On April 25, we honor the death of Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriguez (nicknamed “Becho”) in Montevideo, where he was born. He passed away in 1948 at 52 being remembered as a great pianist, journalist, tango and Uruguayan music.
His biggest musical achievement was made when he didn´t even know how to write music, and it has become the most recognized and successful tango ever written: “La cumparsita”. The family history is at follows: his sister Ofelia writes the melody for “Bicho” in the pentagram in 1917 (for some 1916). She whistled the melody while playing on a cardboard made piano.
By then, Matos Rodriguez, was an Architecture student who played for the first time, for his fellow University (Federación de los Estudiantes del Uruguay) partners. He did this on a piano that belonged to Walter Correa Luna, one of his friends, to whom he dedicated the musical score, edited by Casa Breyer Hermanos. Shortly after this, on April 19 of that same Autumn, Roberto Firpo´s orchestra featured him in the café La Giralda, in Montevideo. Firpo once said that someone named “Barquita” came to him, asking him to write the music for the student hymn. That song was conformed by two parts, Firpo added a third one composed by four tango compasses that belonged to one of his tango´s “La gaucha Manuela” with some touches of Verdi´s “Miserere del Trovador”. And this tango made potpourri became “La cumparsita”. His first recording was also made by Firpo in Max Glücksmann studios, November 1916 (Nacional 483b).
In 1924, Pascual Contursi and Enrique P. Maroni, wrote a lyric for him, for a show named Cabaret. The song was called “Si supieras”, continuing his habit of incorporating previously composed tangos and making them their own, without any authorization. The chosen interpreter/singer and actor was Juan Ferrari. Due to his success, Carlos Gardel incorporated him in his repertoire and immediately recorded him. (Nacional 18118b/2292-1). On the following year “Becho”, who was upset by these events, changes the song´s lyrics, but keeps its original title (the lyrics begin with: “Cumparsa of endless miseries parades itself…”). This new version was recorded in 1926 by Roberto Díaz (Víctor 79702) and later by other interpreters, such as Tito Schipa (1930) and Hugo del Carril in the Argentine film “La cumparsita” (1947).
Ubicado en una esquina del espacio que ahora ocupa el Palacio Salvo, La Giralda fue escenario de las primeras notas de “La Cumparsita”
His compositions went on and on, beyond “Himno al tango” and in 1998 the song was declared by Uruguay as its “Popular and Cultural Hymn”. He wrote 75 pieces, among them: “Adiós Argentina”, “Botija linda”, “Canto por no llorar”, “Cuando bronca el temporal”, “Che papusa, oí”, “Dale celos”, “El rosal”, “Haceme caso a mí”, “La muchacha del circo”, “Luces de Buenos Aires”, “Margarita punzó”, “Mocosita”, “Portate bien que sos grande”, “Quejas”, “San Telmo”, “Son grupos”, “Te fuiste, ja, ja”, “Yo soy la milonguera”.
Among other activities developed by Matos Rodriguez, we must mention his labor as a journalist in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, where Uruguay would win the soccer cup. He also served as a representative in the Uruguayan Embassy in Germany. He was also a co founder in 1929 for AGADU (Asociación General de Autores del Uruguay or Uruguayan Authors General Association), a civil institution whose main goal is to defend and protect authors rights in that country.
We would like to share this version of the song “La cumparsita” (interpreted and released by D. Roberto Firpo) in Gerardo Mato´s honor: