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Astor Piazzolla (1921)

On March 11, 1921, a little boy was born that would revolutionize the world of tango. Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla spent his first years in the Mar del Plata home of his Italian parents, Vicente “Nonino” Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. In 1925 the family relocated to New York City.


Piazzolla’s young life changed drastically after his father decided to bring home a bandoneon. The nine-year-old was found to have an amazing aptitude for the instrument. Carlos Gardel wanted to take the boy along on a South America tour, but Piazzolla’s parents demurred, an action which saved the prodigy’s life. Also around this time, Piazzolla commenced piano studies with Bela Wilda.

In 1936, after returning to Mar del Plata, the teen began to be active in local music groups; this allowed him to explore his growing interest in tango. After several years, Piazzolla had the good fortune of entering bandoneonist Aníbal Troilo's orchestra. Troilo took an interest in the young musician and schooled him in Troilo’s own style of tango, which was innovative while remaining within reach of most audiences. Piazzolla continued his studies in music theory and piano, working with classical composer Alberto Ginastera and pianist Raul Spivak. Piazzolla left Troilo’s orchestra in 1944, spending two years as the orchestra leader behind singer Francisco Fiorentino and then several years directing his own orchestra. After the ensemble broke up in 1949 Piazzolla was uncertain about his future in tango and attempted to pursue composing more refined music.

But then Piazzolla won the life-changing opportunity to study with the famed composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. She advised him to pursue tango again from the fresh perspective his classical and jazz training afforded, advice Piazzolla wholeheartedly followed. Immediately he formed Octeto Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the octet was so innovative that it drew harsh criticism, which led Piazzolla to disband the group and return to New York City.

Piazzolla spent two years in New York City experimenting with Jazz-Tango, an experiment that was not well-received in the least. He returned to Argentina and formed Quinteto Tango Nuevo, a group that proved to be especially popular with the younger generation and allowed Piazzolla to widely experiment with tango form. He made several important recordings and performances with this quintet. In 1972, Piazzolla assembled the Conjunto 9. With this group he recorded several albums, including “Musica Contemporanea de la cuidad de Buenos Aires,” and “Vardario.”

After Argentina’s government changed hands and Piazzolla suffered a heart attack, he decided to relocate to Italy. This move produced the Conjuncto Electronico group and one of Piazzolla’s most famed compositions, “Libertango.” After a time Piazzolla switched from electronic music back to the quintet form he so loved. The new 1978 quintet toured all over the world and grew to be immensely popular. With this ensemble Piazzolla recorded what he considered to be his finest album, “Tango: Zero Hour.”

As Piazzolla’s international popularity surged, his health began to crater. After a quadruple bypass surgery in 1988, Piazzolla managed to recover enough to tour and record, but for only a short time. He was soon struck down again, this time by a stroke, and died two years later on July 4, 1992. His passing bereft the world of a great musician, but he bequeathed a legacy of wonderful music to be enjoyed for ages to come.

 

--Sarah Holtz



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