Astor Piazzolla

(1921 - 1992)

Argentinian

Astor Piazzolla is widely regarded as the greatest exponent of the traditional Argentinian musical genre, the tango, steering it away from its origins as an accompaniment to dance into the concert hall - although his experiments and innovations were not without controversy in Argentina itself.

Born in Mar de Plata, Argentina, in 1921, Piazzolla spent much of his childhood in New York, his family finally returning to Argentina in 1936.  He began to learn the bandoneon at the age of 8 and, in 1938, moved to Buenos Aires and started to play with a number of tango orchestras, eventually joining one of the greatest tango orchestras of that time, the Anibal Troilo Orchestra.  Then in 1941 he began studying composition with the great Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, and later commenced piano studies with Raúl Spivak.

Piazzolla formed his own tango orchestra, the Orquesta Típica, in 1946, which gave him his first opportunity to experiment.  At the same time his first ‘classical’ works were being performed and he was also starting to be commissioned to write film scores. Believing that his future lay as a serious composer, he disbanded the orchestra, dropped the bandoneon and decided to focus on his musical studies.

The aspirational conflict between Piazzolla the tanguera and Piazolla the composer were not reconciled until he went to Paris in 1954, to study with Nadia Boulanger, whoy persuaded him not to hide or suppress his interest in the tango and the bandoneon, and that the form represented a path to finding his true compositional voice.

Returning to Argentina in 1955, Piazzolla formed a group, the Octeto Buenos Aires, for whom he produced works that broke away from classic tango and the mould of an “orquesta tipica” and created chamber music instead - without a singer or any dancers.  In 1960 he created the first of many famous quintets, comprising bandoneon, violin, bass, piano, and electric guitar.  This was Piazzolla’s most beloved formation; the one most conducive to expressing his ideas. 

Piazzolla experimented with various ‘crossover’ styles: jazz, whilst in New York in the late 1950s, and jazz-rock/tango during the 1970s with his octet the Conjunto Electronico.  He also continued to compose ‘classical’ works, including Le Grand Tango (1990) for cello and piano, dedicated to and premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich, and his Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra.  He also composed the ‘operita’ Maria de Buenos Aires, written in collaboration with the poet Horacio Ferrer, and the oratorio El Pueblo Joven (also written with Ferrer).  But he will be remembered above for his contribution to the evolution and international fame of the tango. 

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