Horacio Salgán, an Argentine tango composer and pianist who helped broaden the vocabulary of his musical form and became one of the genre’s most influential and revered maestros, died Aug. 19 in Buenos Aires. He was 100.
The Argentine Society of Music Authors and Composers announced the death but provided no cause.
Like his near contemporary Astor Piazzolla, Salgán cast an avant-garde spell on tango that did not always enchant purists in his homeland. The tango was born in the waterfront bordellos of Buenos Aires in the 1880s, and as it grew to become the nation’s signature music, it became rigidly stylized.
Piazzolla was an outright musical revolutionary who reinvented the tango’s rhythm, harmony and form, and he was primarily an expatriate who achieved a level of international renown that overshadowed Salgán’s.
Nevertheless, Salgán remained an important musical force in Argentina, helping to forge the vanguard of the “new tango” sound in the 1950s and 1960s in a way that was less about rebellion than about synthesizing his varied, somewhat unorthodox musical influences.
Among others, Salgán drew inspiration from the U.S. jazz shadings of Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington, classical works by Béla Bartók and Gioachino Rossini, Brazilian choros and sambas, and African percussive rhythms. The result was deemed too uncommercial for radio airplay at the start of his band-leading career during tango’s “golden age” of the 1940s.
But the formation of his Quinteto Real (Royal Quintet) in 1960 and his five-decade collaboration as a duo with guitar virtuoso Ubaldo de Lío marked the start of a dazzling new phase in Salgán’s career.
Salgán, who found appreciative audiences in world capitals such as New York, Tokyo and Paris, had survived the fickleness of musical tastes in his home country. By his 80s, he had outlived most of his peers and was revered in Buenos Aires as tango’s éminence grise.
Horacio Adolfo Salgán, whose father was a self-taught guitarist and pianist, was born in Buenos Aires on June 15, 1916. He began piano studies at age 6 and later distinguished himself in a local classical conservatory.
As he shifted into composing, he called upon his grounding in the classics as well as his mulatto heritage — Catalan on his father’s side, mixed race on his mother’s.
Ella Fitzgerald was reportedly so hypnotized with his duo with de Lío that she recommended them to jazz impresario Norman Granz, who produced their 1961 album “Buenos Aires at 3 a.m.”
He was married at least four times, and a complete list of survivors could not be immediately determined.