "Viejo farolito" 1939 2:28
014. Osvaldo Fresedo - Ricardo Ruiz "Y no puede ser" 1939 2:26
015. Osvaldo Fresedo - Ricardo Ruiz "Buscandote" 1941 2:49
016. Endless Boogie  "Trash Dog cortina" 2016 0:21
Donato's El Huracan, "The hurricane" is a ground-breaking, extremely rhythmical tango which planted the seeds of the soon-to-come Rhythmical Revolution of Tango of 1935. This opening song of this tanda features the voice of an Afro-Argentine star Felix Gutierrez ... while the closing songs comes with the voice of Lita Morales, the first ever female voice of the milonga. Do you see her on the right, listed as one of "Donato's boys"?
017. Edgardo Donato - Félix Gutiérrez "El Huracan" 1932 2:56
018. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Se Va La Vida" 1936 2:39
019. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Lita Morales  "Chapaleando barro" 1939 2:21
020. Harry Roy  "South American Joe cortina 3"  0:21
We danced to "Con tu mirar" the previous weekend in Helena. What an underappreciated gem! Can't wait to play it in a tanda of my own design now:
021. Enrique Rodriguez - Roberto Flores "Fru Fru" 1939 2:57
022. Enrique Rodriguez - Ricardo Herrera, Fernando Reyes "Mecha" 1946 3:11
023. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "Con tu mirar" 1941 2:13
024. Sandro de America  "Yo Te Amo cortina" 1968, 1968 0:23
The sweeter side of Donato:
025. Edgardo Donato - Lita Morales - Romeo Gavio  "Mi Serenata" 1940 3:02
026. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "El Adios" 1938 3:09
027. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales y Romeo Gavio "Sinfonia de Arrabal" 1940 3:12
028. Viktor Tsoy  "Kukushka cortina long 2"  0:37
029. Rodolfo Biagi - Andrés Falgás "Queja Indiana" 1939 2:24
030. Rodolfo Biagi - Andrés Falgás "Son Cosas del Bandoneon " 1939 2:44
031. Rodolfo Biagi - Andrés Falgás "Cielo!" 1939 2:31
032. Alexey Kudryavtsev  "The heart breaks cortina 2"  0:22
and the first milonga of the Donato tanda features a duet with a feminine voice of "Randona", the one they used before hiring the Goddess Lita. Randona was actually a guy, a violinist of the orchestra named Armando Julio Piovani
033. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y "Randona" "Sacale Punta" 1938 2:15
034. Edgardo Donato - Instrumental "El Torito" 1939 2:12
035. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "De Punta A Punta" 1939 2:20
036. Zhanna Aguzarova  "Miracle Land cortina"  0:31
037. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Solo compasion" 1941 2:58
038. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Ahora no me conoces" 1940 2:34
039. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Ninguna" 1942 2:57
040. Vitas  "7, the element cortina" 2012 0:23
041. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental "La Trilla" 1940 2:21
042. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental "Nobleza De Arrabal" 1940 2:08
043. Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental "Shusheta" 1940 2:22
044.  "Hagedel Sheli"  0:28
Edgardo Donato used to explain that he can't play many valses to the unsophisticated, but trouble-ready, audience of Ocean Dancing. Did he really fear anything with irreverent valses like these three?
045. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Quien Sera" 1941 2:14
046. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Con tus besos" 1938 2:20
047. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales, Romeo Gavioli  "La shunca" 1941 2:35
048. Alexey Kudryavtsev  "Joy in My Sky cortina long"  0:25
049. Francisco Canaro - Ernesto Fama  "Tormenta" 1939 2:38
050. Francisco Canaro - Ernesto Fama  "No me pregunten porque" 1939 2:51
051. Francisco Canaro - Ernesto Fama  "Te quiero todavia" 1939 2:54
052. Leonid Bykov  "Smuglyanka cortina long"  0:33
The next tanda is consecrated to Donato's star feminine voice Lita Morales. The first song is composed specially for Lita by Donato's great female collaborator, "Maruja" Pacheco. The other two, about lovingly trusted one's own heart and faling in and out of love, are vintage Lita story...
053. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales, Romeo Gavioli Various Artists "Triqui trá" 1940 2:34
054. Edgardo Donato - Lita Morales y Ravio Gavioli "Yo Te Amo" 1940 2:50
055. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Lita Morales "Sinsabor" 1939 2:53
056. Stas Borsov  "Anyuta cortina" 2000 0:21
057. Otros Aires  "Los Vino" 2010 2:43
058. Otros Aires  "Perro Viejo" 2016 3:21
059. Otros Aires  "Un Baile De Beneficio" 2010 3:42
060.  "Katyusha"  0:33
When I'm adding a Troilo-Fiorentino tanda, it's almost always their harshly rhythmical - albeit richly layered - hits from about 1941. Let me try tonight, for a change, something more melancholic and mellow...
061. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino "Malena" 1942 2:59
062. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino "Pa' que seguir" 1942 2:35
063. Aníbal Troilo - Francisco Fiorentino "Cada vez que me recuerdes" 1943 2:40
064. Carmen Piculeata  "Minor Blues" 2013 0:23
065. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá "Todo" 1943 2:38
066. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá "Recien" 1943 2:43
067. Pedro Laurenz - Alberto Podestá "Garua" 1943 3:11
068. Folk  "Shumel Kamysh "  0:23
069. Anibal Troilo - Alberto Marino y Floreal Ruiz "Palomita Blanca" 1944 3:13
070. Aníbal Troilo - Floreal Ruiz  "Llorarás llorarás" 1945 2:54
071. TAníbal Troilo - Edmundo Rivero y Floreal Ruiz "Lagrimitas De Mi Corazón" 1948 2:57
072. Soda Stereo  "Corazon elator"  0:28
073. Miguel Calo - Raul Beron  "Tristezas de la calle Corrient" 1942 2:46
074. Miguel Calo - Raul Beron  "Que te importa que te llore" 1942 2:44
075. Miguel Calo - Raul Beron  "Jamás Retornarás" 1942 2:28
076. Beatles The Beatles "All you Need is Love cortina" 0:19
077. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "Cómo Se Pianta la Vida" 1940 2:23
078. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "Danza maligna" 1940 2:28
079. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "Tabernero" 1941 2:33
080. Soda Stereo  "En la ciudad de furia"  0:24
081. The Alex Krebs Tango Sextet  "Ella Es Asi (feat. Enrique "El Peru" Chavez)" 2011 2:32
082. The Alex Krebs Tango Sextet  "Largas las Penas" 2011 3:02
083. The Alex Krebs Tango Sextet  "Negrito" 2011 1:53
084. Russian folk  "Murka"  0:20
085. Lucio Demare - Raul Beron  "Que solo estoy" 1943 3:04
086. Orquesta Típica Víctor - Alberto Carol "Bajo el Cono Azul" 1944 2:43
087. Orquesta Tipica Victor - Ortega Del Cerro "Una Vez" 1943 3:24
088. Russian Folk  "Kalinka-Malinka 2 (cortina)"  0:25
And the final, high-passion Donato tanda of this most excellent night
089. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Romeo Gavioli "Amando en silencio" 1941 2:51
090. Edgardo Donato - Romeo Gavioli "La Melodía Del Corazón" 1940 3:18
091. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Lita Morales "Carnaval De Mi Barrio" 1939 2:25
092. Folk  "Shumel Kamysh "  0:23
093. Hector Varela - Argentino Ledesma "Muchacha" 1956 3:19
094. Hector Varela - Argentino Ledesma "Que tarde que has venido" 1956 2:55
095. Hector Varela - Argentino Ledesma "Fueron tres años" 1956 3:26
096. Zhanna Aguzarova "Old Hotel" 1987 0:22
097. Donato Racciatti - Olga Delgrossi "Hasta siempre amor" 1958 2:57
098. Donato Racciatti - Olga Delgrossi "Sus Ojos Se Cerraron" 1956 2:47
099. Donato Racciatti - Olga Delgrossi "Queriendote" 1955 2:49
100. Zhanna Aguzarova  "Miracle Land cortina"  0:31
101. Alfredo de Angelis - Instrumenrtal "Mi dolor" 1957 2:51
102. Alfredo De Angelis - Instrumenrtal  "Pavadita" 1958 2:53
103. Alfredo de Angelis - Instrumental  "Felicia" 1969 2:47
104. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La cumparsita" 1951 3:54
The final track is added on special request from Jose Luis Bonaldo, the mastermind of a rival tango club who typically insists that the Anglos will never get it ... but who may sometimes trust a Ruso to ply a few crazy tunes :)
105. Mariano Mores  "Tanguera" 1955 2:51

Friday, March 30, 2018

Junando el Tango practica playlist, Mar 2018

Barely two hours of music and so many great names to celebrate! So many "March birthday boys" of tango! My first pass resulted in a very heavily rhythmic playlist; I carefully reintroduced slower and more melodic and dramatic tandas into it, but did I perhaps overdo it in the end?

D'Arienzo and Biagi. From El Espejero blog
Rodolfo Biagi, born March 14 1906, the most handsome tango band leader of all times, played one of the critically important roles in tango's history as the creator of the signature frenzied piano style of Juan D'Arienzo - likely the key ingredient which propelled D'Arienzo's orchestra to incredible success in 1935-1938, and reawakened the whole world of tango, ushering in its Golden Age. After splitting from "the King of the Beat" D'Arienzo, Rodolfo Biagi turned his orchestra into the rival Kingdom of Rhythm, spanning the range from exuberant to tragic and somber yet invariably extremely rhythmic. Dancing to Biagi is a deeply personal experience, and it may be the only orchestra which makes even such a tango omnivore as myself look around carefully in search of partners. Tonight I have time for just two Biagi tandas - one early, intense and unabashedly rhythmic, another late and brooding. Let's open the night with the sound of Biagi!
01. Rodolfo Biagi - Andrés Falgás  "La chacarera" 1940 2:24
02. Rodolfo Biagi - Teófilo Ibáñez  "Gólgota" 1938 2:33
03. Rodolfo Biagi - Jorge Ortíz "Humillación" 1941 2:42
04. Alla Pugacheva  "Etot mir"  0:33
05. Sexteto Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental "Pobre yo" 1929 2:12
06. Sexteto Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "T.B.C." 1928 3:02
07. Sexteto Carlos di Sarli - Instrumental  "Racing Club" 1930 2:34
08. Lyube  "Bat'ka Makhno cortina 1"  0:18
Alberto Echagüe was one of the signature "gangsta" voices of tango, a real porteño with a truly local sense of a voice, so idiosyncratically slightly off-time. His voice could mark the rhythm as powerfully as a percussion instrument. Not an opera singer by any means, but so tango! Whenever a dance floor loses steam, Echagüe is almost always the best rescuer, reenergizing the milonga like no one else. 
Born in Rosario on March 8 1909,  Alberto Echagüe started his capital city career with D'Agostino, but quickly became the signature voice of Juan D'Arienzo's early orchestras, sharing in their glory and in their low points (like when they recorded much-reviled tangos about hiccups or farts). When Juan Polito, D'Arienzo's 2nd pianist who replaced Biagi, split off from the King of the Beat, then Echagüe joined in the revolt as well. It was a far less amicable "divorce" then between D'Arienzo and Biagi. The King put his connections to work, this time, to suffocate the band of the disloyal musicians. The best halls and the recording studios turned their back on Polito, and by 1944,  Echagüe was back with his old employer. Only one  Echagüe tanda for tonight, alas.
09. Juan D'Arienzo - Alberto Echagüe "No Mientas" 1938 2:36
10. Juan D'Arienzo - Alberto Echagüe "Nada Mas" 1938 2:43
11. Juan D'Arienzo - Alberto Echagüe "Mandria" 1939 2:22
12. ZZ Top  "Sharp Dressed Man cortina"  0:25
Roberto Maida (smiling, in a gray suit in the center) with Francisco Canaro (with a bow tie, to the left of the mike)
among the musicians of Canaro's orchestra. From Tango Archive
Singer Roberto Maida is a March birthday boy as well. Born on March 3, 1908 in Italy, he traveled to Buenos Aires with his family at the age of 1.The Maida kid has been known for his voice, and tango was his passion. Barely a teenager, he started a career singing in the movies. At 17, he's got a job with Miguel Calo, and soon went on European tours which went almost uninterrupted for 7 years, getting him into the orbit of Carlos Gardel. Manuel Pizzarro, and Eduardo Blanco. It was the same circuit in which Francisco Canaro rotated as well, but they just tried a couple of tunes in those days. But after their return to Argentina, Canaro and Maida rediscovered each other, and joined forced for 5 years, recording almost 200 pieces together between 1934 and 1939. We will celebrate Maida by a milonga tanda first, then by a set of tango masterpieces.
13. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Largá las penas" 1935 3:08
14. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Milonga criolla" 1936 3:05
15. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Milonga brava" 1938 2:35
16. Los Iracundos  "Puerto Montt rock" 1971 0:27
17. Edgardo Donato - Lita Morales y Romeo Gavoli "Mi Serenata" 1940 3:01
18. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos, Lita Morales y Romeo Gavioli "Sinfonia de Arrabal" 1940  3:09
19. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos y Lita Morales "Carnaval De Mi Barrio" 1939 2:30
20. Lyube  "Bat'ka Makhno cortina 1"  0:18
Mauré (left) with the King of the Beat, and his other, less prolific singer Lamas. From Tango Archive
Héctor Mauré, born March 13, 1920, became the signature voice of Juan D'Arienzo's orchestra after the departure of  Echagüe. A powerful, and markedly more melodic voice, than the raw masculinity of Echagüe's vocal (and it's generally considered to be a major DJ faux pas to mix these two great voices in one tanda!)A son of Italian immigrants,  Mauré preferred to earn his money by boxing as a teenager. But a bad injury at 17 made him reconsider his plans, and make better use of his voice. In 1940, he joined D'Arienzo's orchestra, staying as their principal singer for 5 years with 50 recordings, until embarking on his solo career. Like many tango stars, Mauré was blacklisted after the government of Peron was deposed in 1955, but he never wavered in his love of tango even when the music could no longer bring him any money.
21. Juan D'Arienzo - Héctor Mauré  "El olivo (El olvido)" 1941 2:52
22. Juan D'Arienzo - Héctor Mauré  "Enamorado (Metido)" 1943 2:29
23. Juan D'Arienzo - Héctor Mauré  "Lilian" 1944 3:22
24. Los Naufragos  "Zapatos Rotos rock"  0:34
Fom Tangos al Bardo blog
One of the most versatile talents of tango, Enrique Rodriguez was born March 8, 1901, and back in the days played bandoneon with the orchestras of the Old Guard greats, like Pancho and Canaro, and with the prescient leader of the future rhythmic revolution of tango, Edgardo Donato. But when Rodriguez convened his own orchestra in 1936, he christened it an Orchestra of All Rhythms, covering both the Tango and the Tropical sides of the milonga of the 1930s-1940s (when the big dance parties featured two orchestras taking turns every half an a hour, one playing tango and the other, foxtrots, pasodobles and "tropical" genres_. Many orchestras dabbled in both genres, usually under different names, and only "crossing the lines" in recorded music. Rodriguez, however, dared to cover all genres at once, winning the market for the private parties, where bands capable of playing all beats were in special demand. And so in the popular culture of his day, Enrique Rodriguez received the highest acclaim for his foxtrots rather than for his excellent tangos. Tonight, we only have time for one vals tanda of Enrique Rodriguez, and then for one more of his tangofox. But the amazing energy of Rodriguez's tangos shouldn't be forgotten either, His is really an Orchestra of All Beats, exactly as claimed. 
25. Enrique Rodriguez - El "Chato" Flores "Los Piconeros (Vals)" 1939 2:47
26. Enrique Rodriguez - El "Chato" Flores "Las Espigadoras (Vals)" 1938 2:47
27. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "En el volga yo te espero" 1943 2:40
I couldn't resist prefacing one of the best hits of Roberto Maida, "Ciego", about the blindness of love, with a snippet of Russian ballad of the blind.... 
28. Sergey Nikitin  "Song of the Bkind " 1988 0:26
29. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida  "Ciego" 1935 2:57
30. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Recuerdos De Paris" 1937 3:12
31. Francisco Canaro - Roberto Maida "Condena (S.O.S.)" 1937 2:39
32. Gilda  "Noches Vacias cortina"  0:22
The signature song of the following tanda is Malvón, the hymn of the mallow-flower which is the symbol of our upcoming spring festival of tango!

33. Ricardo Tanturi - Enrique Campos "Oigo Tu Voz" 1943 3:09
34. Ricardo Tanturi - Enrique Campos "Malvón" 1943 2:59
35. Ricardo Tanturi - Enrique Campos "La Abandone Y No Sabia" 1944 2:50
36. Harry Roy  "South American Joe cortina 3"  0:21
Enrique Rodriguez is the reigning Rey del Fox, and we gotta play some of his signature foxtrots to celebrate his birthday tonight. As a side note: we've been to a tango marathon in Budapest where "Amor in Budapest" has been played, in lieu of "La Cumparsita", to close the milongas!
37. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "Se va el tren" 1942 3:10
38. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "No Apures Por Dios Postillon" 1945 2:59
39. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno "Amor en Budapest" 1940 2:42
40. Viktor Tsoy  "Good morning, last Hero cortina long" 1989 0:35
It's been less than two months since I finalized the story of Russian "Ojos Negros". Happy to play one of its best versions tonight!
41. Florindo Sassone =  Instrumental "Ojos Negros (Oscar Strok)" 1968 2:28
42. Florindo Sassone - Instrumental "Adios corazon (reverb)" 1968 2:16
43. Florindo Sassone - Instrumental  "Bar Exposicion" 1968 3:26
44. Zhanna Aguzarova "Old Hotel" 1987 0:22
"The dark side of Biagi"
45. Rodolfo Biagi - Hugo Duval  "Alguien" 1956 3:14
46. Rodolfo Biagi - Hugo Duval  "Solamente Dios y yo" 1958 2:30
47. Rodolfo Biagi - Hugo Duval  "Esperame en el cielo" 1958 2:52
a folk cortina presages a tanda of a very folk-minded orchestra of Juan de Dios Filiberto, the musician who insisted that there must be no divide between Argentine Tango and its other folkloric styles, and that all the rhythms of Criollo music go hand in hand. It's Filiberto's birth month too. The great violinist and orchestra leader has been born on the 8th of March 1885
48. Folk  "Shumel Kamysh "  0:23
49. Juan De Dios Filiberto - Instrumental "Tus Ojos Me Embelesan" 1935 2:34
50. Juan De Dios Filiberto - Instrumental "Pensando En Ti" 1935 2:50
51. Juan De Dios Filiberto - Instrumental "Palomita Blanca" 1959 2:35
In the run-up to the Passover, it's time for a new Israeli-themed cortina, a superbly Oriental Mizrahi music piece. Hag Pesach Sameach!
52. Zehava Ben  "Yerushalaim Shel Zahav cortina"  0:27

Astor Piazzolla was born in March too. March 11, 1921. The bandoneonist genius and one-time "enfant terrible" prankster of Troilo's orchestra who once to dreamed of nothing else than forgetting tango and leaving behind its Dark Ages, Piazzolla ended up being a savior of tango music in its darkest hour. It's as easy to love Piazzolla's Renewed Tango as it is hard to dance it. We start this mixed tanda with his superb 1982 "Oblivion"
53. Astor Piazzolla - Instrumental "Oblivion" 1982 3:36
54. Cirque du Soleil - Instrumental "Querer" 1994 4:37
55. Shigeru Umebayashi  "Yumeji's Theme (In the Mood for Love)" 2001 2:30
56. Zhanna Aguzarova "Cats" 1987 0:21
57. Alfredo De Angelis -  Instrumental "Pavadita" 1958 2:53
58. Alfredo De Angelis  -  Instrumental "Felicia " 1969 2:48
59. Alfredo De Angelis  -  Instrumental "Mi Dolor" 1959 2:51
60. Victor Tsoy  "Blood Type (cortina long)"  0:36
Which song is the highlight of the Ultimate Tanda? The irresistible soft hit of Remembranza, or the Pañuelito, the little white kerchief which is so dear to us because Erskine Maytorena made it a highlight of QTango Orchestra's repertoire? Or the sensual extreme of the "Pasional"?
61. Osvaldo Pugliese - Jorge Maciel "Remembranza" 1956 3:41
62. Osvaldo Pugliese - Jorge Maciel "El pañuelito" 1959 2:42
63. Osvaldo Pugliese - Alberto Morán "Pasional" 1951 3:26
and we close the night with a hit of a Russian-American prodigy recorded with a Hollywood-Latin band:
64. Xavier Cugat - Dinah Shore "La Cumparsita" 1939 3:10

Monday, February 12, 2018

Junando el Tango practica playlist, Feb 2018

Only two hours of music, but at an energetic, well attended practica where I actually begin to play before the official start of the practica - and people are already dancing a few minutes before it's officially on. Some warm-up-quality, strong-drive but less complex, less extreme music is always helpful at the beginning of a night of tango, but I have a feeling that with the crowd like Junando's, it's worthwhile to transition into more complicated yet also more exciting music sooner.
01. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "El garron" 1938 2:27
02. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "El choclo" 1937 2:46
03. Quinteto Don Pancho - Instrumental "Alma en pena" 1938 2:46
04. Soda Stereo  "En la ciudad de furia"  0:24
05. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Me Voy A Baraja" 1936 2:26
06. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "Alas rotas" 1938 2:31
07. Edgardo Donato - Horacio Lagos "A Oscuras" 1941 2:47
08. Soda Stereo  "En la ciudad de furia"  0:24
09. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental "Champagne tango" 1938 2:26
10. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental "El flete" 1936 2:58
11. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental "La viruta" 1936 2:20
12. Kansas  "Dust in the wind cortina"  0:23
An amazing violinist, Simon Bajour, one of the incredible Jewish fiddlers of tango, makes his violin sing like a bird on sunrise in Di Sarli's "El Amanecer", "The Dawn". February 5th, 2005 was his date of death. Born in 1928 in a tiny shtettle not far from Warsaw, Simon was the first in his family to play a musical instrument - and he steadily advanced towards his dream, a position in the Buenos Aires Symphony, which he finally won at 21. "El Rusito" Bajour also played tango by the night to pay for his classic music studies, hiding his moonlighting stints from the nosy classic music circles who looked down upon tango musicians. But somewhere along this route, tango took over, and Bajour resigned his Symphony job to join Di Sarli's orchestra full time in 1955. What a great talent!
13. Carlos Di Sarli - Instrumental "Viviani" 1956 2:59
14. Carlos Di Sarli - Instrumental "El Amanecer" 1954 2:30
15. Carlos Di Sarli - Instrumental "Indio Manso" 1958 2:57
16. Stas Borsov  "Anyuta cortina" 2000 0:21
17. Orquesta Tipica Victor - Lita Morales "Noches de invierno" 1937 2:47
Luis Díaz is one of tango's February birthday boys. A signature voice of the Old Guard, who left tango at the age of 46 just when the Golden 40s were about to explode. Born on Feb 8, 1893 in Uruguay, he sang with most major orchestra of the late 1920s and 1930s. I'm happy to showcase his "Amargura", butI have second thoughts about the closing vals of this tanda. Although united by timbre and emotion, "Barreras de amor" may be a bit too short of fire for the crescendo of a tanda...
18. Edgardo Donato  - Luis Diaz "Amargura (vals)" 1930 2:30
19. Roberto Firpo - Carlos Varela  "Barreras de Amor vals" 1936 2:36
20. Gilda  "Noches Vacias cortina"  0:22
21. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Ahora No Me Conocés" 1941 2:35
22. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Solo compasion" 1941 2:58
23. Ángel D'Agostino - Ángel Vargas "Ninguna" 1942 2:59
24. Endless Boogie  "Trash Dog cortina" 2016 0:21
25. Orquesta Tipica Victor (dir. A. Carabelli)  "Coqueta" 1929 2:47
26. Orquesta Tipica Victor (dir. A. Carabelli) "Secreto" 1932 2:45
27. Orquesta Tipica Victor (dir. A. Carabelli) "Nino bien" 1928 2:43
28. Gogol Bordello  "Pala Tute cortina 2" 2012 0:19
29. Francisco Lomuto - Jorge Omar "Que Tiempo Aquel" 1938 2:33
30. Lucio Demare - Instrumental "La Esquina" 1938 1:59
31. Ricardo Malerba - Orlando Medina "Mariana" 1942 2:16
32. Gilda  "Noches Vacias cortina"  0:22
February is also the birth month of one of the most dazzling tango pianists, Osmar Maderna. At 20, he left his quaint provincial hometown to try better luck on Buenos Aires tango scene, and soon lucked into a substitute job with Miguel Calo. Maderna ended up being one of the moving forces behind the grand success of Calo's orchestra in the Golden 1940s, but by 1945, he was ready to strike on his own. And in 1946, Maderna broke into the recording scene of BsAs, with the great voice of Orlando Verri. (Soon, he also recorded incredible instrumental masterpieces like Lluvia de estrellas). But Osmar Maderna's career was very short lived. In April 1951, he died in a crash of plane he was piloting. He was just 33. 
Of course the opening tango of the tanda has a special symbolic importance for us, because Malva is the flower emblem of our upcoming Salt Lake Tango Fest, and the registration has just started!
33. Osmar Maderna - Orlando Verri  "Malva" 1946 2:42
34. Osmar Maderna - Orlando Verri  "Plomo" 1947 2:32
35. Osmar Maderna - Orlando Verri  "Gracias" 1946 2:37
36. Soda Stereo  "Corazon elator"  0:28
Luis Diaz's early hits
37. Edgardo Donato - Luis Diaz "Adelina" 1929 2:58
38. Orquesta Donato-Zerrillo - Luis Diaz "Luces de la tarde" 1928 2:48
39. Edgardo Donato - Luis Diaz  "Como Lo Quiso Dios" 1929 2:46
40. Stas Borsov  "Anyuta cortina" 2000 0:21
and now the valses with fire
41. Rodolfo Biagi - Jorge Ortíz "Lagrimas Y Sonrisas (vals)" 1941 2:41
42. Rodolfo Biagi - Andres Falgas  "El ultimo adios (vals)" 1940  2:09
43. Rodolfo Biagi - Andres Falgas  "Dejame amarte aunque sea un di (vals)" 1939 2:55
44. Maya Kristalinskaya  "A za oknom"  0:16
45. Enrique Rodriguez - Armando Moreno  "Llorar por una mujer" 1941 2:47
46. Enrique Rodríguez - Armando Moreno "Marinero" 1943 3:10
47. Enrique Rodríguez - Armando Moreno "Como has cambiado pebeta" 1942 2:37
48. Los Iracundos  "Puerto Montt rock" 1971 0:27
And the homestretch begins with a high-energy grounded tanda
49. Fervor de Buenos Aires "E.G.B." 2007 2:26
50. Fervor de Buenos Aires "Nostalgias"  3:26
51. Fervor de Buenos Aires "Quien Sos"  3:08
52. Gilda  "Noches Vacias cortina"  0:22
... followed by the overpowering dramatic treasures of late De Angelis
53. Alfredo De Angelis - Instrumental "Mi Dolor" 1959 2:51
54. Alfredo De Angelis - Instrumental "Felicia" 1969 2:48
55. Alfredo De Angelis - Instrumental "Pavadita" 1958 2:52
56. Pink Floyd  "Goodbye Blue Sky cortina long 2"  0:29
... and Juan D'Arienzo's last testament tanda. True madness!
57. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Bar Exposicion" 1973 2:33
58. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La torcacita" 1971 2:31
59. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "Este Es El Rey" 1971 3:10
60. Juan D'Arienzo - Instrumental  "La Cumparsita" 1955 3:44

Friday, January 26, 2018

Ojos negros que fascinan, from 1830s to 1930s and beyond

In this story:

Readers of this blog may be aware that I've been working on the unusual history of "Ojos negros" for quite some time. It is a beautiful Golden Age Argentine Tango with a storied past from the Golden Age of Russian Romance... A tango classic recorded in Buenos Aires by the prolific Francisco Canaro in 1935 was a Spanish-German remix of a Russian song arranged by a Dane for a Romani choir, setting a verse of a Ukrainian poet to a Polish-Lithuanian waltz which successfully masqueraded as French. This post attempts to put in one page, in English, all bits and pieces of my research on the riddles and mysteries surrounding the "Dark Eyes", a song about fatal love and perdition which almost prophetically touched most of the talents who ever touched it, making them vanish from history. The project is nearly complete. Let's unravel this convoluted story thread, starting from near its end, from 1935. We'll end up time-traveling a full century back in time before it's over.

Manuel Salina y Florian Rey
1934

Ojos negros que fascinan; 
ojos negros que dominan; 
ojos negros, dulces ojos 
son tan crueles y tan piadosos.     

Ojos negros que arrebatan; 
ojos negros que me matan; 
ojos negros, dulces ojos, 
triste vida de mi corazón

Voy pasando por mi vida atormentada 
bajo el fuego abrasador de tu mirada, 
voy cruzando por la vida 
como una pobre sombra perdida. 

En el fondo de mi alma ya no brilla 
más que el fuego abrasador de tu pupila;
en el fondo de mi alma,
donde siempre tu amor vivirá.

Translation by Alejandro Sasha Vicente-Grabovetsky
creator of Tango Translation Database

Dark eyes that enchant;
Dark eyes that dominate;
dark eyes, sweet eyes;
they are so cruel and so kind.

Dark eyes that captivate;
dark eyes that kill me;
dark eyes, sweet eyes;
sad life of my heart.

I pass through my tormented life
under the scorching fire of your gaze,
I walk across life
like a poor, lost shadow.

In the bottom of my soul now shines
but the scorching fire of your pupil
in the bottom of my soul
where your love will always live
Odeon's 1935 disk 4939-B describes Canaro's "tango con estribillo" (tango with a short vocal section) as "Ojos negros que fascinan" authored by Manuel Salina and Florian Rey. But peculiarly, no such song can be found in the SADAIC database. As it turns out, the song was first recorded a year earlier, under a completely different title. It was called simply "Russian romance (Dark eyes) inspired by a Russian folk motiff" ( "Romanza rusa  (Ojos negros), Sobre un motivo popular ruso" ). This "Russian romance in Spanish" wasn't issued on a disk. Instead, the recording came out in the revolutionary format of "a 1934 Youtube" as a short standalone movie clip, one of the earliest "talkies" in Spanish language. Famous Spanish movie director Florian Rey cast his lead actress (and fiancee) Imperio Argentine in this film clip. Rey (born Antonio Martínez del Castillo) was a great fan of Russian culture (and a sworn enemy of the Left, who soon moved to Germany on Hitler's personal invitation. But when the fuhrer started making advances at his beautiful Argentine wife, it ended up in a divorce and a low-key return of the director to oblivion in his home country) 


Imperio Argentina, born Magdalena Nile del Rio (and known to her friends as Malena) specialized in folkloric song and dance on stage and on screen. She proudly declared herself the only woman who ever sung together with Carlos Gardel, the iconic symbol of Argentine tango (They performed together in a Spanish-language talkie made in Paris in 1935, "Melodia de arrabal"). She wrote that, although Gardel was rumored to be gay, his problem with female singers stemmed from simple dislike of their voices ... but even Gardel couldn't resist the feminine magic of his beautiful dark-eyed compatriot. It was after the Parisian adventure that Florian Rey decided to cast her in a short movie with a Russian-Spanish folk song stylized as Argentine tango. The original Russian romance already reverberated across the world after Feodor Chaliapin's tours. The legendary opera bass is said to have added several new stanzas, in adoration of his dark-eyed Italian wife Iola Tornagi. For Iperio Argentina's Dark Eyes, the song was arranged by Manuel "Paco" Salina, a Spanish songwriter and composer of German extraction, whose birth name was Gunther Ehrenfried Salinger. Salina was well known by his adaptation of other composers' music to popular styles. With their only foray into tango, Salina and Rey have made quite a remarkable job. Of course, being true to the Argentine tradition of his day, Francisco Canaro has retained just one bridge-estribillo in his recording, completely skipping the verse stanzas. 

Time to travel deeper into the past now. From this point on, the poems we'll encounter will all be in Russian. We are going to 1928, to Paris and Riga! Or, for that matter, let's head straight into 1893, to Dvinsk (presently Daugavpils in Latvia), then a county seat of Russia's Vitebsk Gubernia. On the 17th of the month of Tevet, year 5653 of the Jewish calendar, the youngest son is born into a big family of a musician Dovid bar Morduch Strok. Little Osher will in time become Oscar Davidovich Strok, the King of Russian Tango.
Dvinsk was a garrison town with a giant fortress and armory, and Dovid Strok moved there for a job of a military musician, but by the time of Oscar's birth, his father and his older brother worked in a theater orchestra. 
The Russian 1897 Census sheets were supposed to be destroyed, but the sheet enumerating the Stroks of Dvinsk
has miraculously survived. Osher, age 4, is on line 8.
"Rigas Tango Karalis": A memorial plaque honoring
King of Tango Oscar Strok is unveiled in Riga in 2013
Oscar Strok followed the footsteps of his musical clan, but he only wrote his first (and, in my opinion, the best) tango at the age of 35. It was "Dark Eyes", a different tango drawing on the same Russian song.
A hot romance with a secretary of his Riga-based magazine, Leni Libman, lead Oscar to abandon his family and to escape to Paris with his dark-eyed girlfriend. That's where he fell under the spell of Tango. That's where he composed his "Dark Eyes", complete with an extensive musical quote from the classic Russian romance.
The love to the dark eyes, as every superstitious Eastern European knows, couldn't portend any good. All what it gave Strok was a wounded heart, a pile of debts ... and this one unforgettable tango, with the lyrics completed by Oscar's friend and fellow Riga entertainer, a Cossack Yesaul (chieftain) Aleksandr Perfilyev, a heir to a famed line of Siberian explorers.


Оскар Строк, Александр Перфильев
1928

Был день осенний,
и листья гpустно опадали
В последних астpах 
Печаль хpустальная жила
Гpусти тогда с тобою мы не знали 
Ведь мы любили и для нас весна цвела.

Ах, эти чеpные глаза меня пленили,
Их позабыть нигде нельзя,
Они гоpят пеpедо мной.
Ах, эти чеpные глаза меня любили
Куда же вы скpылись бы тепеpь,
Кто близок вам дpугой.

Ах, эти чеpные глаза меня погубят,
Их позабыть нигде нельзя
Они гоpят пеpедо мной.
Ах, эти чеpные глаза, кто вас полюбит,
Тот потеpяет навсегда
И сеpдце и покой.

Очи чёрные, очи страстные,
Очи милые и прекрасные!
Как люблю я вас, как боюсь я вас!
Знать, увидел вас в недобрый час!

...Ах, эти чеpные глаза, кто вас полюбит,  
Тот потеpяет навсегда
И сеpдце и покой.

Oscar Strok, Alexander Perfilyev.
"Dark Eyes" tango

It was an autumn day
With leaves falling, dejectedly,
And in the last chrysanthemums 
Lurked a sad sparkle of frost
But the two of us didn't know sadness yet 
For we were in love, and our spring was abloom

Oh the dark eyes that captivated me,
One can't forget them anywhere;
They are ablaze before me.
The dark eyes which once loved me,
Where are you hiding now?
Who else is close to you?

Oh, the dark eyes will spell my doom,
One can't forget them anywhere;
They are ablaze before me.
Whoever falls in love with the dark eyes
Shall lose forever 
One's heart and one's peace

Dark eyes, eyes of passion,
Dear and beautiful eyes!
How I love you, how I fear you!
I think I met you in an ill-fated hour!

...Whoever falls in love with the dark eyes
Shall lose forever 
One's heart and one's peace
Piotr Leschenko, a Russian singer from Romania, also drawn to Riga by a potent cocktail of love and tango, made the most famous recording of this song in Austria, with Frank Fox - born Franz Fux in today's Czech Republic, then Moravia  - who conducted an orchestra and composed music for dancing and for movies in Vienna.
Piotr Leschenko's bootleg records were immensely popular - albeit technically illegal - in Russia, but he only set foot there under most tragic circumstances, as a Romanian conscript in the Nazi-allied occupation forces in WWII. Despite this stain of being a collaborationist, Leschenko was offered forgiveness and a clean slate in the Soviet Union after the end of the war. But at his farewell party, the singer confessed his love to Romania too eloquently. A snitch denounced him, and the Russians withdrew the invitation at the last moment. Instead, Leschenko has been sent to the Romanian labor camps. He died in a prison hospital, and his case remains classified even now. In a recent Russian bio-pic, Piotr Leschenko is pictured as a proud defender of Russian culture under the Nazi yoke, and Konstantin Khabensky re-enacts his "Dark Eyes" for the movie:
Decades later, Strok's "Dark Eyes" made it all the way to Argentina as well, in a powerfull instrumental cover by Florindo Sassone's orchestra:

Oscar Strok was once erased from the official history of the Russian song as well, when in the late Stalin's years he was blacklisted and forbidden from composing as a punishment for his "bourgeois degraded music of tango", and forced to earn living by private piano lessons. The very word "tango" was proscribed, replaced by a euphemistic "slow dance"! Still, now we know Strok's biography in great detail. But after the next leg of our time travel, we are going to make do with lots of guesswork about all characters of the story.

Let's hire a troika and order the coachman to race up Tverskaya Street! We are in the 1880s Moscow and we're heading to the famous suburban restaurant, the "Yard". We leave the old city boundaries, and the restrictions of the municipal ordinances, behind, once we pass the New Triumphal Gate Square. As a different folk song about the Yard wishes, "May the raven-black horses fly me away to the place where the girls are mischievous and the nights are full of fire".
From the census of merchants of Moscow's Butchers Quarter:
Tranquille Yard, the restaurateur, arrived from abroad in 1826
The Yard, once extolled by Pushkin for its truffles, has by now become most famous for its Romani singing.  It's partly due to the discriminatory laws of the 1850s which essentially made concert performances off limits for the Gypsy entertainers, confining them to taverns for 3 long decades. Even the revered Sokolov Gypsy Choir, once the darlings of the illustrious XVIII c. Count Orloff, had to settle on singing in a restaurant (although the most classy of them all, the Yard). It was the musical directors of the Yard's Choir, prolific songwriters Sergey (Sofus) Herdahl (Gerdal) and Yakov Prigozhiy, who made "Dark Eyes" an exemplary Gypsy romance song.
The 1884 music sheet of Gerdal's "Gypsy Romance" "Dark Eyes, Passionate Eyes",
from a livejournal entry of a Russian researcher
In 1884, Sofus Gerdal publishes his"Gypsy romance for voice and piano", "Dark Eyes, Passionate Eyes", crediting long-deceased Evgeny Grebenka for the lyrics, and using the music of Florian Hermann's "Valse Hommage". The same year, Yakov Prigozhiy publishes a different arrangement of the same music as "a waltz for voice with piano accompaniment", titled "You're My Heaven on Earth" ("Ты мой рай земной"). The lyrics ought to be different in Prigozhiy's waltz, but we'd need to go to the Russian National Library, which has the published score, to figure out if any of its lyrics were retained in the countless later covers of "Dark Eyes". And there is one more "Dark Eyes" song by Sofus Gerdal, published a bit earlier, in 1881, "for choir and piano", which doesn't credit either Evgeny Grebenka or Florian Hermann, but attributes the lyrics to a female author known only by her initials. We don't know yet if the 1881 score is essentially the same song or something entirely different; only a trip to the Russian National Library may sort it out. At least it's clear that Gerdal was the first in styling the song as a Gypsy romance, and that the lyrics started changing very early on, perhaps in Gerdal's own arrangements, perhaps in Prigozhiy's. Only the immortal opening stanza of Grebenka's lyrics remained a constant in all of the song's versions.

Evgeny Grebenka (Yevhen Hrebinka) 
1843

Очи чёрные, очи страстные,
Очи жгучие и прекрасные!
Как люблю я вас, как боюсь я вас!
Знать, увидел вас я в недобрый час!

Ох, недаром вы глубины темней!
Вижу траур в вас по душе моей,
Вижу пламя в вас я победное:
Сожжено на нём сердце бедное.

Но не грустен я, не печален я,
Утешительна мне судьба моя:
Всё, что лучшего в жизни Бог дал нам,  
В жертву отдал я огневым глазам!

Dark Eyes
Metrical translation by Stefan Bogdanov

Oh you dark black eyes, full-of-passion-eyes
Oh you burning eyes, how you hypnotize
Now I love you so, but I fear you though
Since you glanced at me not so long ago.

Oh I see you now, you are dark and deep
I see grief and feel that my soul will weep
I see now in you a winning burning glow
In my poor heart will a fire grow.

I’m not sorrowful, I’m not repenting
I accept all that my fate’s presenting
All the best in life, God has given us-
this I sacrifice, to you dark black eyes.


But any semblance of clarity disappears once we turn to the published biographic info about the arrangers, Gerdal and Prigozhiy, and the composer Hermann.
Sofus Gerdal published gypsy romances in Moscow in the 1880s, and worked at the Yard restaurant, but who he was and from where? An Internet legend, which started out as an innocent joke, is now repeated all across the Russian Internet as a "true discovery". The pianist sometimes Russified his name as "Sergey", and a few later editions misspelled his surname as "Gerdel". And so once, a search engine showed that Sergey Gerdel was alive and well (a contemporary entrepreneur with exactly this name lives and works in Berdichev in Ukraine). A classic Russian meme is the joke that "all the imported goods were actually made in Jewish Odessa". Likewise, a blogger who made the 2011 "Gerdel discovery" exclaimed, "What if all the classic Gypsy songs were, likewise, actually made in Jewish Berdichev". Alas, a harmless internet joke, repeated and reposted over and over again, began to sound like truth.  In reality though, there is no such Jewish surname as Gerdal, nor a Jewish personal name like Sofus (a rare Ashkenazi surname "Gerdel" does exist, but its area of origin was quite far from Berdichev, in Czarist Russia's Taurida Governorate). Sofus or Sophus is a male name in Scandinavia, Germany, and Belgium, a masculine version of the name Sophie. Gerdal (Гердаль) is a regular Russian alphabet rendition of a common Scandinavian surname "Herdahl", literally "Hay Valley". In Danish town of Maribo, there is even a record of a different Sofus Herdahl, a XIXth century barber. But was our Gypsy pianist Sofus Herdahl a Dane, or possibly a Swede, we can't yet tell.

Yakov Fedorovich Prigozhiy (1840-1920, Moscow) - this is how encyclopedias define the author and arranger of countless Russian and Gypsy romances, another one of which ("My campfire glows in the mist", "Мой костер в тумане светит") also got a second life in Argentine tango music. Better than nothing, although who he was, where he came from and grew up, remains a riddle. A little is also known about Yakov's relatives. His musician brother Adolf Prigozhiy was, at the peak of his fame, even better known than Yakov. All Russia danced to Adolf's waltzes, he toured the provinces, at one time owned an operetta theater in Vilna, and was married to an operetta star Serafima Beletskaya (who, after Adolf's untimely death in St Petersburg, remarried to a famous operetta actor, nobleman Gabel' -Rodon). Adolf's son George Prigozhiy clerked in the National Bank in St. Petersburg in 1899-1900. With these name / marriage / occupation tidbits we may conclude that Prigozhiy (which means "Handsome" in Russian) was their actual surname rather than a theatrical pseudonym, that they weren't ethnic Romani, and that they were Christians. A surname "Prigozhiy" did exist in Czarist Russia, mostly in Eastern Belorussia, home to many other "Good / Nice / Pretty" names (Among my own relatives in that region, one of the surnames was "Neplokh", literally Good-Enough). As with many other regional Slavic surnames, Prigozhiy was used both by Belorussians and Jews. The former mostly in Vitebsk Governorate, the latter mostly in Mogilev Governorate. Personal names Adolf, Yakov, and Fedor and especially Georgy weren't yet used by the Jewish residents of Russia at the time, but could have been used by Christian converts. The name Adolf was traditionally Polish but perhaps occasionally used by educated Belorussians, emulating their Polish landlord class. All this said, we still don't know the native community of the Prigozhiy family (and since the genealogical documents were kept by a parish, we don't  have a clear idea where to look for Yakov's childhood, education, and personal life).

A band of Dauldzhi, Crimean Romani musicians
But there is an Internet legend about the origins of Yakov Prigozhiy, too, and a beautiful one. It is said that the Karaims of Crimea consider him one of their own, a scion of Evpatoria Karaite community!
At a first glance, the Evpatoria hypothesis shows an intriguing similarity with the facts. In the city of Evpatoria, there was indeed a Jewish Prigozhiy family, even one Yakov Prigozhiy among them (albeit from a different generation). Yakov Prigozhiy the songwriter collaborated with musicians from Crimea. And the regional Gypsy, Tatar, and Jewish folk music was a one nearly indivisible phenomenon, because Crimean Tatar Gypsy musicians - called the Dauldzhi, from the name of the traditional large double-headed drum known as daul or davul - performed all these ethnic styles. Whosoever celebrates a wedding, would get one's folk music from the same band of Dauldzhis. "Same musicians, slightly different results".
But the putative Evpatoria Prigozhiy connection failed a reality check. This family moved to Evpatoria much later, and they were Ashkenazi Jewish rather than Karaim. They came from Bryansk and Mglin counties, at the boundaries of the same Mogilev Governorate (with Yakov making the move to Evpatoria only after WWII, while his sisters stayed put in Bryansk region). And no such surname ever existed among the Karaim.

Plaques with Hebrew inscriptions in the
Marble Courtyard of the Grand Evpatoria Kenasa 
But the Evpatoria hypothesis refuses to die. According to Karaim amateur historians, the Grand Karaite Kenasa of Evpatoria has a memorial plaque honoring a donation made by Yakov Prigozhiy the musician "to the community of his parents, may their memory be blessed". However, the family name is said to be spelled differently on the plaque. It is Yefet rather than Prigozhiy. Yefet (יֶפֶת) is of course Japheth, the Biblical son of Noah and the mythical ancestor of Tatars, Armenians, Greeks and pretty much all the ethnic groups of old Crimea. Yefet was also the name of one of the most revered Karaite Medieval scholars. And the men's name Yefet was quite popular among the Crimean Karaim. But the surname Yefet appeared in Evpatoria only in the late 1830s, brought by a family of a repatriant from Istanbul, r. Yufuda Yefet Kosdini. Reb Yufuda, a.k.a. Yehuda Qustini Yefet, was an Istanbuli Karaim wise man of Crimean origin and a close associate of Avraham "Eru" Firkovich, a Lutsk Karaim pilgrim, historian and reformer of their belief system. Qustini or Kosdini was a Greko-Karaim for "Konstantinopoli", "from Istanbul". Firkovich spent the first half of the 1830s in Istanbul, then the prime center of Karaite learning, but his reform zeal eventually caused him and his followers to be expelled. They moved to Crimea, and, in 1837,  made Evpatoria the center of Karaite religious autonomous community. That's when the Grand Kenasa was built, too. Now, is it possible that the first sons of the religious zealot repatriants have become operetta and night club musicians? Before you tell me that I'm totally nuts, I shall ask you to travel to Crimea and to send me a picture of the יֶפֶת stone. And then, to your valid question, how could "Yefet" ever become "Prigozhiy", the Karaim informants have a ready answer. Both words mean "Handsome", the first one in Hebrew, the second one in Russian.
From the glossary of Karaim surnames from the 1913 volume of "Jewish antiquities" (Еврейская старина).
It does mark "Yefet" as "handsome", albeit with a question mark. The more recent sources just mark it as a
surname derived from the male personal name Yefet in Istanbul
In the end it's the same story with Prigozhiy as with Gerdal... a cool legend finds no support, and we have no clue who they were.
But if the scale of myth-making surrounding Sofus Gerdal and Yakov Prigozhiy surprises you, then just wait until you listen to the tall tales about Florian (or Feodor) Hermann, whose "Valse Hommage" has been arranged into a romance song by the Yard's pianists!

Most often, we are told that Hermann was French, and came to Russia with Napoleon's Grand Army. Sometimes we hear that his Valse Hommage started as a march of the advancing French troops in 1812. But sometimes, that it mourns the French army losses as it forded the icy Berezina river on retreat from Moscow. We even hear that Florian Hermann visited the home estate of Evgeny Grebenka, the author of the lyrics of the future song, during the Napoleonic Wars! But sometimes Florian Hermann turns out to be a German rather than Frenchman. We are even told that the lived in Strasbourg. One has to note that "Valse Hommage" is always titled in French in the international score catalogs, while some of the other Hermann's compositions are titled in German. However, my research shows that Florian Hermann was a Slavic patriot from the Wilno strip area of Poland / Lithuania, and that he composed some of his most popular pieces in 1870s through 1890s. And very recently, I was able to find out a few details about his youth and his family in Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania)

The path to discovering Florian Hermann's real story started from the numbered lists of his works, available from the sheet music publishers. Some of these compositions had obvious connections to historical events and geographical locations. For example, "March over the Balkans" and "Totleben March" (Забалканскiй Маршъ & Тодлебенъ-Маршъ) - Florian Hermann op. 37 & 39, resp. - are clearly linked to the Balkan Campaign of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, when the nation rose up in the wave of Pan-Slavic patriotism, the Czar's army crossed the Balkan Mountains, and general Totleben wrestled the key fortress of Plevna from the Turks). The "March of Russian volunteers" also glorifies the liberator warriors who saved the Balkan Slavs from the Turkish yoke. One of the latest compositions of Hermann honors the coronation of Nicholas II in 1896.

The scores of Hermann's were being printed by the Moscow publishing house of Gutheil,  which also issued the works of Gerdal and Prigozhiy. But the best source on Floriann Hermann is the St. Petersburg publishing house of Buttner, which in 1879 merged with D. Rahter Publishers of Hamburg. As a result, their catalogs were printed in Hamburg, and survived the ravages of time much better than the Russian rarities. We don't see any new works of Hermann after 1900.

Op. 60 - 2nd Lithuanian Quadrille - was inspired by the vocal polonaises of Stanisław Moniuszko, the leading composer of Polish Nationalist Romanticism, whose folkloric operas were all the rage in the 1860s.  Op. 56, the "Evening Chant", had a dedication to Moniuszko as well.  Stanisław Moniuszko died in 1872 and attained an even higher post-mortal glory as the Polish creator of the Pan-Slavic music. It was easy to see that the same musical ideology attracted Florian Hermann as well. In addition to patriotic an Pan-Slavic marches and Western European themes, his list of compositions is thick with Lithuanian, Ukrinian / Belorussian (Op. 30 and 52 are"Little Russian polkas"), Polish and Russian folkloric-romantic themes. Polonaises, mazurkas, polkas... Op. 61 was dedicated to Rubno (a backwoods village with a manor of the Dauksza family on the outskirts of Vilnius, now called Kirtimai, where, as we will soon see, the Hermanns also lived; both Rubno and Kirtimai mean "Clear-cut", in Polish and Lithuanian, resp). General Totleben, lionized in op. 39, was based in Vilnius, too. The most remarkable edition of Florian Hermann's music came out in 1881 from the famous Wilno publishing house of Eliza Orzeszkowa, a Polish freedom fighter who barely avoided exile for her role in the Uprising of 1863, author, and an ideologist of Positivism, a school of Polish nationalist thought which insisted that the future of Poland depended on its cultural growth and fostering cultural ties between its ethnic groups, rather than on continuing armed uprisings. Eliza Orzeszko's publishing house was quickly shut down by the Czarist government, but not before they issued a beautiful booklet of Hermann's "salon dances", entitled "Wilno Carnival", with a panoramic view of the city on its jacket, and 6 patriotic compositions inside: Lithuanian countradance, Fiery mazurka, two dances for the local rivers Vilia and Niemen, and two more glorifying Lithuania's pre-Christian past (dedicated to a Pagan priestess and the thunder-deity Perkunas). More dedications to Moniuszko are found inside this 41-page booklet.

One of Napoleon's 1812 Campaign
drawings made by Moniuszko's
father Czeslaw
As I researched more, I was stunned to discover Stanisław Moniuszko's strong association with Vilnius. The young composer (who, by the way, was really a son of a Napoleon's officer - for his secessionist father joined the war against Russia as a Captain of Lithuanian Mounted Riflemen) came to Vilnius fresh after school, at the age of 21, for a modest job of a church organ player. As we'll soon discover, Moniuszko was just 3 years older than Florian Hermann. Stanisław would stay in Vilnius for nearly two decades, supplementing his income with teaching music (but often teaching without pay). He married a local German noble maiden, and Moniuszko's - or rather his in-laws' - mansion on German street quickly became the hub of Wilno's musical life. (Later we'll learn that the Hermanns lived literally next door, and that the two teachers passed students to one another. I suspect that Florian Hermann didn't just find inspiration in his neighbor's music but also studied composition with the gifted and generous, but not yet famous, Stanisław Moniuszko)
Moniuszko's (actually his father-in-law Muller's) house on 26 German st. on Vilnius.
In the 1820s, the Hermans were next-door neighbors
Florian Hermann's early compositions were dedicated to Lydia, Yulia, and Sofiya (presumably students of Florian) which makes it likely that the composer worked as a piano teacher in his youth. As to the Hommage-vals (future "Dark eyes"), op. 21... it was undoubtedly composed before the mid 1870s, and it was a very popular composition, judging by a variety of "updated" and orchestral arrangements in Rahter-Buttner catalogs.

The old Vilnius high school courtyard
The Vilnius connection of Florian Hermann already loomed large, but the breakthrough came when I was lucky to find the earliest, student's work of Florian Hermann in the catalog of the former Imperial Libary. An 1840 polonaise has been dedicated (in French) to Ustinov, the principal of Wilno Gymnasia (High Scool) "from his humblest pupil Florian Hermann", printed at Michal  Przybyłski's lithography shop. (dédiée du m-r Ustinoff, directeur du Gymnase imperial du gouvernement de Vilna, conseiller de la cour et membre de plusieurs ordres et composée pour le piano-forte par son très humble élève Florian Herrmann. - Vilna : lith. de Przybyłski). The 1840 date may have been inexact, but this was when the work was added to the library collection. Yet it's known that Alexandr Ustinov, a painter and an educator, served as the Principal of the 1st Wilno Men's Gymnasia from 1836 to 1843. There are also other known lithographic sheet music editions by the Przybyłski shop, dated by the 1830s. Therefore it appeared that Florian Hermann was the composer's real name, and that he studied in a high school in Vilnius in the late 1830s.

Only a privileged family could have sent their sons to a high school in the 1830s-1840s. So, having failed to find the Hermans in the XIX c. lists of local officials or merchants, I tentatively concluded that they must have belonged to the szlachta, the Polish-Lithuanian landed gentry. Of note, a leading Polish genealogist Iwona Dakiniewicz spotted this surname in the vital record books of the Catholic Deanery of Wilno as early as in the 1740s. Iwona wrote that their home parishes may have been North of town, in Giedrojcie or Podbrzezie. Indeed, I soon found a mention of a local nobleman Sykstus Herman in an 1844 Imperial government publication. These exciting finds later turned out to be "false alarms" from a different Herman family, but it still moved my search into the right direction! 
From the list of Nobleman Assembly electors, Wilno, 1834

"The Chase", old Lithuanian
coat of arms, graces the
Holy (or Dawn) Gate 
Iwona Dakiniewicz introduced me to a prominent Lithuanian genealogist Sigita Gasparaviciene, who told me of one Herman nobleman who lived in Wilno proper in the beginning of the XIX c. This Piotr Herman, a transplant from Warmia, didn't belong to the hereditary szlachta; rather, he was a former merchant, elevated to the noble status in honor of his service on Wilno Magistrate. This turned out to be a false lead, too. But then, on the website of Czeslaw Malewski, a specialist on Lithuania's szlachta, I saw in an 1834 list of Nobleman Assembly voters that the former Head of Wilno Gentry, travelling to the assembly from a distant county, stopped at the Hermans' house at Ostrobramska Street, right in the heart of Wilno's Old Town, famous for its Holy / Sharp / Dawn Gate as it's known in various local languages!
Florian Herman lived here? (Ostrobramska street at the Gate in the 1840s) 
Florian Hermann, 14, in his 1835/36 high school class roster
I emailed Czeslaw Malewski, who confirmed that in 1835/36 school year, Florian Herman, age 14. a Catholic Wilna nobleman, studied in Wilna Gymnasia in IV grade. And within weeks, we had the whole story of this Herman family pieced together at last! His was born in Vilnius in 1822 to Johann Herman, a German transplant, and Eleonora nee Marianski, an ethnic Polish noblewoman. Florian was the 3rd of their 4 children. His father Johann (known in Polish records as Jan and in Russian ones as German), born ca. 1787, was a school teacher. He studied in Dresden (Saxony) and Breslau, and then in the Kingdom of Prussia. He started teaching in Vilna in a German Lutheran school on Sept 1st, 1812. He married Eleonora, also from a noble Catholic family, in 1819. Notably, Jan Herman also taught in the only Polish-language high school still allowed in the city after the severe crackdown on Polish education in the wake of the 1831 Uprising. In 1839 he was required to pledge allegiance to Russian Empire to save his nobleman status. Ivan Herman continued teaching in a Lutheran school, retiring in the mid-1840s with the government service rank of Titular Councillor, and then opening his own private school. He died in 1860 (and his death record lists him as a parishioner of the German-speaking Congregation of St. Martin), and his widow passed away in 1867. They are buried together with their children, including Florian Hermann, at the decaying Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius, where their tombstones still remain to be identified.
Three elements of these records offer particularly insightful windows into the history of the epoch and the life of Florian Hermann: that Jan Hermann's teaching job in Vilnius commenced just as Napoleon readied his Grand Armee was the decisive battle at the gates of Moscow; that young Florian lived, at least for a while, next door to "Moniuszko house" on the city's German Street; and that Florian's high school classmates were the Cui brothers, sons of his French teacher and older siblings of Florian's most famous piano student)
The 1832 Vilnius School District Personnel Record of Ivan Karlovich German,
"foreigner, not possessing land holdings" as Johann Hermann was known in Russian.
Son Florian, age 9, is listed in the right-most column.
So, Florian Hermann's father arrived to Vilnius from Prussia and started teaching in September 1812, in the midst of Napoleon's Russian campaign. Does it mean that he was a part of Napoleon's war machine? My education in Russia gave me fair knowledge of the climactic September, 1812, Battle of Borodino at the gates of Moscow, and of the burning of Moscow and the icy, starving French retreat which followed. But I knew next to nothing about Lithuania's, Poland's, and Prussia's roles in the fateful war. From Czeslaw Moniuszko's poem about 1812, mentioned earlier in this post, I kind of grasped that Lithuania was almost giddy with excitement about Napoleon's coming, even as it danced at Czar Alexander's infamous Grand Ball at Zakret near Wilno on the night of Napoleon's crossing of the Russian border:

Czeslaw Moniuszko 
1812 rok

...Wilno Litwy już stolica
Jak przed ślubem ta dziewica
Sama nie wie jak radować
Swój rumieniec rada schować   
Bo przed chwilą tańcowała
I w Zakręcie balowała...


"The Year 1812"

...Already, Wilno, Lithuanian capital,
Like a maiden before wedding,
Was at loss how to be joyful
Eager to hide its blushing cheeks
Because it danced before its time
At the Ball at Zakret...

Uhlans of the Duchy of Warsaw
Actually, the Czar retired to his study after the first round of mazurka, and spend the night signing orders, before escaping the suddenly-endangered city. 3 days later, on June 16, 1812 (by Russian "old style" calendar), Polish Uhlan Cavalry rode into Vilnius, already abandoned by the retreating Russians, in the vanguard of Napoleon's forces. The War of 1812, which will soon become known to the Russians as the Patriotic War, was the 2nd War of Liberation to the Poles. The 1st Liberation War of Poland, just recently completed, was the name for the Napoleonic campaigns against Prussia and Austria, which resulted in the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, the first semi-independent Polish state in a generation's memory. True, it wasn't nearly the Kingdom of Poland they dreamed about, a mere shadow of the old kingdom's size, under the rule of the Saxon king, without foreign policy rights, and with a French Marshal (albeit of Polish extraction) at the helm of its War Ministry. But Napoleon was poised to avenge old Poland's dismembered and to destroy its archenemy Russia, and the Duchy of Warsaw responded with fervor. No other nation sent so many of its men to fight in Napoleon's armies; and Poland's burden of the war taxes was unsurpassed, too.
If Poland was brimming with excitement, then Prussia's mood was kind of opposite. It has lost war after war against Napoleon, and the humiliating 1807 Tilsit Treaty stripped Prussia of nearly half of its territories, sent French occupation forces to its cities, and obligated Prussia to supply troops for the future French wars. Now 20,000 Prussian troops were marching under French command into Russia, but many patriotic Prussian officers already resigned and switched to the Russian side. The most famous of them, the famous military theorist von Clausewitz, will in a few months engineer the withdrawal of the Prussian corps of General York from the Napoleonic coalition. Thus the conspiracy of the Prussian officers on the Prussian and Russian sides of the great war will force the hand of the Kaiser in Berlin.
French medal commemorating capture of Wilna.
Napoleon, right, hands a saber and a shield to
a Polish Uhlan and a Lithuanian
Multi-ethnic Lithuania's case was more complicated. The Poles, largely a propertied class, welcomed Napoleon but also feared that he will free the serfs (like he already did in the Duchy of Warsaw). Indeed, Napoleon attempted to talk with the peasants, but he didn't order abolition of serfdom until he was already in the burning Moscow, and by then, it was too late. The landed nobility was also hedging against possible future reprisals from Russia. So of the 1,000 positions in the Old Guard reserved for the Lithuania's gentry, all but 33 remained unfilled. Meanwhile, many Germans of Wilno retreated with the Russians. And the lower-class Lithuanians reeled from the marauding masses of the soldiers (in one of Napoleon's rare mistakes, he declared that his troops will be entering the enemy lands, rather than "liberated lands", as they crossed into Russia, and waves of plunder ensued).
The French Emperor staked his hopes on a quick decisive battle with the Russians, but the Czar's armies wouldn't give Napoleon such a chance. Instead, they kept retreating and escaping, week after week, month after month, effectively wearing the French out by the endless marches through the terrain which couldn't sustain them. Incredulous, Napoleon spent a whole month in Vilna, working on the regional government issues and waiting, in vain, for the Russians to surrender. On July 1, 1812, the Provisional Government of Lithuania convened. Professor Śniadecki, Rector of Wilno University, took the helm at the Committee of Popular Education, and soon reported that the Fall semester classes couldn't start because the German instructors escaped with the retreating Russians. On July 10, Napoleon met with the delegation from the Duchy of Warsaw, demanding rights and lands. But Napoleon refused (again) to make Poland a kingdom, and reiterated that the Austrian Polish lands were off-limits and that the Poles must first rise up in the Russian lands from Polotsk and Vitebsk to Podolia, in order to claim these historic Polish provinces after the war. A week later, he left to catch up with the troops. The rest of the Vilnius summer 1812 was uneventful, if marred by a typhus epidemic, shortages of firewood, and ever-increasing taxes, graft and extortion. In September, the newspapers announced about the taking of Moscow. And then, came the crippling retreat. Napoleon returned to Vilnius on November 23, 1812, escaping ahead of the staggering remnants of his Grand Armee, pursued by nearly as freezing and starving Russians. He just changed his horses and pressed on without stopping. The Fr 11M treasury of the Emperor didn't make it past the suburbs, mostly plundered, although Fr 4M were recaptured by the Russian government. On December 12, exactly 6 months after the humiliating escape from Zakret, Czar Alexander came back to Vilna, traveling by a troika horse sleigh from St Petersburg. The hopes of the hedging local nobility were rewarded, as the Czar immediately amnestied the Napoleon collaborators (with the prisoners of war ordered detained until the cessation of hostilities). Meanwhile the city overflowed with the wounded, sick, and frostbitten servicemen from both armies. The bodies piled up in the monasteries and warehouses, and spilled into the streets, and there weren't enough horses to transport them, or able-bodied men to dig graves. Before it was over, 80,000 bodies were burned or buried in mass graves.

Ludwig Theodor Dietrich Christian von Grolman
1777 - 1813 (Vilnius)
One of those dead is linked to Hermans, so I shall mention his story here. General Ludwig von Grolman, a Baden subject, has died in the Vilna apartment of Mr. Herman in February 1813. He was a scion of a Hessian dynasty of lawyers and politicians; his brother was Hessen's foreign minister, while another brother drafted Hessen's consitituition. Their father was a famous detractor of masons, Jacobites and revolutionaries. The lone military man in the clan, Ludwig fought across the map of Europe, wrote books, and adored Horace. Wounded in the leg at Berezina crossing, he fell into Russian captivity two weeks later. They were robbed, repeatedly, and beaten by the captors, kicked out of shelters, stripped of their clothing. They begged for food and ate horse carcasses. Once a poor peasant let them stay in a shed, another time a Jewish schul opened its doors. Once a Russian officer of Prussian extraction gave them some clothing, another time a Polish landlord fed them. They weren't guarded; the hardships of escape is what kept them, although von Grolmann's comrade did escape. At last, Ludwig heard that the Czar was in Vilna. He reasoned that the Czar will release him and pay for his return, and walked for 5 days to reach the city. There, Grand Prince Constantine met the German general, and gave him 100 rubles to buy proper clothes for the royal audience. Alas, von Grolman fell ill from his beatings and deprivations, and didn't recover until the Czar already left. So he was still stuck. Ludwig von Grolman sent his last letter home, asking for money. 3 weeks later, he passed away at 35.

Evangelical Lutheran
Parish, in the courtyard
off German street, was
Johann Hermann's
employer
We don't have Johann Herman's Vilnius address in 1813, and we can only guess how he ended up in the typhous seat of Lithuania's provisional government in 1812. It's quite likely that he went with the Prussian corps of General York. But perhaps the education authorities under Dr. Śniadecki recruited him as a teacher. Or perhaps he went to Russia even before the war, and snatched the teaching position when it's become available because the previous instructors fled the city. Some details may yet emerge from Herman's loyalty pledge file, or from his applications to open a private school. But we do know where the Hermans lived later, from the vital records discovered by Czeslaw Malewski. For example, in 1819 the Herman newlyweds stayed at Bernadine lane, next to the University. And by 1825, they moved to the German street to "Possession #371", one of several buildings of the Evangelical Lutheran Parish (Johann Herman's employer) there, right next to the house of Moniuszko's future in laws. So we gotta assume that Florian was the long-time neighbor with Moniuszko bride's family.
A birth record of Florian's younger brother Wladyslaw Karol Hermann. The godparents are
also ethnic ethnic German, Alderman Karl Wagner & Regina Hilsenitz
And, as I already mentioned, Florian Hermann had a very interesting French teacher in his high school, a French expat Antoine Cui. (Just like Florian, Antoine Cui is often said to be an ex-Napoleon Grand Armee soldier, stuck in Russia as the French forces disastrously retreated in 1812. But both stories are wrong. Antoine Cui actually swore allegiance to the Czar a year earlier). The oldest Cui children, Napoleon and Alexander, were Florian's classmates, and the youngest, Cesar Cui, has become young Hermann's piano student (and when Cesar developed a gift of composition, Stanisław Moniuszko started teaching the kid free of charge). Staring from the 1860s, this ex-student of Hermann and Moniuszko will become one of "The Five", an innovating group of composers out to create truly Russian style of music, steeped in the folkloric styles. In so doing, Cesar Cui planted the seeds of his Polish teachers on Russian soil with the most profound effects on the nation's musical heritage!
Rubno Manor and Rubno village on a 1933 Polish topo. "Las Rubionkowski", the Rubno Woods, is now a suburban ornithology preserve, with the residential blocks of Vilnius rising right behind out.
Inset: from Czeslaw Malewski's book on Wilno area nobility. Note that a Herman family did own properties in and around the village of Rubno in the late 1870s-1880s, right when Florian Hermann composed his "Souvenir de Roubno".
Now that our Tango Time Machine has covered a whole century, and transferred us from the 1930s to the 1830s, we no longer need to travel deeper into the past. The creators of the original "Dark Eyes", Evgeny Grebenka and Nicholas DeVitte, are both alive and full of creative energy in this time period. And both of them are relatively well studied by the historians (although it doesn't mean that the history of "Dark Eyes" has any fewer riddles or improbable twists)

Evgeny Grebenka
1812 - 1848
Evgeny Grebenka (or Evhen Hrebinka, according to Ukrainian spelling of his name) is a classic of Ukrainian literature, an author of wonderful fables, folkloric poems, always funny but often touched by sadness, and historical novels  in the style of National Romanticism. Grebenka published a handful of poems in Russian too, like a classic folkloric song about a village matron recognizing a heartthrob of her youth in a visiting gray-mustached general, and getting laid at last. In the corpus of Grebenka's work, "Dark eyes" don't fit at all. No folksiness, no humor, but a burning sorrowful prescience of a well-deserved perdition. But love is capable of transforming poets in unpredictable ways... When the poem was published in January 1843, Grebenka was 31. His fiancee Maria Rostenberg, marooned at her father's estate many provinces away, was 15. A year and a half later, they married, and she joined Evgeny in St Petersburg.  Maria was a daughter of an Courlander German, a Russian army officer who received a Ukrainian estate not far from Grebenka's family nest as a dowry when he married Maria's mother. Alas, Mrs. Rostenberg died soon after Maria was born. Maria is said to have been on good terms with her stepmother and 9 half-siblings, but still, the money was an issue. The Grebenkas just couldn't get any cut from the Rostenberg assets, and Evgeny Grebenka literally sacrificed his health on the family altar, working extra jobs and skipping vacations, to provide for his young wife's luxurious live in the nation's capital. At 36, Grebenka died of tuberculosis. The prophecy of the Dark Eyes may be said to have come true, as he really died for his beloved woman.
Nicholas DeVitte, 1811 - 1844 
Prominent historians of Russian romance song, Elena and Valery Ukolovs, are adamant that "Dark Eyes" could not have come from the pen of Grebenka. They note that barely a month after publication of the poem, the government censors were already reviewing a song with its lyrics, composed by a talented and mysterious poet and musician, Nicholas DeVitte. Both the subject and the choices of words of the poem were very typical for DeVitte, a bard of fatal, impossible, forbidden love, and suffering and death. The Ukolovs note that DeVitte was fond for literary mystification, both hiding behind nom-de-plumes and publishing under friends' names, and hypothesize that he gifted the verse to Grebenka, too. A grandson of a Dutchman who went to serve the Russian Empire, Nicholas DeVitte created many timeless romance song, and was an unsurpassed harp virtuoso. An age-mate of Grebenka's, DeVitte also died very young, at 32, only a year after publishing his score of "Dark Eyes". The fire of the fatal eyes immolated everyone...

Regardless of the true authorship of the 1843 poem, we must note that DeVitte's score of "Dark Eyes" has nothing in common with the classic romance we love. Nicholas DeVitte composed a mazurka, with a very different emotional tine, expressing a kind of fatalistic contentedness rather than a fateful prescient sadness of the Gypsy song. The Ukolovs note that "Dark Eyes" has been first mentioned as a Gypsy song in an 1859 book, decades before Gerdal's arrangement. One may suspect that the Romani singers already relied on their emotional intuition to rework the music of "the Eyes", long before Sofus Gerdal formalized the results. There are known precedents of this, such as another DeVitte's romance "What can I do, my heart, with you" ( "Что делать, сердце, мне с тобою") which retained the lyrics but dramatically changed the music once it became a part of the gypsy choirs repertoire. Perhaps the "Dark Eyes" really owed its sound of an anguished and cruel waltz to the Gypsy musicians, even before the music of Hermann got connected with the old verse. But this a riddle which no one can ever solve...