Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Astor Piazzolla

video
My daughter is going to Argentina, so I picked up a Piazzolla CD a Academy Records to learn about Argentinian music. I shocked myself that I really liked it. Even old farts can appreciate new things
from wikipedia, part 1
Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla (March 11, 1921 – July 4, 1992) was an Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player. His oeuvre revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed nuevo tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. He is therefore widely considered the most important tango composer of the latter half of the twentieth century. A formidable bandoneonist, he regularly performed his own compositions with different ensembles. He is known in his native land as "El Gran Ástor" ("The Great Astor").
Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921 to Italian parents, Vicente Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. His grandfather, a sailor and fisherman named Pantaleón Piazzolla, had emigrated to Mar del Plata from Trani, a seaport town in the southeastern Italian region of Apulia, at the end of the 19th century. Ástor Piazzolla spent most of his childhood with his family in New York City, where he was exposed to both jazz and the music of J.S. Bach at an early age. While there, he acquired fluency in four languages: Spanish, English, French, and Italian. He began to play the bandoneon after his father, nostalgic for his homeland, spotted one in a New York pawn shop. At the age of 13, he met Carlos Gardel, another great figure of tango, who invited the young prodigy to join him on his current tour. Much to his dismay, Piazzolla's father deemed that he was too young to go along. Nevertheless he played a young paper boy in Gardel´s movie El dia que me quieras [1]. This early disappointment proved a blessing in disguise, as it was on this tour that Gardel and his entire band perished in a plane crash. In later years, Piazzolla made light of this near miss, joking that had his father not been so careful, he wouldn't be playing the bandoneon — he'd be playing the harp.
He returned to Argentina in 1937, where strictly traditional tango still reigned, and played in night clubs with a series of groups including the orchestra of Anibal Troilo, then considered the top bandoneon player and bandleader in Buenos Aires. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein—then living in Buenos Aires—advised him to study with the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Delving into scores of Stravinsky, Bartók, Ravel, and others, he rose early each morning to hear the Teatro Colón orchestra rehearse while continuing a gruelling performing schedule in the tango clubs at night. In 1950 he composed the soundtrack to the film Bólidos de acero.
At Ginastera's urging, in 1953 Piazzolla entered his Buenos Aires Symphony in a composition contest, and won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. The insightful Boulanger turned his life around in a day, as Piazzolla related in his own words:
When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: “It's very well written.” And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: “Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can't find Piazzolla in this.” And she began to investigate my private life: what I did, what I did and did not play, if I was single, married, or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to tell her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, “I play in a night club.” I didn't want to say cabaret. And she answered, “Night club, mais oui, but that is a cabaret, isn't it?” “Yes,” I answered, and thought, “I'll hit this woman in the head with a radio....” It wasn't easy to lie to her. She kept asking: “You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?” And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, “Then she will throw me from the fourth floor.” Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: “You idiot, that's Piazzolla!” And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.
Piazzolla returned from New York to Argentina in 1955, formed the Octeto Buenos Aires to play tangos, and never looked back.
Upon introducing his new approach to the tango (nuevo tango), he became a controversial figure among Argentines both musically and politically. The Argentine saying "in Argentina everything may change — except the tango" suggests some of the resistance he found in his native land. 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.
During the period of Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, 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. However, his relationship with the dictator might have been less than friendly, as recounted in Astor Piazzolla, A manera de Memorias (a comprehensive collection of interviews, constituting a memoir):
One year before the Los Largartos issue you went to Videla's house and had lunch with him, why did you accept that invitation?
What an 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. I have a book around in some place, with pictures of all the guests: Eladia Blázquez, Daniel Tinayre, Olga Ferri, the composer Juan Carlos Tauriello, there were painters, actors [...]
– Astor Piazzolla, A manera de Memorias, Libros Perfil 1998, ISBN 9500809206, p. 85
In 1990 he suffered thrombosis in Paris, and died two years later in Buenos Aires.
Among his followers, his own protege Marcelo Nisinman is the best known innovator of the tango music of the new millennium, while Pablo Ziegler, pianist with Piazzolla's second quintet, has assumed the role of principal custodian of nuevo tango, extending the jazz influence in the style. The Brazilian guitarist Sergio Assad has also experimented with folk-derived, complex virtuoso compositions that show Piazzolla's structural influence while steering clear of tango sounds; and Osvaldo Golijov has acknowledged Piazzolla as perhaps the greatest influence on his globally oriented, eclectic compositions for classical and klezmer performers.

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