Text: Jorge Pessinis & Carlos Kuri
English translation & page design: Francisco Luongo
Music and Graphics selection: César Luongo
Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla was born on
March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, only child of Vicente Nonino
Piazzolla and Asunta Mainetti. In 1925, the family relocates to New York City until 1936
with a brief return to Mar del Plata in 1930.
In 1929, when Astor is 8 years old, his
father gives him his first bandoneon which he had bought at a pawn shop for 19 dollars.
Astor studies the bandoneon for one year with Andrés DÁquila and he makes his first
record, Marionette Spagnol; a phonograph disk (non commercial) at the Radio Recording
Studio in New York on 11/30/1931.
In 1933 he studies with the Hungarian pianist Bela Wilda, disciple
of Rachmaninov, and of whom Astor would later say With him I learned to love
Bach. Shortly thereafter, he meets Carlos Gardel who becomes a good friend of the
family and with whom he takes part in the movie El Dia Que me Quieras, playing
a brief part as a newspaper boy. This feature film plays a monumental role in the history
In 1936, he returns with the family to
Mar del Plata, Argentina for good, where Astor begins to play in some tango orchestras. It
is here that he makes his second grand discovery (after Bach with Bela Wilda), when he
listens to Elvino Vardaros sextet on the radio, Elvino would later become
Astors violinist. That alternative way of interpreting Tango deeply touches him and
he becomes an admirer of Elvino. Astors love for Tango, and especially for that
style of Tango, touches him deeply and gives him the courage to move to Buenos Aires in
1938. He was only 17 years old.
He plays on some second rate tango orchestras until 1939, when he realizes his dream of playing bandoneon within one of the greatest tango orchestras of that time; the Anibal Troilo orchestra. Pichuco was one of the best bandoneon players, and Astor always considered him one of his masters.
Astor feels the need to advance
musically, and already being the arranger of the Troilo orchestra, he begins his musical
studies with Alberto Ginastera in 1941, and later in 1943, he studies piano with
Raúl Spivak. In 1942 he marries to Dedé Wolff and from this marriage he has two
children: Diana in 1943 and Daniel in 1944. His works are too advanced for the time and
Troilo edits them so as to not scare off dancers.
In 1943, he begins his
classical works with the Suite para Cuerdas y Arpas and in 1944 he
leaves Troilos orchestra to lead the orchestra which accompanies singer Francisco
Fiorentino, he plays with Firoentino until 1946, when he forms his first orchestra, which
is later dissolved in 1949. With this orchestra, with a similar formation to the other
orchestras of the day, he begins to develop his creative impulses with his works and
orchestrations with a big dynamic and harmonic content. That tango, of the young and
daring director, more modern and different, begins to incite the first controversies among
In 1946 he composes, El
Desbande, considered by Piazzolla as his first formal tango, and shortly thereafter
he begins to compose musical scores for movies.
In 1949 he feels the need to disband the
orchestra and part with the bandoneon, and almost abandons tango altogether. He searches
for something else, a different destiny. He continues to study Bartok and Stravinsky, he
studies orchestra direction with Herman Scherchen, he listens to lots of Jazz. His search
for a style becomes obsessive, he longs for something that has nothing to do with tango.
Everything was a mess and Astor decides to drop the bandoneon to dedicate himself to write
and pursue his musical studies. He is 28 years old.
Between 1950 and 1954 he composes a
series of works, clearly different from the conception of tango at the time, and that
further define his unique style: Para lucirse, Tanguango, Prepárense, Contrabajeando,
Triunfal, Lo que vendrá.
In 1953 he presents the work Buenos
Aires (three symphonic pieces) composed in 1951 for the Fabien
Sevitzky competition. Piazzolla wins the first prize and the work is performed at the Law
School in Buenos Aires by the symphonic orchestra of Radio del Estado with the
addition of two bandoneons and under the direction of Sevitzky himself. It is a full-blown
scandal, at the end of the concert there is a generalized fist-fight due to the strong
reaction of some members of the audience that consider it an indignity to include
bandoneon in the cult setting of a symphonic orchestra.
One of the prizes he won at this
composition contest was a scholarship from the French governement to study in Paris (where
he goes in 1954), with Nadia Boulanger, considered the best educator in the world of music
at the time. At first, Piazzolla tries to hide his tanguero past and his bandoneon work,
thinking that his destiny is in classical music. This situation is quickly remedied when
he opens his heart to Boulanger and he plays his tango Triunfal for her. From
then on he receives a historic recommendation: Astor, your classical pieces are well
written, but the true Piazzolla is here, never leave it behind
After this episode, Piazzolla returns to
tango and to his instrument, the bandoneon. What was once a choice between the
sophisticated music or tango, now would be sophisticated music and tango,
but in the most efficient way: to work the structure of sophisticated music with the
passion of the tango. In Paris, he composes and records a series of tangos with a string
orchestra and he begins to play the bandoneon while standing up, he puts one leg on a
chair, a trait that would characterize him on the music scene (Most bandoneonists play
sitting down ).
When Piazzolla returns to Argentina
(1955) he continues with the strings orchestra and he also forms a group, the Octeto
Buenos Aires, which is the beginning of the contemporary tango age. With a makeup of two
bandoneons, two violins, double bass, cello, piano, and an electric guitar, he produces
innovative works and interpretations which break away from classic tango, he breaks away
from the original mold of an orquesta tipica and creates chamber music
instead, music without a singer or any dancers. He continues his personal revolution and
continues to generate hatred among the orthodox tangueros, becoming the target of very
mean criticism. He does not sway and keeps going on the path which he more than ever
deems his own, but the media and record labels make it an uphill battle. In 1958 he
disbands the octet and the strings orchestra and he goes back to New York City to work as
Between 1958 and 1960 he works in the US,
where he experiments with Jazz-Tango with negative results and where, because of the death
of his father in October 1959, he writes while in New York his famous, Adiós
Nonino. Upon his return to Argentina, he creates the first of many famous quintets,
playing New Tango (bandoneon, violin, bass, piano, and electric guitar). The quintet was
Piazzollas most beloved formation; the musical synthesis that best expressed his
In 1963 he premieres under the direction of Paul Klecky:
Tres Tangos Sinfonicos (Hirsch Prize) and in 1965 he makes two of his most
important records: Piazzolla at the Philarmonic Hall New York, which has the works he
played at a concert at the hall with the quintet in May 1965; and El Tango, of
historical value, a product of his friendship with Jorge Luis Borges.
In 1966 he leaves Dedé Wolff. In 1968 he
begins an extensive collaboration with the poet Horacio Ferrer, with whom he composes the
operita Maria de Buenos Aires; beginning a new style: the tango song. Around
that time he begins dating the singer Amelita Baltar.
In 1969, with
Horacio Ferrer, he composes Balada para un loco, presented at the First
Iberoamerican Music Festival, where he receives second place. This work turned out to be
his first popular hit, premiered by Amelita Baltar with Piazzolla himself conducting the
In 1970 he returns to Paris where, with
Ferrer, he composes the oratorio El Pueblo Joven, the premiere of which was in
Saarbuck, Germany in 1971. That same year he forms the Conjunto 9, acting in Buenos Aires
and in Italy where they tape many shows for RAI. This group was like a dream for
Piazzolla: the picture-perfect chamber music formation he had always wanted and for which
he composed his most elaborate music, but the economic impossibility of keeping the group
together led to its dissolution.
In 1972 he plays at the Teatro Colón in
Buenos Aires for the first time, sharing the bill with other Tango orchestras. In 1973,
after a period of great productivity as a composer, he suffers a heart attack which forces
him to reduce his artistic activities.
That same year (1973) he decides to move
to Italy where he begins a series of recordings which span 5 years, the most famous being
Libertango, a work that is widely accepted in the European Community.
During these years he forms the
Conjunto Electronico: an octet made up of bandoneon, electric piano and/or
acoustic piano, organ, guitar and electric bass, drums, synthesizer and violin, which was
later substituted for flute or saxophone. Later, in 1975 Jose A. Trelles is incorporated
as a singer with a formation that alternates between Argentinean and European musicians.
This group had nothing to do with the previous ones, and many considered this change as an
approach to jazz-rock: but according to Piazzolla, That was my music, it had more to
do with tango than with rock
In 1974 he separates from Amelita Baltar.
That same year he records with the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan a great record: Summit, with
an Italian orchestra. The music that Piazzolla composes for this disc is characterized by
the exquisite melody of the bandoneon and the saxophone on top of a rhythmic base. Aníbal
Troilo dies in 1975 and Piazzolla composes the Suite Troileana in his memory,
a work in four parts, which he records with the Conjunto Electronico, with A. Agri playing
In 1976 he meets who would be his last
wife, Laura Escalada. In December of the same year he plays an extraordinary concert at
the Gran Rex theater in Buenos Aires, where he presents his work, 500
motivaciones, written especially for the Conjunto Electronico. In 1977, he plays
another memorable concert at the Olympia in Paris, with a similar formation as before, but
with musicians with roots closer to rock. This is the last time he has an
electric group. Piazzolla regrettably stops making reference to Chick
Coreas international sound and even though the Conjunto Electronico makes good
music, he doesnt consider it the real Piazzolla. In 1978, the second incarnation of
the quintet is born, the one that would make Piazzolla world renowned. He also restarts
his dedication to chamber music and symphonic works.
The next ten years are the best for
Piazzolla as far as his popularity is concerned. He intensifies his concerts all over the
world: Europe, South America, Japan, and the United States. During a period which lasts
until 1990 he does a series of concerts mostly with the quintet, and also as a symphonic
solo performer and as a chamber musician; and in his final years with his final
group, the sextet, and with string quartets. There are many live recordings of the
numerous concerts, many of them on CD. This in some way proves what is frequently said:
Piazzollas music does not exist unless he plays it; him playing the music is a
testament to the style, which we could define as the aesthetics of a musical state of
In 1982 he writes Le Grand
Tango for cello and piano, dedicated to Russian cellist, Mtislav Rostropovitch and
premiered by him in 1990 in New Orleans. In June of 1983 he puts on one of the best shows
of his life: he plays a program dedicated to his music at the Teatro Colón in Buenos
Aires, the big scenario of classical music in Argentina. For the occasion he regroups the
Conjunto 9 and he plays solo with the symphonic orchestra directed by Pedro I. Calderón,
playing the beautiful Concert for bandoneon and orchestra.
In 1984 he plays with the singer Milva at
the Bouffes du Nord and in Vienna with the quintet where he records a live album
Live in Wien. In 1985 he is named an exceptional citizen of Buenos Aires and
he premieres the concert for bandoneon and guitar :
Homenaje a Lieja, under the direction of Leo Brouwer at the Fifth International
Belgian Guitar Festival.
In 1986 he receives the Cesar prize in
Paris for the score of the film El exilio de Gardel and with Gary Burton he
records Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet, live at the Jazz Festival
in Montreux, Switzerland. In 1987 he records with the St. Lukes orchestra directed
by Lalo Schifrin, the Concert for bandoneon and Three Tangos for
bandoneon and orchestra.
The concert which takes place in 1987 in
New Yorks Central Park in front of a massive audience, is a rejuvenating experience
for Piazzolla. The city where he spent his childhood, where he became mesmerized by the
music of Bach and Jazz, and where he failed in 1958, finally pays attention to his music.
The records released in the US in the late 80s document his life: Tango Zero Hour, Tango
Apasionado, La Camorra, Five tango Sensations (with the Kronos quartet), Piazzolla with
Gary Burton, etc.
In 1988, a few months after recording
what would be his final record with the quintet (La Camorra), he undergoes a quadruple
bypass. Shortly thereafter, early in 1989, he froms what would be his last group: the New
Tango Sextet of unusual characteristics: two bandoneons, piano, electric guitar, bass and
cello. With this group, in June of 1989 he plays at the Teatro Opera in Buenos Aires in
what would be his last concert in Argentina and he begins an extensive tour throughout the
US, Germnay, England, and Holland.
Towards the end of 1989 he dissolves his
group and continues playing solo with string quartets and symphonic orchestras. Until
August 4, 1990, in Paris, when he suffers a stroke. After almost 2 years of suffering the
consequences of this incident, he dies in Buenos Aires on July 4, 1992.
His opus, comprising more than 1000 works, a characteristic career and an undoubtedly Argentinian flavor, continues to influence the best musicians in the world of all generations. For example, the violinist Gidon Kremer, the cellist Yo-Yo-Ma, the Kronos Quartet, the pianists Emanuel Ax and Arthur Moreira Lima, the guitarist Al Di Meola, the Assad brothers, and numerous chamber music and symphonic orchestras. A career characterized by his aesthetic power and his unique style, almost in a league of its own. His music is unmatched; when we listen to it we are obligated to question the roots and say, This is Piazzolla. It is all about the language he created, which is unique and can be identified as his and only his. With hetergenous and rebellious elements (Jazz, classical music, experiments in sound) he produced a unique music under the drastic pulse of his Tango.
El dia que me quieras (Gardel/Lepera)
Preludio No. 1 (for violin and piano) (A. Piazzolla)
Viejo Ciego (Piana/Castillo/Manzi)
El desbande (A. Piazzolla)
Triunfal (A. Piazzolla)
Melodia en la (A. Piazzolla)
Bando (A. Piazzolla)
El entrerriano (Mendizabal)
Lo que vendra (A. Piazzolla)
Decarisimo (A. Piazzolla)
El Tango (A. Piazzolla/J.L. Borges)
Buenos Aires Hora Cero (A.Piazzolla)
Alevare (A. Piazzolla/H. Ferrer)
Balada para un loco (A. Piazzolla/H. Ferrer)
Tristezas de un Doble A (A. Piazzolla)
Años de soledad (A. Piazzolla)
Bandoneon (A. Piazzolla)
Invierno Porteño (A. Piazzolla)
Concierto para bandoneon, guitarra y orquesta (Hommage a Liege)
- 2do movimiento (Milonga) (A. Piazzolla)
Duo de amor (A. Piazzolla)
Laura's dream (A. Piazzolla)
Palabras de Piazzolla
Mumuki (A. Piazzolla)
Concierto para quinteto (A. Piazzolla)
Milonga del angel (A. Piazzolla)
Adios Nonino (A. Piazzolla)
You can listen to an Internet radio show based on this chronology that "aired" through TodoRadio.com in June of 2000. Hosted by Vicente Alongi, Ramiro Carambula and Cesar Luongo. Requires MS Media Player to listen, broadcast is in Spanish.
2002 J. Pessinis, C. Kuri, and piazzolla.org