Ástor Piazzolla

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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. A virtuoso bandoneónist, he regularly performed his own compositions with different ensembles.

Contents

Biography

Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921 to Italian parents, Vicente Nonino Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti. His grandfather, a sailor and fisherman named Pantaleone Piazzolla, had immigrated 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 not old enough to go along. While he did play a young paper boy in Gardel’s movie El día que me quieras [1], this early disappointment of being kept from the tour proved to be 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.

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