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MARCH 2012



The following is an interview between musical journalist Juan Manuel Jaramillo

(J.M.J) and Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (A.P), regarding the musical
links that exist between two distinct musical cultures; his, and that of Johann
Sebastian Bach. It discusses specifically the following links: the use of fugue as
a compositional form and technique, the use of bass lines in quarter notes and
the composition of academic, solo parts for flute.
J.M.J: Would you consider the music of Astor Piazzolla to be part of a
different musical culture than Bachs music?
A.P: Depends on what you understand by musical culture. Certainly, I would
say that European, baroque music from the first half of the 18 th century belongs
to a different culture than my music, not only geographically or historically, but
also musically. My music finds its roots in Tango, a traditional music from
Argentina, but it also involves certain aspects of western classical music, jazz
and even rock music. I dont know what musical culture my music would fit
into, but it certainly isnt the same one as Bachs.
J.M.J: Id say you represent a whole new musical culture
A.P: That may be true; at first nobody accepted me culturally. Tango musicians
and lovers would criticize my music and say that it wasnt tango at all. I wasnt
respected by academics and classical musicians. I was forced to create a
different musical culture through my music, the new music of Buenos Aires, the
New Tango. Nowadays, people consider me to be a contemporary western
classical composer and list me amongst Stravinsky and Bartok, but thats very
new, and not at all true.
J.M.J: And what about Bach?
A.P: Well, Bach is, to me, the father of many musical cultures. His culture is
that of Baroque, classical music, or what we nowadays call classical. Today,
there are millions of musical cultures, and I think only very few are absolutely
original; not many cultures can be separated from Bachs music; that is either
his gift, or his curse.
J.M.J: And would you say there are links between both cultures?
A.P: I have no doubt; I have studied Bach, and respect him very much. He has
influenced my music somehow, but Id say there are links between our music
that go further than mere influence. For example, Bach helped establish
functional tonality and my music is mostly tonal, yet, I never said Ill write
tonal music because Bach did, though its not a coincidence either. This is an
exaggeration, just to prove my point; most music nowadays is tonal anyway.
Tango is also tonal, and that is probably why my music is tonal, yet I also
borrow musical aspects such as form and use of bass from the music of Bach.

There are many links that can be established between our music; some are due
to influence, some may be due to the European roots of tango and some,
though I doubt it, could be coincidences.
J.M.J: Take for example your composition Fuga y Misterio, and
Contrapunctus IX from Bachs Art of Fugue. There are very clear and
direct links between these two musical pieces
A.P: Yes, there are clear and direct links. There are also indirect and slightly
identifiable links, and there are differences, great differences.
J.M.J: Both pieces are or include a fugue. How would you link them
together regarding this style or form of composition?
A.P: Both pieces are four part fugues in minor keys. In Fuga y Misterio, each
new part presents the subject a fourth above the previous key, so the subject
which is introduced in E minor, is later repeated in A minor, D minor and G
minor. Contrapunctus IX, on the other hand, introduces the first subject in D
minor, and the next voice plays it in A minor, the dominant key. The third voice
plays once again in D minor and the fourth in A minor. This shows how Bach
wrote the fugue in a very traditional manner, writing the answers to the subject
in dominant keys. On the other hand, I chose to write the answers in
subdominant keys, causing modulation by fourths and writing real answers,
which means that the answers are exactly transposed to the subdominant key,
always having the same intervals. Like Ive said before, if I write a fugue in the
style of Bach, it will always be tanguified (Piazzolla, A. 1989), I wouldnt write
a fugue just like Bach, precisely because we belong to two different musical
cultures. Bach further develops the fugue, modulating to major keys and
presenting another subject. In Fuga y Misterio, y decided to maintain the same
subject and later move into other sections with do not use the form of fugue.
After the initial fugue, Fuga y Misterio turns to a different form, introducing
another theme and using a type of walkin bass which plays straight quarter
notes. It later repeats the initial theme of the fugue but all instruments play it
in unison and then, it moves to a very slow, moving violin solo. Bachs
Contrapunctus never actually stops being a fugue; it is constantly adding new
countersubjects and modulations.
J.M.J: What other differences would you establish between your fugue
and Bachs?
A.P: Rythmically, they are very different. Fuga y Misterio is very syncopated, a
characteristic of jazz and tango. Obviously the theme; in my piece, the theme
is actually taken from a tango popular theme, rather than a classical one. Like I
said, Bach and I represent two different musical cultures and therefore, our
music may have certain links, like the use of fugue form, but it is also very

J.M.J: If we take two other pieces, for example, Invierno Porteo by

yourself and the Air from Bachs Orchestral Suite No. 3, what links
would you establish between them.
A.P: Interesting comparison; these are both very slow and beautiful pieces. I
would say the most evident musical link is the use of the bass. Bachs Air uses
a specific bass line, playing uninterrupted quarter notes that play within the
functions of the piece, often using passing notes. This is just the case with
Invierno Porteo. I wanted to use a constant, walking bass, such as that of jazz,
so I wrote this bass in quarter notes that carries the tune and uses passing
notes. This bass is kept during the first section of the song, before the piano
solo and is later used again throughout the piece. Combined with the melodic
lines of other instruments, the use of this bass is very moving and causes an
interesting effect. I had never thought of this relationship, I used a binary
rhythmic idea for the bass, which plays a type of ostinato, very similar to the
walking bass in jazz, whilst Bach uses a similar type of bass in his Air.
J.M.J: What other pieces could suggest musical links between your
music and Bachs?
A.P: Id say my tango etudes for flute could be largely linked to Bachs music
for solo flute. Although they still have my style and its tango roots, the pieces
are very academic pieces. What I mean is, they are etudes, studies, for a solo
instrument and are therefore largely associated with the classical side of my
music, rather than the popular one. Take for example my tango etude No. 3 and
Bachs Allemande from the flute partita BWV 1013. If you listen to them, they
have many musical similarities. For example, the pitch is very similar; they
both present a wide range of pitches which also sound similar in timbre and
color, due to the use of the flute. The pieces also present a wide use of
dynamics; they are very important in both pieces and it is up to the flautist to
use them correctly.
J.M.J: So we have discussed three main musical links between your
musical culture and Bachs: the use of fugue as a compositional tool,
the use and importance of basses and bass lines, and the composition
of academic studies for solo flute that require a similar use of pitch,
color, timbre and dynamics. What do you think about these links? Had
you ever thought about them before?
A.P: Certainly the use of fugue form is an evident link between my music and
Bachs, but never before had I thought of the similarities between the bass
lines in Bach Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 and my own composition Invierno
Porteo, nor the similarities in pitch and dynamics between my tango etudes
and Piazzollas flute partitas. I think they are small links that can be established
if analyzed closely, but Bachs music and my music are still very distinct and

belong to two different musical cultures. It is interesting to see how some links
are coincidences while others are due to influence and admiration. This was
definitely an enlightening and educating activity, and from now on, Ill be sure
to pay more attention to the possible links between Baroque Bach and my New


Allemande, Flute Partita BWV. 1013.

Aria, Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV. 1068. Bach, Johann Sebastian.
Contrapunctus IX, The Art of Fugue. Bach, Johann Sebastian.
Fuga y Misterio, Roma (1972). Piazzolla, Astor.
Invierno Porteo, Las cuatro estaciones Porteas. Piazzolla, Astor.
Tango Etude No. 3. Piazzolla, Astor.