It happens naturally all the time in the music biz to end an amazing run: Elvis goes into the army and becomes a pill addict; the Beatles feel 13 years of being joined at the hips is quite enough; Biagi will not dumb down his music so he leaves the D'Arienzo orquesta.
To understand the popularity and impact of the Juan D'Arienzo orquesta in the late 30s, comparison to Elvis and the Beatles is apt.
D'Arienzo's business acument and Biagi's musical genius were an explosive combination. Their music swept through Argentina like a tsunami, infusing new energy into the life of the 20 year-old tango music business and culture in 1935.
There was a sound to the orquesta which had never been heard before. A positively exciting energy that shocked and delighted.
It was great to listen to, but it also made dancers move in new ways because it called up new expression. In that sense, it gave tango a new direction. You saw all kinds of new moves on the floor. Hordes of new people wanted to go dance every night, giving birth to an outrageously big milonga scene. The fun and stimulation of it all added a new dimension to tango dancing.
D'Arienzo Before Biagi - Hotel Victoria (January, 1935) shows D'Arienzo before Biagi came in and added something extra.
Then this amazing period of creativity happened.
Biagi's D'Arienzo - El Flete (1937) is as good an example as any. This is my restoration version.
This D'Arienzo orquesta has elastic, breathing, rolling, layered polyrhythms; moving you around in the rhythm as impetus for you to happily move around the floor right from the subtle opening pick-up piano note. We're off before we know it. It's so interesting that it makes you not only want to dance, but additionally asks you to express yourself. Urgently. And you feel like dancing it differently every time you hear it. The musicians (reading Rodolfo's charts) are strong, but subtle, intelligent. Every note in Rodolfo's original new personality for the piano in tango makes total sense. The ring of his piano adds so much texture to the sound. Juan would make sure that tonal element was on his records ever after.
The comparison record to El Flete is just down the page - and I would like you to listen to them back-to-back to hear the stark contrast in styles. But we're not there yet in our narrative.
There was a frenzy about the exciting new orquesta so powerful that virtually all the other orquestas sped up their beat and put new creativity into their arrangements (we need to put stop holes in every song, guys, like Biagi does with Juan) so as not to be thought old-fashioned. Canaro did it; Di Sarli did it when he made his come-back in 1940 (to his ever-lasting regret); all of them. You did it or your income was in jeopardy. (Pugliese was not recording yet, so his name doesn't come up in this regard). All one has to do is listen to the totality of all the orquestas records between 1935-40 to understand how everything changed in a breath-takingly short time. Like Beatlemania and Elvis, as I say.
It was a wild ride of overnight success for Juan and Rodolfo. They were dominant; they owned the record charts and live appearance box-office.
Juan was the boss, so he made all the decisions - except he wasn't an arranger so he couldn't do that crucial part.
The boss increasingly wanted to go in a direction the arranger disagreed with. D'Arienzo insists on more of the definite beat without all the subtley stuff. He didn't care for sophistication. He didn't like dynamics, either - all part of the essence of tango before he came along. No, he wanted everything he did to knock people's socks off - not caring that that approach becomes really boring really fast.
So that was that. Biagi left the orquesta in 1938, immediately formed his own orquesta and started releasing records. There being several songs already in the can with Juan, for two years Rodolfo had hit records out as two orquestas at the same time. (Nothing he could do about that). You'd have to call that being the king of arrangers - in the hottest period tango ever enjoyed. His musical creation.
The split put Juan in a very difficult position, but he "only" had to replace one musician with someone who was also able to write the charts. You hire a great pianist (the D'Arienzo sound was now based on the piano being right up front and he wouldn't change that), tell him to copy Biagi - but play louder! - nobody notices. In fact, they'll love it because now we'll be really exciting!
No surprise Juan had always been about the money. He had at one point 8 orquestas out all across the city playing simultaneously under his name. Juan would pass by each event for a short time, get onstage to work his magic exhorting the band to play louder, make the audience smile, collect the money for the use of his name and move on to the next gig. This kind of enterprise would rankle a pure, original musican like Rodolfo.
Fresedo also had 4 bands at one point (Di Sarli made his living running one of them for a time), such was the demand for the big orquestas. Can you imagine Pugliese doing such a thing? Even Canaro, who knew how business works because he virtually created the business' structure, founding SADAIC, etc., didn't go there.
Into 1940 Juan just kept getting bigger and bigger as a name, but he knew he was rapidly losing his base because of the change and there was no way to get those people (dancers) back. Yet he didn't change his product - he simply changed the packaging. He unabashedly started calling himself el rey de compás.
Nobody ever begs for this cliché collage in a milonga (dancers tend to have good taste). I give it to you so you can mark the moment when D'Arienzo's whole charade went into high gear.
The world-view of this musical intention has veered to the far right. Here is the evidence that D'Arienzo was doing the dreaded Tango por Export as soon as Biagi left - more than 10 years before Juan started calling it that (sponsored by the military, of course, to project an image of happy, tango-y Argentina to the world. Move along - no curfews or disappearances to see here, folks).
D'Arienzo wanted Argentine tango to have a simplistic, steady beat like European tango. Very white bread, but impressivley bombastic. No opportunity for people to snuggle up too close and feel passion. Why the generals loved him as they tried in every way they could to kill tango.
Unwritten but Golden Rule for DJs:
If a good dancer who has obviously been around tango for a while and is familiar with dancing in BA, or is from there or Uruguay, asks you to play D'Arienzo, you're supposed to know that they mean ONLY something from between 1935 - 38/9. Milongueros in general are very insistent - emotional - about this preference. They don't like D'Arienzo without Biagi. Reasons obvious.