He is among the astonishingly varied group of composers who were enabled by the teaching of Nadia Boulanger to become more authentically themselves. Boulanger--doyenne of high European art--encouraged Piazzolla not to become another European-style composer, but to apply to the tango the lessons of his study with her. It was first played on the guitar and flute. Arrangements then came to include the piano, and later, the concertina. This music is full of grace and liveliness.
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He began to play the bandoneon after his father spotted one in a New York pawn shop in In Piazzolla composed his first tango, "La Catinga". The following year he took music lessons with the Hungarian classical pianist Bela Wilda, a student of Rachmaninoff who taught him to play Bach on his bandoneon. By he was earning a good wage, enough to pay for music lessons with Alberto Ginastera , an eminent Argentine composer of classical music.
During his five years of study with Ginastera he mastered orchestration, which he later considered to be one of his strong points. As time went by Troilo began to fear that the advanced musical ideas of the young bandoneonist might undermine the style of his orchestra and make it less appealing to dancers of tango. Tensions mounted between the two bandoneonists until, in , Piazzolla announced his intention to leave Troilo and join the orchestra of the tango singer and bandoneonist Francisco Fiorentino.
Having disbanded his first orchestra in he almost abandoned tango altogether as he continued to study Bartok and Stravinsky and orchestra direction with Hermann Scherchen. He spent a lot of time listening to jazz and searching for a musical style of his own beyond the realms of tango. He decided to drop the bandoneon and to dedicate himself to writing and to studying music.
The performance took place at the law school in Buenos Aires with the symphony orchestra of Radio del Estado under the direction of Sevitzky himself. At the end of the concert, a fight broke out among members of the audience who were offended by the inclusion of two bandoneons in a traditional symphony orchestra. Piazzolla was tired of tango and tried to hide his tanguero past and his bandoneon compositions from Boulanger, thinking that his destiny lay in classical music.
Introducing his work, Piazzolla played her a number of his classically inspired compositions, but it was not until he played his tango Triunfal that she congratulated him and encouraged him to pursue his career in tango, recognising that this was where his talent lay.
With Boulanger he studied classical composition, including counterpoint , which was to play an important role in his later tango compositions. Before leaving Paris, he heard the octet of the American jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan , which was to give him the idea of forming his own octet on his return to Buenos Aires. He composed and recorded a series of tangos with the String Orchestra of the Paris Opera and began to play the bandoneon while standing up, putting his right foot on a chair and the bellows of the instrument across his right thigh.
Until that time bandoneonists played sitting down. This was to be a turning point in his career and a watershed in the history of tango.
However, his music gained acceptance in 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.
In he disbanded both the Octeto and the String Orchestra and returned to New York City with his family where he struggled to make a living as a musician and arranger. Briefly forming his own group, the Jazz Tango Quintet with whom he made just two recordings, his attempts to blend jazz and tango were not successful. Piazzolla was serving as the musical director. The tour continued in New York, Chicago and then Washington. Of the many ensembles that Piazzolla set up during his career it was the quintet formation which best expressed his approach to tango.
The recording featured his Quinteto together with an orchestra, the singer Edmundo Rivero and Luis Medina Castro reciting texts.
Soon after this he began a relationship with Amelita Baltar. The following year he wrote Balada para un loco with lyrics by Ferrer which was premiered at the First Iberoamerican Music Festival with Amelita Baltar and Piazzolla himself conducting the orchestra. Piazzolla was awarded second prize and the composition would prove to be his first popular success. Back in Buenos Aires he founded his Conjunto 9 a.
Nonet , a chamber music formation, which was a realisation of a dream for Piazzolla and for which he composed some of his most sophisticated music. He now put aside his first Quinteto and made several recordings with his new ensemble in Italy. The image includes the producer Aldo Pagani, first from the left, and some performers, including Pino Presti , 2nd from right, and Tullio De Piscopo , 2nd from left After a period of great productivity as a composer, he suffered a heart attack in and that same year he moved to Italy where he began a series of recordings which would span a period of five years.
The music publisher Aldo Pagani, a partner in Curci-Pagani Music, had offered Piazzolla a year contract in Rome to record anything he could write. The album includes the composition Aire de Buenos Aires by Mulligan. At this time Piazzolla started a collaboration with the singer Jose A. Trelles with whom he made a number of recordings. In he formed his second Quintet, with which he would tour the world for 11 years, and would make him world-renowned.
He also returned to writing chamber music and symphonic works. During the period of Argentine military dictatorship from to , Piazzolla lived in Italy, but returned many times to Argentina, recorded there, and on at least one occasion had lunch with the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. Why did you accept that invitation? What 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.
That same year he wrote Le Grand Tango for cello and piano, dedicated to Russian cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich which would be premiered by him in in New Orleans. With the film score for El exilio de Gardel he won the French critics Cesar Award in Paris for best film music in In he wrote music for the film Sur and married the singer and television personality Laura Escalada on April In May that year he recorded his album La Camorra in New York, a suite of three pieces, the last time he would record with the second Quinteto.
During a tour of Japan with Milva he played at a concert at the Nakano Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo on June 26, and that same year underwent a quadruple by-pass operation. Early in he formed his Sexteto Nuevo Tango, his last ensemble, with two bandoneons, piano, electric guitar, bass and cello. Together they gave a concert at the Club Italiano in Buenos Aires in April, a recording of which was issued under the title of Tres minutos con la realidad.
This would be his last studio recording and was his second composition for the Kronos Quartet. Towards the end of the year he dissolved his sexteto and continued playing solo with classical string quartets and symphonic orchestras. His composition, Le grand tango, for cello and piano was premiered in New Orleans by the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the pianist Igor Uriash in and on July 3 he gave his last concert in Athens , Greece , with the Athens Orchestra of Colours, conducted by Manos Hatzidakis.
He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Paris on August 4, , which left him in a coma, and died in Buenos Aires, just under two years later on July 4, , without regaining consciousness. Another clear reference to the baroque is the often complex and virtuosic counterpoint that sometimes follows 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 democracy 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.
The piano tends to be used throughout as a percussive rhythmic backbone, while the electric guitar either joins in this role or spins filigree improvisations; the double bass parts are usually of little interest, but provide an indispensable rugged thickness to the sound of the ensemble.
Despite the prevalence of the quintet formation and the ABABC compositional structure, Piazzolla consistently experimented with other musical forms and instrumental combinations. By the s Piazzolla was living in Rome, managed by the Italian agent Aldo Pagani , and exploring a leaner, more fluid musical style drawing on more jazz influence, and with simpler, more continuous forms. In the s Piazzolla was wealthy enough, for the first time, to become relatively autonomous artistically, and wrote some of his most ambitious multi-movement works.
These included Tango Suite for the virtuoso guitar duo Sergio and Odair Assad ; Histoire du Tango , where a flutist and guitarist tell 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 Neapolitan crime family and exploring symphonic concepts of large-scale form, thematic development, contrasts of texture and massive accumulations of ensemble sound.
Had he not suffered an incapacitating stroke on the way to Notre Dame mass in , it is likely that he would have continued to use his popularity as a performer of his own works to experiment in relative safety with even more audacious musical techniques, while possibly responding to the surging popularity of non-Western musics by finding ways to incorporate new styles into his own.
In his musical professionalism and open-minded attitude to existing styles he held the mindset of an 18th-century composing performer such as Handel or Mozart, who were anxious to assimilate all national "flavors" of their day into their own compositions, and who always wrote with both first-hand performing experience and a sense of direct social relationship with their audiences.
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 sympathetic reception among classical and jazz musicians, both seeing some of the best aspects of their musical practices reflected in his work. As well as providing original compositions and arrangements, he was the director and bandoneon player in all of them.
Biographers estimate that Piazzolla wrote around 3, pieces and recorded around In the summer of he performed at the Almeida Theatre in London for a week-long engagement.
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Astor Piazzolla – Histoire du Tango – Café 1930