Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992) pretty much single-handedly reinvented the Argentine national dance, the tango, transforming it into a new style aptly called nuevo tango ("new tango"). Born in Argentina, Piazzolla spent most of his childhood in New York, and there he gained exposure to and a fondness for jazz and classical music. But through his father's influence he also gained proficiency on the bandoneón, a type of concertina that is a staple of Argentine tango ensembles, and when he returned to Argentina in 1937 he played with some of the leading bands in Buenos Aires. He also began the serious study of composition with noted composer Alberto Ginastera, and for an early symphony he won a grant in 1953 from the French government to study in Paris with legendary composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger, whose illustrious students ranged from Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter to Quincy Jones and Burt Bacharach, found Piazzolla's music was well-crafted but too derivative of Bartók, Stravinsky and Ravel. When she finally got him to play for her some of the music he wrote for his cabaret band, she convinced him to toss out his other works and concentrate on what was uniquely his own. It is estimated that he composed over 3,000 pieces, and he recorded about 500 of them himself.
When he returned to Argentina in 1955, his "new tango," which infused traditional elements with characteristics of jazz and incorporated contrapuntal techniques and formal elements adapted from his classical studies, was met with resistance in his homeland, but Europeans and North Americans were captivated by it and his international career blossomed. It is estimated that he composed over a staggering 3,000 pieces, and he recorded about 500 of them himself!
Études tanguistiques. 3rd Étude
Piazzolla's six Études tanguistiques ("Tango Studies") were composed in 1987, and have also become popular in a transcription for solo violin. The 3rd Étude is a florid virtuoso piece with quickly shifting textures that sometimes give the impression that more than one flute is playing!
The first two movements of the flute and guitar suite L'histoire du tango (History of the Tango) trace the development of the tango from its early roots at the fringes of society (Bordel 1900) to the somewhat more polite style that became the most popular dance throughout the whole of Argentina (Café 1930). The last two movements exemplify Piazzollo's own significant contributions to the form, with his revolutionary inclusion of elements from jazz (Nightclub 1960), to Concert d’aujourd’hui ("Concert of Today") in which he adapts the dance into his own brand of classical concert music of the 1980s.
Piazzolla included Oblivión in his soundtrack score composed for Marco Bellocchio's 1984 film, Enrico IV ("Henry IV"), and it is one of Piazzolla's more traditional (i.e., less jazzy and/or Bartókian) tangos, and one which has become among his most frequently performed and recorded pieces, in varying instrumental arrangements.
Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas
On YouTube: Primavera Porteña | Verano Porteño | Otoño Porteño | Invierno Porteño
Although perhaps inspired in some way by Vivaldi’s famous concertos, the movements of Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) originally were not conceived as a suite. The Spring movement was composed in 1965, Autumnin 1969, and Summer and Winter both in 1970, and they were originally scored for violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. The piano trio version is by José Bragato (b.1915), a cellist who often performed with Piazzolla.