JUAN D’ARIENZO – King of the Beat (El Rey del Compas)


Juan D’Arienzo, (December 14, 1900 – January 14, 1976) was known as “El Rey del Compas” or “King of the Beat”.

Violinist and conductor, from 1934 he was responsible for moving the tango back to the dance halls after the 1920s, a decade when people congregated in cafes and the cinema to hear the music of predominently, the tango sextet.

The 1920s, as discussed in was a creative hotbed of ideas among musicians for tango music not necessarily rooted in dance, but to be listened to in a local environment or on the radio.

D’Arienzo’s importance was that his relentless beat dominated over melody and harmony, unlike other orchestras of the golden age. He reverted to the 2 beats in a bar feel of the old guard, but experimented with arrangements and instrumentation. With his immensely popular orchestra, he largely created the dance sound of the 1940s.

In his own words in 1949:
“In my point of view, tango is, above all, rhythm, nerve, strength and character.
Early tango, that of the old stream (guardia vieja), had all that, and we must try not to ever lose it. Because we forgot that, Argentine tango entered into a crisis some years ago. Putting aside modesty, I did all was possible to make it reappear. In my opinion, a good part of the blame for tango decline is on the singers.
There was a time when a tango orchestra was nothing else but a mere pretext for the singer. The players, including the leader, were no more than accompanists of a somewhat popular star. For me, that can’t be. Tango is also music, as is already said. I would add that is essentially music.
In consequence, the orchestra, which plays it, cannot be relegated to the background to spotlight only the singer.
On the contrary, it is for the orchestras and not for the singers. The human voice is not, it should not be another thing but an instrument more in the orchestra. To sacrifice everything for the singer´s sake, for the star, is a mistake.
I reacted against that mistake which caused the tango crisis and placed the orchestra in the foreground and the singer in his place.
Furthermore, I tried to rescue for tango its masculine strength, which it had been losing through successive circumstances. In that way in my interpretations I stamped the rhythm, the nerve, the strength and the character which distinguished it in the music world and which it had been losing for the above reasons.
Luckily, that crisis was temporary, and today tango has been re-established, our tango, with the vitality of its best times. My major pride is to have contributed to that renaissance of our popular music.”
D’Arienzo’s famous version of La cumparsita

Young Australian orchestra TangoOz pay tribute