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Transcript of Astor Piazzolla
Piazzolla soaked up the jazz that was entering a golden age in New York. He was introduced to classical music by his neighbor Bela Wilda, a Hungarian-born pianist. Piazzolla immersed himself in the intellectual compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, observing the complexities of such forms as the fugue. Piazzolla would later name Bach as a major influence, and he would go on to create such novel fusions as the tango fugue. His leap into the professional musical world, however, came about when he met one of Argentina's musical icons, vocalist Carlos Gardel, who was making a film in New York. Piazzolla was 13 at the time, and on the street he met an assistant of Gardel's who had lost his building key. Piazzolla volunteered to climb in through a window. The singer hired him as an interpreter and later, after discovering his musical talents, as a bandoneón player. Since he was so young, Piazzolla's family turned Gardel down when he offered Piazzolla a place in his touring band—a fortunate refusal, for Gardel was killed in a plane crash in 1935.
Back to Argentina
Piazzolla's family moved back to Argentina in 1936, and Piazzolla began playing in tango orchestras. He moved to Buenos Aires in 1938 and began writing arrangements, looking for chances to deepen his compositional skills. In 1939 he joined the greatest of the traditional tango orchestras, which was led by bandleader Anibal Troilo. Still fascinated by classical music, he knocked on the door of visiting piano virtuoso, Arthur Rubinstein. The star pianist came to the door with a plate of spaghetti and was impressed by Piazzolla's enthusiasm. Rubinstein arranged for Piazzolla to take composition lessons with Argentina's leading modernist-minded composer, Alberto Ginastera.
Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla comes from an Italian background. He was born on March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina & died on July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His family moved to New York in 1925, settling in the Little Italy neighborhood where he learned to speak Spanish & English equally well.
His father Vincent, a barber, spent $19 in a pawnshop on a bandoneon for his son. The bandoneon is a large Argentine version of the German concertina, an instrument related to the accordion. Piazzolla took lessons and learned quickly.
A Classical Journey
Piazzolla married Dedé Wolff in 1942, and the couple raised two children, Daniel and Diana. Under Ginastera, he began to study contemporary classical music and culture seriously. His arrangements for Troilo became so experimental that the bandleader began to censor them, and he left Troilo and formed his own group, Orquesta del 46. Piazzolla wrote a series of increasingly ambitious classical works, culminating in the
Sinfonia Buenos Aires
in 1951. The work won first prize at the Sevitzky Competition in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1953, but Argentine audiences rejected the work because it used the allegedly low-class bandoneón in a classical setting. Tango audiences were no more receptive to Piazzolla's music, and a frustrated Piazzolla accepted a grant to study classical music in France.
The Journey Continues...
Piazzolla sought out the top French composition teacher of the century, Nadia Boulanger. She listened to various pieces he had written, and, upon hearing one of his tangos, she said (as Piazzolla recalled to Caleb Bach), "This is Piazzolla, not that [i.e., the other music he had brought]. Throw the rest away!" Piazzolla took the advice to heart and began writing the tangos that made him famous. It was tango, but with a strong contemporary classical influence in its density and its use of dissonant harmonies. "Astor Piazzolla is best known as the father of Tango Nuevo – a revolutionary new genre of tango which infuses elements of jazz and classical music. A talented and innovative musician as well as a composer, he became one of the foremost contributors to tango, spreading its sultry, melancholic rhythms and dance across the world. "
Piazzolla moved to New York in 1958, trying to find work performing in clubs or composing for films, but he had little success there. He returned to Argentina following his father's death in 1959, composing one of his most famous pieces in his father's honor, "
" (Nonino was his father's nickname).
When he returned again to Argentina, he formed the influential Quinteto Nuevo Tango (1960), featuring a violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, and bandoneón. Though many of his 750 compositions were written for that quintet, he also composed pieces for orchestra, big band, bandoneón, and cello. His innovations, including counterpoint and new rhythms and harmonies, were initially not well received in his country, but they were greatly admired in the United States and Europe. He moved to Paris in 1974 but returned to Argentina in 1985. In Argentina Piazzolla’s new tango gradually gained acceptance, and his music influenced a new generation of tango composers and was featured during the 1970s and ’80s in film scores, television programs, and commercials. His later compositions included a concerto for bandoneón and orchestra (1979) and, commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Five Tango Sensations for bandoneón and string quartet (1989).
Maria de Buenos Aires
One breakthrough came when his tango opera,
María de Buenos Aires
, was positively received after its premiere in 1968. Several instrumental excerpts from the opera, including the "
Fuga y misterio
" (Fugue and Mystery) became well known, and the surrealistic work, with a text by Uruguayan poet Horacio Ferrer, seemed to capture the spirit of the Argentine capital. "I am my town!" sings the opera's main character. "María tango, María slum, María night, María fatal passion, María of love of Buenos Aires, that's me." Individual Piazzolla tangos such as "Buenos Aires Hora Cero" (Buenos Aires Zero Hour) cemented the association between Piazzolla and the city that had at first derided his efforts.
Piazzolla was divorced from his first wife in the mid-1960s and remarried twice. He expanded his group to a nonet for a series of concert recordings for Italian national radio starting in 1971, and also wrote a choral work, El Pueblo jovén, that was premiered in Saarbrücken, Germany. Piazzolla's reputation in Europe was on the rise, but he was slowed by a massive heart attack in 1973. Undeterred from his energetic pace, he spent much of the 1970s in Europe, living in a variety of places (including Ginastera's home in Switzerland for a time) and making recordings. Many of the Piazzolla recordings that remain available date from this period; some are authorized, while others were illicit tapings made as Piazzolla kept up a busy performance schedule in concert and on radio. He kept writing new pieces, including the acclaimed "
Piazzolla was about to launch a major tour of the U.S. and Europe in 1989 when he suffered a major stroke. He lived on for several years and was able to function after intensive physical therapy, but his more than 50-year performing career was over. Piazzolla died in Buenos Aires on July 4, 1992, but his popularity only continued its upward trend. Younger tango musicians in Argentina venerated him, and musicians of all kinds began to perform his compositions. They became staples of classical concerts after Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer and Chinese-born cellist Yo-Yo Ma issued highly successful recordings featuring Piazzolla works and demonstrated that it could easily survive the transfer from the bandoneón to more conventional classical instruments. Jazz musicians such as guitarist Al DiMeola also began to experiment with Piazzolla's music. His more than 1,000 compositions were beginning, as of the early twenty-first century, to assume the status of enduring classics, no matter what genre classification they may be given.
"Astor Piazzolla." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
@CityLdnSinfonia. "Piazzolla: The Man and His Music – An American Life." City of London Sinfonia. N.p., 18 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
"Piazzolla, Astor." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Encyclopedia.com, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.