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Astor Piazzolla

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Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla with his bandoneón in 1971.
Background information
Birth name Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla
Born March 11, 1921(1921-03-11)
Mar del Plata, Argentina
Died July 4, 1992 (aged 71)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Genres Nuevo tango
Occupations Composer, Bandoneón player
Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 – July 4, 1992) was an Argentine tango
composer and bandoneón player. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango
into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classi
cal music. An excellent bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own composition
s with different ensembles.
Contents [hide]
1 Biography
2 Musical style
3 Musical career
4 Discography
5 See also
6 References
7 External links
[edit] Biography
Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921 to Italian parents, Vicen
te Nonino Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. His grandfather, a sailor and fisherman
named Pantaleone Piazzolla, had immigrated to Mar del Plata from Trani, a seapor
t town in the southeastern Italian region of Apulia, at the end of the 19th cent
ury. Astor Piazzolla spent most of his childhood with his family in New York Cit
y, where he was exposed to both jazz and the music of J. S. Bach at an early age
. While there, he acquired fluency in four languages: Spanish, English, French,
and Italian. He began to play the bandoneon after his father, nostalgic for his
homeland, spotted one in a New York pawn shop. At the age of 13, he met Carlos G
ardel, another great figure of tango, who invited the young prodigy to join him
on his current tour. Much to his dismay, Piazzolla's father deemed that he was n
ot old enough to go along. While he did play a young paper boy in Gardel’s movie
El día que me quieras [1], this early disappointment of being kept from the tou
r proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it was on this tour that Gardel and hi
s entire band perished in a plane crash. In later years, Piazzolla made light of
this near miss, joking that had his father not been so careful, he wouldn t be
playing the bandoneon—he d be playing the harp.
He returned to Argentina in 1937, where strictly traditional tango still reigned
, and played in night clubs with a series of groups including the orchestra of A
nibal Troilo, then considered the top bandoneon player and bandleader in Buenos
Aires. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein—then living in Buenos Aires—advised him to
study with the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Delving into scores of Stra
vinsky, Bartók, Ravel, and others, he rose early each morning to hear the Teatro
Colón orchestra rehearse while continuing a gruelling performing schedule in th
e tango clubs at night. In 1950 he composed the soundtrack to the film Bólidos d
e acero.
At Ginastera s urging, in 1953 Piazzolla entered his Buenos Aires Symphony in a
composition contest, and won a grant from the French government to study in Pari
s with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. In 1954 he and
his first wife, the artist Dedé Wolff, left Buenos Aires and their two children
(Diana aged 11 and Daniel aged 10) behind and travelled to Paris. The insightful
Boulanger turned Piazzolla s life around in a day, as he related in his own wor
When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to
read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: "It s very well writte
n." And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while
, she said: "Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know
what happens? I can t find Piazzolla in this." And she began to investigate my
private life: what I did, what I did and did not play, if I was single, married,
or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to te
ll her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, "I play in a night club." I
didn t want to say cabaret. And she answered, "Night club, mais oui, but that is
a cabaret, isn t it?" "Yes," I answered, and thought, "I ll hit this woman in t
he head with a radio…." It wasn t easy to lie to her.
She kept asking: "You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play,
then?" And I didn t want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I t
hought, "Then she will throw me from the fourth floor." Finally, I confessed and
she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her ey
es, took my hand and told me: "You idiot, that s Piazzolla!" And I took all the
music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.
—Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir
Piazzolla returned from New York to Argentina in 1955, formed the Octeto Buenos
Aires with Enrico Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis on violins, Atilio Stampone on
piano, Leopoldo Federico as second bandoneon, Horacio Malvicino on electric gui
tar, José Bragato on cello and Juan Vasallo on double bass to play tangos, and n
ever looked back.
Upon introducing his new approach to the tango (nuevo tango), he became a contro
versial figure among Argentines both musically and politically. The Argentine sa
ying "in Argentina everything may change — except the tango" suggests some of th
e resistance he found in his native land. However, his music gained acceptance i
n Europe and North America, and his reworking of the tango was embraced by some
liberal segments of Argentine society, who were pushing for political changes in
parallel to his musical revolution.
During the period of Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, Piazzoll
a lived in Italy, but returned many times to Argentina, recorded there, and on a
t least one occasion had lunch with the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. However, h
is relationship with the dictator might have been less than friendly, as recount
ed in Astor Piazzolla, A manera de memorias (a comprehensive collection of inter
views, constituting a memoir):[2]
One year before the Los Largartos issue you went to Videla s house and had lunch
with him, why did you accept that invitation?
What an invitation! They sent a couple of guys in black suits and a letter with
my name on it that said that Videla expected me a particular day in a particular
place. I have a book around in some place, with pictures of all the guests: Ela
dia Blázquez, Daniel Tinayre, Olga Ferri, the composer Juan Carlos Tauriello, th
ere were painters, actors […]
—Astor Piazzolla, A manera de memorias
In 1990 he suffered thrombosis in Paris, and died two years later in Buenos Aire
Among his followers, his own protégé Marcelo Nisinman is the best known innovato
r of the tango music of the new millennium, while Pablo Ziegler, pianist with Pi
azzolla s second quintet, has assumed the role of principal custodian of nuevo t
ango, extending the jazz influence in the style. The Brazilian guitarist Sergio
Assad has also experimented with folk-derived, complex virtuoso compositions tha
t show Piazzolla s structural influence while steering clear of tango sounds; an
d Osvaldo Golijov has acknowledged Piazzolla as perhaps the greatest influence o
n his globally oriented, eclectic compositions for classical and klezmer perform
[edit] Musical style
Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer around 1970.Piazzolla s nuevo tango was distinct fr
om the traditional tango in its incorporation of elements of jazz, its use of ex
tended harmonies and dissonance, its use of counterpoint, and its ventures into
extended compositional forms. As Argentine psychoanalyst Carlos Kuri has pointed
out, Piazzolla s fusion of tango with this wide range of other recognizable Wes
tern musical elements was so successful that it produced a new individual style
transcending these influences.[3] It is precisely this success, and individualit
y, that makes it hard to pin down where particular influences reside in his comp
ositions, but some aspects are clear. The use of the passacaglia technique of a
circulating bass line and harmonic sequence, invented and much used in 17th and
18th century baroque music but also central to the idea of jazz "changes", predo
minates in most of Piazzolla s mature compositions. Another clear reference to t
he baroque is the often complex and virtuosic counterpoint that sometimes follow
s strict fugal behavior but more often simply allows each performer in the group
to assert his voice. A further technique that emphasises this sense of democrac
y and freedom among the musicians is improvisation that is borrowed from jazz in
concept, but in practice involves a different vocabulary of scales and rhythms
that stay within the parameters of the established tango sound-world. Pablo Zieg
ler has been particularly responsible for developing this aspect of the style bo
th within Piazzolla s groups and since the composer s death.
With the composition of Adiós Nonino in 1959, Piazzolla established a standard s
tructural pattern for his compositions, involving a formal pattern of fast-slow-
fast-slow-coda, with the fast sections emphasizing gritty tango rhythms and hars
h, angular melodic figures, and the slower sections usually making use of the st
ring instrument in the group and/or Piazzolla s own bandoneón as lyrical soloist
s. The piano tends to be used throughout as a percussive rhythmic backbone, whil
e the electric guitar either joins in this role or spins filigree improvisations
; the double bass parts are usually of little interest, but provide an indispens
able rugged thickness to the sound of the ensemble. The quintet of bandoneon, vi
olin, piano, electric guitar and double bass was Piazzolla s preferred setup on
two extended occasions during his career, and most critics consider it to be the
most successful instrumentation for his works.[4] This is due partly to its gre
at efficiency in terms of sound - it covers or imitates most sections of a symph
ony orchestra, including the percussion which is improvised by all players on th
e bodies of their instruments - and the strong expressive identity it permits ea
ch individual musician. With a style that is both rugged and intricate, such a s
etup augments the compositions inherent characteristics.
Despite the prevalence of the quintet formation and the ABABC compositional stru
cture, Piazzolla consistently experimented with other musical forms and instrume
ntal combinations. In 1965 an album was released containing collaborations betwe
en Piazzolla and Jorge Luis Borges where Borges s poetry was narrated over very
avant-garde music by Piazzolla including the use of dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) r
ows, free non-melodic improvisation on all instruments, and modal harmonies and
scales.[5] In 1968 Piazzolla wrote and produced an "operita", María de Buenos Ai
res, that employed a larger ensemble including flute, percussion, multiple strin
gs and three vocalists, and juxtaposed movements in Piazzolla s own style with s
everal pastiche numbers ranging from waltz and hurdy-gurdy to a piano/narrator b
ar-room scena straight out of Casablanca.
By the 1970s Piazzolla was living in Rome, managed by the Italian agent Aldo Pag
ani, and exploring a leaner, more fluid musical style drawing on more jazz influ
ence, and with simpler, more continuous forms. Pieces that exemplify this new di
rection include Libertango and most of the Suite Troileana, written in memory of
the late Anibal Troilo. In the 1980s Piazzolla was rich enough, for the first t
ime, to become relatively autonomous artistically, and wrote some of his most am
bitious multi-movement works. These included Tango Suite for the virtuoso guitar
duo Sergio and Odair Assad; Histoire du Tango, where a flutist and guitarist te
ll the history of tango in four chunks of music styled at thirty-year intervals;
and La Camorra, a suite in three ten minute movements, inspired by the Neapolit
an crime family and exploring symphonic concepts of large-scale form, thematic d
evelopment, contrasts of texture and massive accumulations of ensemble sound. Af
ter making three albums in New York with the second quintet and producer Kip Han
rahan, two of which he described on separate occasions as "the greatest thing I
ve done", he disbanded the quintet, formed a sextet with an extra bandoneon, cel
lo, bass, electric guitar, and piano, and wrote music for this ensemble that was
even more adventurous harmonically and structurally than any of his previous wo
rks (Preludio y Fuga; Sex-tet). Had he not suffered an incapacitating stroke on
the way to Notre Dame mass in 1990, it is likely that he would have continued to
use his popularity as a performer of his own works to experiment in relative sa
fety with even more audacious musical techniques, while possibly responding to t
he surging popularity of non-Western musics by finding ways to incorporate new s
tyles into his own. In his musical professionalism and open-minded attitude to e
xisting styles he held the mindset of an 18th century composing performer such a
s Handel or Mozart, who were anxious to assimilate all national "flavors" of the
ir day into their own compositions, and who always wrote with both first-hand pe
rforming experience and a sense of direct social relationship with their audienc
es. This may have resulted in a backlash amongst conservative tango aficionados
in Argentina, but in the rest of the West it was the key to his extremely sympat
hetic reception among classical and jazz musicians, both seeing some of the best
aspects of their musical practices reflected in his work.[6]
[edit] Musical career
Piazzolla, after leaving Troilo s orchestra in the 1940s, led numerous ensembles
beginning with the 1946 Orchestra, the 1955 Octeto Buenos Aires, the 1960 "Firs
t Quintet", the 1971 Conjunto 9 ("Noneto"), the 1978 "Second Quintet" and the 19
89 New Tango Sextet. As well as providing original compositions and arrangements
, he was the director and Bandoneon player in all of them. He also recorded the
album Summit with jazz baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. His numerous composi
tions include orchestral work such as the "Concierto para bandoneón, orquesta, c
uerdas y percusión", "Doble concierto para bandoneón y guitarra", "Tres tangos s
infónicos" and "Concierto de Nácar para 9 tanguistas y orquesta", pieces for the
solo classical guitar—the Cinco Piezas (1980), as well as song-form composition
s that still today are well known by the general public in his country, like "Ba
lada para un loco" (Ballad for a madman) and Adiós Nonino (dedicated to his fath
er) which he recorded many times with different musicians and ensembles. Biograp
hers estimate that Piazzolla wrote around 3,000 pieces and recorded around 500.
In the summer of 1985 he appeared with his Quinteto Tango Nuevo at the Almeida T
heatre in London for a week-long engagement. On September 6, 1987, his quintet g
ave a concert in New York s Central Park, which was recorded and, in 1994, relea
sed in compact disk format as The Central Park Concert. [2]
[edit] Discography
Two Argentinians in Paris (with Lalo Schifrin, 1955)
Sinfonia de Tango (Orquesta de Cuerdas, 1955)
Adiós Nonino (1960)
Piazzolla Interpreta A Piazzolla (Quinteto, 1961)
Piazzolla … O No? (canta Nelly Vazquez, Quinteto, 1961)
Nuestro Tiempo (canta Hector de Rosas, Quinteto, 1962)
Tango Contemporaneo (Nuevo Octeto, 1963)
Tango Para Una Cuidad (canta Hector De Rosas, Quinteto, 1963)
Concierto en el Philharmonic Hall de New York (Quinteto, 1965)
El Tango. Jorge Luis Borges - Astor Piazzolla (Orquesta and Quinteto, 1965)
La Guardia Vieja (1966)
La Historia del Tango. La Guardia Vieja (Orquesta, 1967)
La Historia del Tango. Epoca Romantica (Orquesta, 1967)
ION Studios (1968)
María de Buenos Aires (Orquesta, 1968)
Piazzolla En El Regina (Quinteto, 1970)
Original Tangos from Argentina Vol. 1 & 2 (solo bandeneon, 1970)
Pulsacion (Orquesta, 1970)
Piazzolla-Troilo (Dúo de Bandoneones, 1970)
Concerto Para Quinteto (Quinteto, 1971)
La Bicicleta Blanca, (Amelita Baltar y Orquesta, 1971)
En Persona (recita Horacio Ferrer, Astor Piazzolla, 1971)
Música Popular Contemporanea de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. Vol.1 & 2 (Conjunto 9
, 1972)
Roma (Conjunto 9, 1972)
Libertango (Orquesta, 1974)
Piazzolla and Amelita Baltar (1974)
Summit (Reunión Cumbre) with Gerry Mulligan (Orquesta, 1974)
Suite Troileana-Lumiere (Orquesta, 1975)
Buenos Aires (1976)
Il Pleut Sur Santiago (Orquesta, 1976)
Piazzolla & El Conjunto Electrónico (Conjunto Electrónico, 1976)
Piazzolla en el Olimpia de Paris (Conjunto Electrónico, 1977)
Lo Que Vendra (Orquesta de Cuerdas and Quinteto Nuevo Tiempo, 1979)
Piazzolla-Goyeneche En Vivo, Teatro Regina (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1982)
Oblivion (Orquesta, 1982)
Suite Punta Del Este (Quinteto, 1982)
Live in Lugano (Quinteto, 1983)
Concierto de Nácar (1983)
SWF Rundfunkorchester (1983)
Piazzolla en el Colon (Conjunto 9 y Orquesta Filarmónica del Teatro Colón, 1983)
Live in Colonia (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1984)
Montreal Jazz Festival (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1984)
Live in Wien Vol.1 (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1984)
Enrico IV (sound track of film Enrico IV (film)Enrico IV, 1984)
Green Studio (1984)
Teatro Nazionale di Milano (1984)
El Nuevo Tango. Piazzolla y Gary Burton (Quinteto, 1986)
El Exilio de Gardel (soundtrack of film El Exilio de Gardel, Quinteto, 1986)
Tango: Zero Hour (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1986)
Central Park Concert (Quinteto, 1987)
Concierto para Bandoneon - Tres Tangos with the Orchestra of St. Luke s, Lalo Sc
hifrin (conductor), Princeton University (1987)
Sur (soundtrack of film Sur, Quinteto, 1988)
Luna. Live in Amsterdam (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1989)
Lausanne Concert (Sexteto, 1989)
Live at the BBC (1989)
La Camorra (Quinteto Tango Nuevo, 1989)
Hommage a Liege: Concierto para bandoneón y guitarra/Historia del Tango (1988) w
ith Liège Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leo Brouwer. The concerto was perf
ormed by Piazzolla with Cacho Tirao, the Historia by Guy Lukowski and Marc Grawe
Bandoneón Sinfónico (1990)
The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night (Tango apasionado) (1991)
Five Tango Sensations (Astor Piazzolla and Kronos Quartet, 1991)
Original Tangos from Argentina (1992)
Lausanne Concert(Sexteto, 1993)
Central Park Concert 1987 (Quinteto, 1994)
57 Minutos con la Realidad (Sexteto, 1996)
Tres Minutos con la Realidad (Sexteto, 1997)