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Piazzolla, Astor (1921-1992)

Astor Piazzolla

born: 11 March 1921
died: 4 July 1992
country: Argentina

The son of Italian immigrants to the Argentinian seaport Mar del Plata, when Piazzolla was three years old his family relocated to New York, where his formative years were inspired by not only the jazz clubs of Harlem (Duke Ellington, etc.) but also a Hungarian neighbour Bela Wilde, who had studied piano with Rachmaninov. The teenager soon worked out how to arrange and play Bach on the bandoneon (a square-built accordion that usually has two reed banks, with thirty-eight buttons for the high and medium registers, and thirty-three for the lower register). The family returned to Argentina in 1937, eventually settling in Buenos Aires, where the young bandoneon prodigy played with the orquesta típica of Aníbal Troilo (1914-1975) until 1944.

Encouraged by the pianist Rubinstein, Piazzolla studied with Alberto Ginastera, and formed the Orquesta del ’46 to play his own compositions. In 1954 he won a scholarship to study for one year in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, who, upon hearing her pupil play a tango on the bandoneon, encouraged him to embrace his true artistic identity rather than pretend to be someone else. Upon returning to Buenos Aires, his experiences and interests in fugue, chromaticism, dissonance, jazz, popular music culture, contemporary classical composition and traditional Argentinian music fused together to create nuevo tango (‘new tango’). Piazzolla reminisced:

I had two great teachers: Nadia Boulanger and Alberto Ginastera. The third I found in a cold room in a boarding house, in the cabarets in the 1940s, in the cafes with balconies and orchestras, in the people of yesterday and today, in the sound of the streets. That third is called Buenos Aires: it taught me the secrets of tango.

from notes by David Vickers © 2022


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