Astor Piazzolla

From its lowly beginnings, the tango's essence has changed from epoch to epoch. Early in the century Parisians' acceptance of this morally suspect lower-class dance transformed its image, and tango was accepted by the upper class of Buenos Aires. Over time, the dance waned in popularity: The city changed, the dance floor gave way to to concert cafes, and the barrio was left behind. Since 1955, it has been Astor Piazzolla who has given the form new vitality. -- Maria Susana Azzi

Unlike other tangos, Piazzolla's tangos you listen to. -- Yo-Yo Ma

The word tango conjures up images of Buenos Aires, of a dimly-lit dance floor, the smoke of a cigarette curling up into the air, a beautiful woman in the arms of a man, surrendering to a rhythm that is at once love and dream, pain and reality. -- Maria Susana Azzi

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), a virtuoso on the bandoneon, is credited as the creator of modern tango.

Astor Piazzolla was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, a small fishing port by the Atlantic ocean, 420 km south of Buenos Aires, at the time an aristocratic coastal resort. In 1924 Piazzolla and his parents moved to New York, where in 1929 he discovered the bandoneon (square built button accordion). In 1932 he composed his first tango, 'La catinga'.

Piazzolla returned to Mar del Plata, where, in 1936, he began to take part in local groups and even lead one. A leader of one of these groups, the violinist Elvino Vardaro, would, many years later, play with Piazzolla. In 1938, Piazzolla moved to Buenos Aires. After cutting his teeth with various orchestras in Buenas Aires, Piazzolla formed his own orchestra in 1946, but still felt restricted by the traditional standards of the genre.

In the early 1950s Piazzolla moved between the bandoneon and the piano, and thought of concentrating on classical music, within which he had been working as composer. To further his classical leanings, he moved to France in 1954, through a scholarship granted by the Paris Conservatory. He studied under the renowned musicologist Nadia Boulanger who encouraged Piazzolla to develop what he knew and to experiment with tango and bandoneon.

Piazzolla recorded in Paris in 1955 with the strings of the Paris Opera Orchestra, Martial Solal on piano and Piazzolla himself on bandoneon (16 numbers, all bar two his own compositions).

Back in Argentina Piazzolla tried to put his ideas into practice, but met extreme hostility. Thoroughly disillusioned, he returned to New York in 1956.

On his return to Buenos Aires in 1960 Piazzolla put together his most innovative and important band, the five-piece Quinteto Nuevo Tango (bandoneon, piano, violin, electric guitar and double bass). For a brief period in 1963 he experimented with Nuevo Octeto (which introduced flute, percussion and voice). Towards the end of his life, Piazzolla formed a sextet, where he added a second bandoneon to the quintet and replaced the violin by a cello.

Astor Piazzolla wrought havoc in the Tango dancing community but Piazzolla is also meant for listening to appreciate the long breath of inspiration. This creative talent translated itself into many songs and compositions that have since become Classics of the Tango repertoire. Astor Piazzolla has flooded the music market with dozens of CDs from both Studio and Live performances. Piazzolla plays his own compositions, often trying different variations of the same musical idea. Like an Abstract Painter he enjoys producing different Art works with the same inspirational thought but with a different variation. It is not uncommon to find different CDs which are merely variations of the same composition, sometimes on the same CD.

Astor Piazzolla has left an extraordinary repertoire of music - instrumental tangos, tango songs, film music, pieces for guitar or flute, chamber and orchestral music.

Recommended recordings: La Camorra: The Solitude of Passionate Provocation, Tango: Zero Hour, The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night, Concierto para bandoneon & Tres Tangos for bandoneon and orchestrar.

Astor Piazzolla is very much an acquired taste, but once the bug has bit, you won't be able to get enough.

Following in the footsteps of Astor Piazzolla are Zum, a five-piece band of exceptional creative and innovative musicians. They take original works and traditional songs and Eastern European Gypsy songs and rework them with their own magic and fusion. In addition to their own compositions, their repertoire includes works by Astor Piazzolla. Their two highly acclaimed recordings, Live on the South Bank, London (CMG 006) and Gypsy Tango Pasion (CMG 007), both contain compositions by Astor Piazzolla. The line up, Adam Summerhayes (violin), Chris Grist (cello), Jonny Gee (bass), David Gordon (piano) and Eddie Hession (accordion), is very similar to Quinteto Nuevo Tango. Zum, a strange blend of Tangerine Dream and the Kronos Quartet, were one of the star attractions at the Guildford International Music Festival 2003. Zum? Possibly from a composition of the same name by Astor Piazzolla (featured on the live CD recorded at the London South Bank).

Tango is a ballroom dance that evolved around 1880 in the lower class district of Buenos Aires from a fusion of Spanish tango and milonga, a fast and sensual Argentine dance form.

Music ~ Zum
(c) Keith Parkins 2003 -- April 2003 rev 2