Tango music can be divided into two categories: Tango canción and Tango music for dancing.
Gardel and the Trilogia de Oro.
The most iconic representative of the Tango canción was Gardel, who sang his first Tango in 1917, at Teatro empire in Buenos Aires: Mi noche triste was the first of more than 900 Tangos that he recorded during his career. Other famous singers of this genre were, in the same period, Ignacio Corsini and Agustin Magaldi. The three singers are often referred to as the Trilogia de Oro, and represented Argentine Tango until 1935, when Tango entered his golden era and most orchestras started composing and playing for the dancers.
Tango music for dancing: the Orchestra típica.
Although nowadays we tend to define orquesta típica any Tango Orchestra, the orquesta típica is referring to an ensemble in which there are at least two violins or bandoneón.
Argentine tango history can be divided into four different eras: the guardia vieja, the guardia nueva, the golden age, and modern and contemporary.
The most popular orchestras during the guardia vieja were the ones of Juan Pacho Maglio and Vicente Greco.
During the guardia nueva (from 1925 to 1935) Julio De Caro was the main musician and, although Tango canción was very popular, also Tango dance started to evolve, to become later the iconic dance renown worldwide.
Beside Julio De Caro orchestra, in this period there were other Orchestras composing and playing Tango, such as Osvaldo Fresedo, the tipica Victor, Roberto Firpo, Adolfo Carabelli. Also some of the major orchestras of the golden age were already active, such as Carlos Di Sarli, Juan D’Arienzo, Francisco Canaro, and others, though they reached their pick of popularity after 1935. Most of these orchestras kept evolving their Tango and became later very popular during the golden age, between 1935 and 1955.
Tango in the golden age reached his apex in terms of musical expression and popularity and in the milonga nowadays we mainly dance to Tangos composed during that period.
Generally Tango historians agree to divide the orchestras of this period into 4 different categories: the pillars, primary orchestras, secondary orchestras, other important orchestras.
The most important, the pillars, are: Juan D’Arienzo, Osvaldo Pugliese, Aníbal Troilo and Carlos Di Sarli.
The primary Orchestras are: Ricardo Tanturi, Miguel Caló, Ángel D’Agostino and Osvaldo Fresedo.
The Secondary Orchestras are: Lucio De Mare, Pedro Laurenz, Alfredo De Angelis, Rodolfo Biagi, Edgardo Donato, Francisco Canaro, Enrique Rodriguez, Ricardo Malerba Alfredo Gobbi, Julio de Caro.
Other orchestras (some of which played after 1950): Francisco Rotundo, Florindo Sassone, Francisco Lomuto, Enrique Francini, Armando Pontier (Orchestra Francini-Pontier), Jose Garcia, Hector Varela, Horacio Salgan, Osmar Maderna.
Astor Piazzolla deserves a mention of its own as he cannot be put into any category, representing a unique genre. Although during the golden era Piazzolla formed an orquesta típica and played tango dance, he is known worldwide for his Tango-Jazz music. As himself once said, he did not compose for the dancers, but instead he wanted his audience to sit, like in a theatre, and listen to what he had to propose. Some disputes that Piazzolla music could even be called Tango, because he breaks with all of the previous codes of both the Tango canción and the Tango composed for the dancers, although one of the reason Tango has been rediscovered all over the world during the eighties and nineties, is because of what Piazzolla did.