Blog‎ > ‎Tango History / Music‎ > ‎

The dark history of Canaro's 'Poema'

posted Feb 3, 2015, 3:35 PM by Sophia de Lautour   [ updated Feb 4, 2015, 3:10 PM ]

Sharing an excerpt from a post about the dark background of the much loved song 'Poema' . It surprised me to read that such a seemingly sweet and romantic song is in reality a 'a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer'!

So that's why "Poema" is hard to fit into a tanda...
By Dmitry Pruss
posted on May 19, 2014.


Most of of the practicing and aspiring DJs must have noticed that Canaro-Maida's superb (and much overplayed) 1935 "Poema" doesn't quite fit seamlessly into tandas. "Poema" is quite singular in its gently melancholic, softly nostalgic flow, while other Canaro's hits of the period tend to be more insistent and dramatic in quality, energetically driving rather than softly soothing.

One can't help noticing a few more peculiarities about this hit. Its popularity peaks overseas, especially in Europe, and reaches the low point in Buenos Aires. And no other orchestras in Argentine recorded the piece.

Thanks to German Nemoljakin's constant flow of stories from tango's past, I got an intriguing glimpse of Poema's special history, and couldn't resist digging deeper into it. To sum it up:

The beautiful "Poema" isn't quite an Argentine tango, it is as much a European tango, composed by the expat musicians who were singularly successful in transplanting tango to the musical scene of Paris.

Furthermore, Poema's lack of acceptance in Buenos Aires wasn't helped by the dark political undertones of its story, and the fact that its lyrics are a thinly veiled confession of a banished murderer.

"Poema" is undoubtedly the best composition of Eduardo Bianco, an Argentine who lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, and who mastered the art of making the tango of Argentina sound the Parisian way. The oft-retold story says that Bianco and Mario Melfi, aided by others in their band, composed it on a train during a 1932 tour of Germany. What is rarely mentioned is that Bianco's lyrics tell his personal, and thoroughly suppressed, story from his final year in Buenos Aires. In 1924, Eduardo Bianco played the first violin in the orchestra of the famous Teatro Apolo at Avenida Corrientes. 

Bianco learned that his wife cheated on him with the pianist of the orchestra, and shot his rival to death in a fit of jealousy. As translated into English by Alberto Paz, Bianco's stanzas tell us how a dream of sweet love ended up awakening the heart's monsters, the chimeras which can never be fully grasped; the words "intenso mal" which Alberto Paz translated as "intense misfortune" may be better interpreted as "overpowering evil":

...You'll remember my love,
and you will come to know
all my intense misfortune.

Of that one intoxicating poem,
nothing is left between us,
I say my sad goodbye,
you'll feel the emotion
of my pain…

Here's my favourite performance of Poema...