Saturday, 23 March 2013

Guardia Vieja vs Golden Age - part 1

For quite some time already I wanted to write a post about terms that most of us have heard many times, but probably we don't always know what exactly they mean. Those terms are: Guardia Vieja, Guardia Nueva and La Época De Oro. Before writing more, once again I'd like to highlight that I'm am not an expert in the history of tango. My knowledge is based on some basic reading, talking to knowledgeable tango friends and mainly on listening!

While reading some texts about Guardia Vieja, Guardia Nueva and La Época De Oro, I came across several different, sometimes contradictory definitions. Some sources define Guardia Vieja (Old Guard) as the period in the history of Tango covering the years 1880 - 1920. Then comes Guardia Nueva (New Guard) and lasts from 1920 till 1960. La Época De Oro (Golden Age) is not mentioned at all. Even though this classification may be correct, from our perspective (21st century tango dancers and DJs) it does not seem to be very logical and useful.

Another definition cuts the history of tango music in the following way: Guardia Vieja 1880-1925, Guardia Nueva 1925-1935, La Época De Oro 1935 - 1955. This categorization is much closer to my heart and seems much more logical.

And how do I see it? The period before 1925, was the time when the music we are dancing today in milongas was being formed. It starts at the end of the XIX century with "payadores"- folk artists singing accompanied by a guitar. Later came the trios: a flute, a guitar and a violin. Later the bandoneon was added. The big revolution came when the piano replaced the guitar (both of them are string instruments). When I check my collection, I can hear the piano for the first time in recordings of Roberto Firpo's orchestra from 1919. And this was the moment when the tango music started reminding the music we all know today. During the next 5-6 years, the music did evolve further. Together with the music also technology improved. Around 1925 we are ready! The music has developed in a way that it is interesting for the dancers and the quality of the recordings allows us to use it in the milongas.

So the period before 1925 is very important in the history of tango, but it is not that important for us as dancers and DJs. The period between 1925 and 1935 is what I call Guardia Vieja. The music at that time is rhythmic and fairly simple. Most instruments play together and the same (a la parilla). The most important orchestras from this period are: Orquesta Tipica Victor, Adolfo Carabelli, Sexteto Carlos di Sarli and my favorite Francisco Canaro.
In 1935 we have a big change: Juan d'Arienzo arrives with his new style. Many of the existing orchestras change their styles (e.g. OTV, Carlos di Sarli, Fresedo) and other new, great orchestras are formed. This is the best period in the history of tango music and for that reason it is called Golden Age. The music becomes much more sophisticated. Instruments become much more independent (that makes dancing to that music so interesting, we can choose different instruments to dance to). This period lasts until approximately 1960. Around that time tango dancing lost its popularity in Buenos Aires. This is the moment when dance and music take different directions. To a big extent this change of direction can be linked to the genius and great tango musician: Astor Piazzolla.

So here we are: 
- before 1925: music not yet for dancing
- 1925 - 1935: Guardia Vieja period
- 1935 - 1960: Golden Age period
- after 1960: music not for dancing anymore

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean that after 1960 there was no music recorded that can be used in milongas. Myself I do play occasionally some late d'Arienzo (instrumental, with Valdez or Ramos), late Pugliese (I love A Evaristo Carriego or La Mariposa), Calo (e.g. Que falta que me haces with Podesta). But those are rather exceptions.

In one of the coming posts I will focus more on Guardia Vieja and Golden Age period. I will share my experience as a dancer and as a DJ. For now check the song examples below...

Song examples:

Before 1925

Golden Age (1935-1960)


  1. So... When I read your post I just had a feeling how nice would be, to have some similar post about the ages and the dance styles. Spending some minutes in youtube, and watching some of my favs tango dances, the idee come back when I found the video I share now here.
    Thank's again for this post Konrad!

  2. Dear Konrad,
    some idea about how to get (even to buy...) music by tango pianist Juan Maria Solare?