La Orquesta Tipica by Donald Cooper

La Orquesta Tipica

You may have noticed on many album covers the name of the orchestra leader is followed by the phrase, “y su orquesta típica”, and perhaps dismissed it as just meaning something like “his usual orchestra”.  However, la orquesta típica of the 1940s period referred to a specific combination of musicians and their instruments.  It usually meant an orchestra composed of 10 musicians, playing respectively: a piano, a double bass, four violins and four bandoneons.

Notice, compared to modern dance orchestras, it had no wind instruments (trumpet, trombone, clarinet, etc.)  and no percussion instruments (drum, cymbals, claves, etc.) and certainly no synthesizers or other electronic instruments.

On the stage of the Milonga the musicians were usually arranged with the piano at the left end, then to the right side of it and at the back of the stage was the bass, next to the bass stood the row of four violinists and in front of them the bandoneon players.  When there was a singer for the tango tune, he usually stood at the back, between the violinists; this was the time when the singer was just like another instrument of the orchestra.

The bandoneon is the instrument generally credited for giving Argentine Tango music its’ distinctive sound.  Some prominent bandoneon players were: Anibal Troilo, Astor Piazzolla, Miguel Caló and Pedro Laurenz. See Makela’s post of September 2014, “The Bandoneon: the tango instrument” more information.

In the decades following the 1940’s some orchestras added more violins and more bandoneons.  For example, by 1959 Carlos Di Sarli used as many as 8 violins and 5 bandoneons. We can hear this difference in tunes such as the 1958 versions of Bahia Blanca and Champagne Tango

Another example is this energetic performance of the tango  Loca (Crazy) by the Juan D’Arienzo orchestra, seen here in a TV presentation, from about 1969:

He uses 5 violins and 5 bandoneons, as well as the piano and double bass.  In the comments below the video Elias Anna said [translation from Spanish], “They were so large that at least they deserve to know their names. I do not know the name of all the members of this wonderful orchestra but of some: the pianist is Juan Polito, the first violinist Bernardo Weber, the second bandoneon player on the left was Eduardo Lazzari, the third Ernesto Franco and the fifth Ricciardi.