Astor Piazzolla: interviews

Listen to this radio interview from 1991:

A short video segment of a Piazzolla interview is also available.


The following interview made in July 1989, shortly before Astor's death, was kindly sent to me by Gonzalo Saavedra, a Chilean journalist, then living in Barcelona. First, some background on the interview:
I made one of the last interviews with Astor Piazzolla in his last visit to my country. He first allowed me just "15 minutes", but one question led to another and we spent almost two hours at his hotel room. I already published this interview, when Piazzolla died, in "El Mercurio" (a Chilean Newspaper), but perhaps it would be interesting to post it on the Internet.

Gonzalo Saavedra, Barcelona, Oct 6, 1995

The interview was in Spanish , but Gonzalo has kindly provided an English translation as well. Both versions are available here. If you wish, he can be contacted at gsaavedra@puc.cl.

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Astor Piazzolla: Un tango triste, actual, consciente

En su ultima visita a Chile, en julio de 1989, cuando actuo en un concierto memorable en el Teatro Oriente, Piazzolla ofrecio esta entrevista que presentamos aqui. Es uno de los ultimos testimonios sobre su propia "poetica musical".

El tango ya no existe, decia. Existio hace muchos anos atras, hasta el 55, "cuando Buenos Aires era una ciudad en que se vestia el tango, se caminaba el tango, se respiraba un perfume de tango en el aire. Pero hoy no. Hoy se respira mas perfume de rock o de punk... El tango de ahora es solo una imitacion nostalgica y aburrida de aquella epoca". Salvo, claro, como el mismo aclaraba, el que componia, inagotablemente, Piazzolla: "Mi tango si es de hoy". Hacia ya tiempo que venia anunciando el fin de la musica portena, al menos de esa que cantaba Gardel. "El tango esta como Alfonsin: moribundo", bromeaba. El musico, en cambio, ese domingo de julio de 1989, estaba chispeante, alegre, recien despierto luego de una larga siesta que siguio a un almuerzo repleto de mariscos y de "ese vino excelente que tienen ustedes". Habia ido con parte de su conjunto al Mercado Central y todavia se lo escuchaba gozoso de la experiencia. Sus 69 anos estaban dentro de un pijama rojo, con dibujitos, y no queria que lo fotografiaran asi. Pero hablar, eso si queria Piazzolla.

Queria contar como se inicio en el arte de componer, como amaba la musica y como defendia la suya, como le ayudo Nadia Boulanger, su maestra en Paris, a descubrir que su estilo estaba alli, en el tango, y no en la musica europeizante que escribio hasta los 50. Como le daba "mucha bronca" que se lo conociera solo por la Balada para un loco : "Una vez una senora se me acerco y me dijo: 'Maestro Piazzolla, aparte de la Balada... , que mas escribio?', y yo tenia ganas de romperle la cabeza a esta senora..."

Como estaba lleno de encargos: un cuarteto de cuerdas, otro de guitarras, un quinteto de vientos, todos para interpretes norteamericanos. "Parezco un supermercado de la musica..."

Como su vida se podia resumir en un solo tango, un tango muy porteno y muy triste, "no porque yo sea triste", aclaraba. "Al contrario, soy un loco de la guerra, soy un loco lindo, me gusta divertirme, me gusta tomar vino, me gusta comer bien, me gusta la vida, asi que mi musica no tiene por que ser triste. Mi musica es triste porque el tango es triste. El tango tiene raices tristes, dramaticas, sensuales a veces, religiosas, tiene un poco de todo... Religiosas, por el bandoneon que fue inventado para acompanar la liturgia en Alemania. El tango es triste, es dramatico, pero no pesismista. Pesismistas eran las letras de antes, totalmente absurdas..."

Y como no le gustaba nada el publico espanol ("no me entienden, ni mi apellido saben pronunciar"), a diferencia del chileno, que, desde que vino por primera vez en 1972, comprendio su musica. Una musica, que, como el decia, "no es facil".

"Entonces, por que no estudia?"

Tampoco fue facil la lucha que dio por ella. Muy nino, cuando vivia en Nueva York, comenzo a tocar el bandoneon, con el que pudo -apenas con 13 anos- acompanar al mismisimo Carlitos Gardel. Tambien trabajo como extra en El dia que me quieras, protagonizada por el "Zorzal criollo". Recien a los 17 volvio con su familia a Mar del Plata y luego de unos frustrados intentos de estudios de contaduria, decidio dedicarse por entero a la musica. Estaba profundamente enamorado de ella y sabia que su decision era para siempre. "La musica", decia, "es mas que una mujer, porque de la mujer te podes divorciar, pero de la musica, no. Una vez que te casas, es tu amor eterno, para toda la vida, y te vas a la tumba con la ella encima".

En ese tiempo trabajaba tocando su bandoneon "en cuanto cabaret habia en Buenos Aires" y tambien comenzaba a componer. Osado, se presento en la casa que el pianista Arthur Rubinstein tenia en la capital argentina, con una pieza bajo el brazo. "Era una obra tan espantosa", recordaba entre risas, "que yo decia que habia compuesto un 'concierto para piano', pero no le habia hecho la parte de orquesta..." De todas formas, obligo a Rubinstein a leerlo, "y a medida que lo iba tocando, me fui dando cuenta del disparate que habia hecho. El tocaba un poco y me miraba, y de repente me dice: 'Le gusta la musica?'. 'Mucho maestro', le contesto yo. 'Entonces, por que no estudia?'".

El mismo pianista polaco llamo por telefono a su amigo, el compositor Alberto Ginastera, y le dijo que tenia a un joven ansioso de aprender. A las ocho de la manana del dia siguiente, Ginastera, que en ese tiempo estaba comenzando a presentar las obras que lo harian mundialmente famoso, tenia a su primer alumno frente al piano; y Piazzolla, a su primer profesor de composicion.

"Era como ir a la casa de la novia", se sonreia nostalgico Astor. "El me enseno el misterio de la orquesta, me mostro sus partituras, me hizo conocer y a analizar a Stravinsky. Ahi me meti en el mundo de 'La Consagracion de la Primavera', me la aprendi completa de memoria..." Seis anos duraron las clases. Piazzolla se lanzo a componer como un loco:

-Yo mismo me transforme en un 'autogenio'. Tenia un bajon con el tango, lo habia abandonado por completo y en cambio, era compositor de sinfonias, de oberturas, de conciertos para piano, musica de camara, sonatas... Vomitaba un millon de notas por segundo.

-Y como era la musica de Piazzolla en ese...?

-Para!, que ahora viene la historia. Entonces yo escribia y escribia, durante diez anos, sin parar, hasta que el ano 53 Ginastera me llama y me dice que hay un concurso para compositores argentinos. Y yo le dije que no, porque se estaban presentando todos los 'grandes' de ese momento. Al final mande una pieza mia que se llamaba Sinfonietta. Cuando se estreno, los criticos me dieron el premio a la mejor obra del ano. Automaticamente, el gobierno de Francia me dio una beca para estudiar con Nadia Boulanger, en Paris.

Casi nada fue igual para Astor Piazzolla a partir de ese momento. Porque tuvo que irse a Europa para que una francesa le dijiera quien era el, para que le ensenara a rescatar lo que habia de propio en su creacion:

-Cuando fui con todos mis kilos de sonatas y sinfonias bajo el brazo y se los di, le dije: "Maestra, este es mi premio, lo recibi yo, en fin, aqui estan mis obras..." Ella leia las partituras que era un monstruo, asi que empezamos a analizar mi musica y salio con una frase que me parecio horrenda: "Esta muy bien escrita". Y paro, con un punto redondo asi como una pelota. Despues de mucho rato, me dijo: "Aca usted se parece a Stravinsky, se parece a Bartok, se parece a Ravel, pero sabe lo que pasa? Yo no encuentro a Piazzolla aca". Y entro a investigar mi vida particular, que hacia, que tocaba, que no tocaba, donde vivia, si era casado, si estaba juntado, parecia del FBI! Y yo tenia mucha verguenza de contarle que era un musico de tango, absoluta verguenza tenia. Al final le dije: "Yo toco en un nightclub ". No quise decir cabaret. Y ella: "Nightclub, mais oui, pero eso es un cabaret". "Si", respondi y pensaba: "A esta vieja le voy a dar con un radio en la cabeza". Se las sabia todas!

Una fuga "tanguificada" Y siguio el interrogatorio:

-"Usted me dice que no es pianista, que instrumento toca, entonces?" -insistia ella-. Y yo no queria decirle que tocaba el bandoneon, porque pensaba "ahi esta me tira por la ventana del cuarto piso con bandoneon y todo". Finalmente se lo confese y me hizo que le tocara unos compases de un tango mio. De repente abre los ojos, me toma la mano y me dice: "Pedazo de idiota, esto es Piazzolla!". Y agarre toda la musica que habia compuesto, diez anos de mi vida, lo tire al diablo en dos segundos.

Nadia Boulanger lo hizo estudiar, durante 18 meses -"que me sirvieron como si hubieran sido 18 anos"-, solo contrapunto a cuatro partes. "Despues de esto", le decia, "usted va a escribir un cuarteto de cuerdas como se debe. Aca va a aprender, de verdad que si..."

"Ella me enseno a creer en Astor Piazzolla, en que mi musica no era tan mala como yo creia. Yo pensaba que era una basura porque tocaba tangos en un cabaret y resulta que yo tenia una cosa que se llama estilo. Senti una especie de liberacion del tanguero vergonzante que era yo. Me libere de golpe y dije: 'Bueno, tendre que seguir con esta musica, entonces'".

-En todo caso, usted ya habia optado por no abandonar el sistema tonal, como tantos compositores de su generacion...

-Si, eso si... -piensa y recuerda nuevamente a su maestra:- Nadia no gustaba de la musica contemporanea. Ella, por ejemplo, me conto un dia: "Un alumno me invito anoche a un estreno suyo... (se trataba del entonces muy joven Pierre Boulez) Que suerte que en la segunda parte tocaron Monteverdi!". Nada mas (se rie). Asi era ella: terminante. Yo le tenia terror, porque lo sabia todo. Ya estaba por irme a Buenos Aires y le mande a Nadia Boulanger uno de los discos que habia grabado. Ella me escribio una carta muy linda en la que me decia que ya habia escuchado mucha musica mia por la radio y que estaba orgullosa de que hubiera sido alumno suyo.

-Y usted, tiene alumnos de los que se sienta orgulloso, hay musicos que se puedan considerar sus discipulos, que sigan su linea?

-Yo digo: que cada uno se las arregle, no? Si escriben como yo, peor para ellos. Al que puede seguir este estilo de tango, este estilo de vida que yo hago con la musica, eso si. Pero mi principal estilo es haber estudiado. De no haberlo hecho, no estaria haciendo lo que hago, lo que hice. Porque todos creen que hacer un tango moderno es hacer ruidos, es hacer cosas raras y no, no es eso! Hay que profundizar un poco, ver que todo lo que yo hago esta muy elaborado. Si yo hago una fuga a la manera de Bach, siempre va a estar "tanguificada ".

-Son esas dos vertientes las que producen un fenomeno extrano en su musica: que se escucha en las radios, en los programas populares, y tambien en la sala de conciertos...

-Bueno, con Gershwin pasa lo mismo. Villa-Lobos ya se popularizo tanto... Incluso hoy escuchar Bartok no es una cosa rara.

-Si, pero Bela Bartok no se escucha en un programa popular...

-Pero fijate lo que pasa con Bartok. En un thriller norteamericano, cuando hay un momento de violencia, ponen siempre la Musica para cuerdas, percusion y celesta, o La Consagracion... de Stravinsky, o un Mahler. Ya la musica que era entonces contemporanea, porque cuando hablamos de Bartok, hablamos de los anos veinte, se esta usando.

-Y como se siente usted frente a la musica posterior a esa epoca? -Yo no siento a un musico contemporaneo como puedo sentir a Bartok, Ravel, Stravinsky o hasta Penderecki y Lutoslawski. Pero un Xenakis, no lo siento. Lo respeto, si, ojo, respeto a Xenakis, a Brown, a Boulez...

"La otra vez estabamos ensayando y digo: 'Si metemos tal cuerda, vamos a sonar como musica contemporanea' y salta Gerardo Gandini (el pianista y compositor argentino que trabajaba entonces con el) y dice: 'No te metas con la musica contemporanea!'. 'No, no es contra', le dije yo, 'simplemente que una cosa extrana ocurriria'. Y la musica contemporanea es una cosa extrana. Es como alguien que esta descubriendo una medicina para el SIDA o para el cancer. Esta ahi, pero todavia no esta ahi..."

-Esta en etapa de experimentacion, dice usted?

-Si, pero todavia no esta el remedio, no salio a la venta. Para mi la musica contemporanea esta ahi, pero todavia no esta en el mercado...

-A proposito de mercado, hay muchos compositores de musica contemporanea, como el mismo Gandini, que separan a la musica entre la comercial y la no-comercial. No le molesta que a la suya la pongan en la primera categoria?

-No, al contrario... (piensa). Es que yo no soy comercial desde el momento en que no vendo discos. Yo me ofenderia si me dijeran "musica ligera", sin peso. Mi musica es una musica de camara, popular, derivada del tango, en fin, hay mil vueltas que se le pueden dar... Pero yo me conformo con hacer lo que se me da la gana, que es muy importante. Si yo hubiera sido un compositor de musica contemporanea, yo creo que no habria podido ponerla a disposicion de lo que estoy haciendo en tango, porque no entraria. Yo puedo llegar hasta una polirritmia o hasta un bitonal o tritonal, que de hecho lo uso mucho en mi musica, pero mas de ahi no puedo, porque tengo que mantener siempre un ritmo, o un sentido ritmico, que tenga un swing debajo... Y arriba, lo adorno con musica.

-En la armonia esta entonces la "audacia"?

-En la armonia, en los ritmos, en los contratiempos, en el contrapunto de dos o tres instrumentos, que es hermoso, y buscar que no siempre sea tonal, buscar la atonalidad... y por eso nos vamos entendiendo con Gandini, si no, el no estaria tocando conmigo.

-Por eso tambien tuvo tantos problemas con su musica en Argentina, por introducir elementos "extranos" en el tango?

-Y si, pero cambian los Presidentes y no dicen nada... Cambian a los obispos, a los cardenales, los jugadores de futbol, cualquier cosa, pero el tango, no. El tango hay que dejarlo asi como es: antiguo, aburrido, igual, repetido.

-El cambio que usted le introdujo al tango no significo tambien europeizarlo? -No, yo creo que cuanto mas se pinta a la aldea, mas se pinta al mundo. Gracias a que mi musica es muy de Buenos Aires, muy portena, gracias a eso, yo estoy trabajando en todo el mundo, porque encuentran que es una cultura diferente, una cultura nueva, es como el folklore, aunque de esto se hace poco y nada. Siempre estan los eternos folkloristas en Argentina que no han avanzado demasiado, pero con el tango yo avance. Los demas que me vienen detras estan por el ano 50 todavia...

-No teme la critica que le hicieron a Heitor Villa-Lobos: haber europeizado la musica brasilena para asi agradar al publico europeo?

-No, eso es una tonteria. Yo creo que Villa-Lobos es ciento por ciento brasileno. Su musica de camara es excelente, es totalmente Brasil. Porque si algo bueno tienen los brasilenos es la musica popular, nosotros no tenemos la importancia que tienen ellos es ese campo. Lo de ellos es musica intuitiva, nosotros somos mas 'cultos', quizas...

-Mas racionales...

-Si... Si vas a Brasil, y un chico de nueve anos agarra una guitarra, nunca te va a hacer un acorde mayor perfecto. No, un chico brasileno te pone una cuerda de novena, de oncena, y agarra un ritmo que tiene un swing de locos... Nosotros no. Un argentino agarra con una zamba, una chacarera y le pone el sol menor, re mayor septima y adios. No pasa de ahi.

-Cuanto de europeo y cuanto de porteno hay en su tango, cuanto de Stravinsky o de Bartok y cuanto de Gardel, por decirlo asi...?

-Una vez un critico del New York Times dijo una verdad absoluta: Todo lo 'de arriba' que hace Piazzolla es musica; y por debajo, se siente el tango.

(c) 1989 Gonzalo Saavedra


Astor Piazzolla: A sad, current and conscious tango

In his last visit to Chile, in July, 1989, Piazzolla offered this interview. It is one of the last testimonies about his own musical poetics.

The tango no longer exists, he used to say. It existed many years ago, until 1955, "when Buenos Aires was a place where people wore tango, walked tango, where there was a smell of tango all over the city. But not today. Today that smell is more likely to come from rock or punk. The current tango is just a nostalgic and dull imitation of those times. The tango is like [then President Raul] Alfonsin: dying." Not Piazzolla's tango, of course: "My tango does meet the present."

That Sunday, Piazzolla was sparkling, happy, just awakened from a nap after a sumptuous dinner of seafood and "these great wines that you have," at the Mercado Central (Central Market) in Santiago. He was wearing red pyjamas, and didn't want photos taken. But he did want to talk.

He wanted to tell how he started in the art of composing, how he loved music and how he defended his; how Nadia Boulanger, his master at Paris, helped to discover that his style was in the tango, and not in the 'European-style' music he wrote until the fifties. How he was upset ("me da mucha bronca") to be known just for the 'Balada para un loco' (Ballad for a mad man). "Once a lady asked me: 'Maestro Piazzolla, beside the 'Balada...' what else have you written?' And I wanted to kill this woman..."

He wanted to tell how he was full of commissions: a string quartet, a guitar quartet, a wind quintet, all for American players. "I'm like a music supermarket," he joked. How his life could be seen as a single tango, a very 'porteno' (from Buenos Aires) and sad tango. "Not because I'm sad. Not at all. I'm a happy guy, I like to taste a good wine, I like to eat well, I like to live, so there wouldn't be any reason for my music to be sad. But my music is sad, because tango is sad. Tango is sad, dramatic, but not pessimistic. Pessimistic were the old, absurd tango lyrics.

"THEN, WHY DON'T YOU STUDY?"

When he was a boy, living in New York, he began to study the bandoneon and had the opportunity to play--at 13--with Carlos Gardel, the legendary tango singer. As an adolescent, he came back to Mar del Plata (Argentina) and after some frustrating Accounting studies, he decided to devote himself entirely to music. He was deeply in love with it and he knew that his decision was final: "The music," he said, "is more than a woman, because you can divorce a woman, but not music. Once you marry her, she is your foreverlasting love, and you go to the grave with her."

During this time he worked playing his bandoneon "in every cabaret of Buenos Aires" and also began to compose. He dared to introduce himself to the pianist Arthur Rubinstein--then living in Buenos Aires--and showed him a piece of his own. "It was such a terrible work," recalled Piazzolla, "that I said that I had composed a 'piano concerto', but I had written no part for the orchestra." Nevertheless, he insisted Rubinstein read it, and "as he played at the piano, I realized the stupid thing I had done. He played some bars and looked at me. And he suddenly says: 'Do you like music?'. 'Yes, maestro', I answer. 'Then, why don't you study?'"

The Polish pianist called his friend, the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, and told him that he had a young man that wanted to learn. The next morning, Ginastera, then beginning to present the works that would make him famous, had his first pupil in front of the piano; and Piazzolla, his first composition teacher.

"It was like going to your girlfriend's house," remembered nostalgic Piazzolla. "He revealed to me the mystery of the orchestra, he showed me his scores, made me analyze Stravinsky. I entered the world of 'The Rite of Spring', I learned it note by note..." The lessons lasted six years. Piazzolla began to compose "like a lunatic":

--I made myself a "self-genius". I had bad feelings about the tango, I had abandoned it. Instead, I was a composer of symphonies, overtures, piano concertos, chamber music, sonatas. I threw up a million notes per second.

--And how was the music of Piazzolla in that...?

--Wait!, wait! Now comes the story. Then I wrote and wrote, for ten years... One day, in 1953, Ginastera called to tell me that there was a Prize competition for young composers. I didn't want to enter it, because among the participants were the 'great' of the moment, but finally I sent a work called 'Sinfonietta'. When it was premiered, the critics gave me the prize for the best work of the year. And the Government of France granted me a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris

Nothing was the same in Piazzolla's life after that moment. Because he had to go to Paris to be told by a French woman who he was.

--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 Bartok, 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 wanted 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.

A "TANGUIFICATED" FUGUE

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.

Nadia Boulanger made him study 18 months--"that helped me like 18 years"--just four part counterpoint. "After this," she used to tell him, "you will write a string quartet correctly. You will learn here, you really will..."

--She taught me to believe in Astor Piazzolla, to believe that my music wasn't as bad as I thought. I thought that I was something like a piece of shit because I played tangos in a cabaret, but I had something called style. I felt a sort of liberation of the ashamed tango player I was. I suddenly got free and I told myself: "Well, you'll have to keep dealing with this music, then."

--Nevertheless, you didn't want to abandon the tonal system, like so many composers of your generation...

--Oh yes, absolutely... --he thought for a while and recalled again his master--. Nadia didn't like contemporary music. I remember she told me once: "One of my students invited me last night to a premiere of one of his works [he was the then very young Pierre Boulez]. Fortunately in the second part they played Monteverdi!" Just this!--he laughed--. That's how she was: categorical. I was really frightened of her, because she knew absolutely everything. I was about to come back to Buenos Aires and I sent her one of the records I had made. She wrote me a very beautiful letter telling me that she had already heard my music on a radio program and that she was proud of me.

--And you, do you have students to feel proud of? Are there musicians who consider themselves to be your disciples, following your style?

--I say: Let everyone to do it for themselves. If they write like me, the worse for them. If they can follow this style of tango, this life-style that I do with music, then O.K. But my main style is to have studied. If I had not, I would not be doing what I do, what I've done. Because everybody thinks that to do a 'modern tango' is to make noise, is to make strange thoughts, and no, that's not true! You have to go a little deeper, and you can see that what I do is very elaborate. If I do a fugue in the manner of Bach, it will always be "tanguificated".

--These two elements in your music produce a strange phenomenon: it is heard on the radio, in popular programs, but also at the concert halls...

--Well, with Gershwin the same happens. Villa-Lobos [the Brazilian composer] is today so popular... Even to hear Bartok now is not a strange thing.

--Yes, but you don't hear Bartok on a popular radio program...

--But see what happens with Bartok. When in an American thriller there is a terror or violent scene, they put the 'Music for strings, piano and celesta' or Stravinsky's 'The Rite'... or Mahler. They are no longer 'contemporary', because when we talk about Bartok, we talk about the twenties...

--And how do you feel with the music written after those times?

--I don't feel a contemporary musician like me can feel Bartok, Ravel, Stravinsky or even Penderecki or Lutoslawski. But Xenakis, for instance, I don't feel him. I respect him, of course, like I do with Brown, Boulez... The other day we were rehearsing and I said: 'If we put that chord, we will sound like contemporary music', and Gerardo Gandini [the Uruguayan pianist and composer who worked with him then] protested: 'Hey, what do you have against contemporary music?'. 'Nothing,' I answered,'it's just that a strange thing would happen.' And contemporary music is a strange thing. It's like someone who is discovering a vaccine for AIDS or for cancer. It is there, but it isn't.

--You mean it is at an experimental stage?

--Yes, but the vaccine is not ready yet, can't be sold yet. For me the contemporary music is there, but it is not on the market yet.

--By the way, since you mention the market. There are a lot of contemporary composers that split music in two categories: the commercial and the non-commercial. Don't you worry about the fact that they usually put yours in the first category?

--No, absolutely not. I would be offended if they said that my music is light, trivial. My music is a popular chamber music that comes from the tango... well, there are a lot of ways to define it. If I were a composer of contemporary music, I couldn't use it for making the music I make. I can go to a poly-rhythm, to bitonal or tritonal chords, but I can't go beyond, because I must keep some swing, some sense of rhythm at the base. Then, in the 'upper', I adorn it with music.

--In the harmony is the 'audacity', then?

--In the harmony, in the rhythms, in the counter-tempi, in the beautiful counterpoint that two or three instruments can make... And you don't always have to make it tonal, you can go to atonality also. That's why Gandini and I can work together.

--Is that the reason for the problems that your music has had in Argentina, because of these 'strange' elements you introduced in tango?

--Yes, but the Presidents change, and they say nothing... Bishops change, soccer players, anything, but not the tango. The tango is to be kept like it is: old, boring, always the same, repeated.

--Was the change that you made with the tango meant to make it more European?

--No, I don't think so. Thanks to the fact that my music is very 'portena', from Buenos Aires, I can work over the world, because the public finds a different culture, a new culture.

--Don't you think that the critique that was applied to Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos would be applicable to you? I mean that he made his music more European to be liked by a European public?

--No, that is silly. I think Villa-Lobos is 100 percent Brazilian. His chamber music is excellent, and totally Brazilian. Because if Brazil has anything, it is popular music. We don't have anything like that in Argentina. They [Brazilians] make a more intuitive music, we are more 'cold', maybe.

--More rational...

--Yes... If you go to Brazil, and a 9-year-old boy takes a guitar he will never make a perfect major chord. No, a Brazilian boy makes a 9th chord, an 11th chord and with such a special swing... We don't have that. An Argentinian guy plays a zamba, a chacarera [both typical folklore songs] and comes with a G minor, D mayor 7, and good-bye. He doesn't go beyond that.

--How much of European and how much of 'Porteno' can be found in your tango? How much of Stravinsky or Bartok and how much of Gardel, to put it that way?

--A critic from the New York Times once said an absolute truth: all the 'upper thing' that Piazzolla makes is music; but beneath you can feel the tango.

(c) 1989 Gonzalo Saavedra - the author thanks David Taylor for his aid in translating this interview

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