Astor Piazzolla

"Music is the most direct art, it enters the ear and goes to the heart."

Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on March 11, 1921. He was the son of Vicente Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti, both born in Mar del Plata, and children of Italian parents.

In 1924 the family moved to New York, United States, where Astor lived for much of his childhood, and learned his third language, English, since he knew how to speak Spanish and Italian. Marginalized from sports, as a result of a malformation in one of his legs, in 1927, feeling homesick for his native Argentina, Astor's father bought him a used bandoneon in a pawn shop for $18. He then began taking classes with Andrés D'Aquila; He made a recording on acetate when he was only ten years old, without commercial purposes. In 1933, he studied music with the Hungarian pianist Bela Wilda, who introduced him to the universe of Bach's classical music.

In December 1933, Carlos Gardel traveled to New York to sign a contract for four films. Astor's father, who was a great admirer of the “Zorzal criollo,” carved the figure of a gaucho in wood and entrusted the boy with the mission of taking it as a gift. Astor managed to enter the hotel where Gardel was staying and deliver it to him. From there he became a guide for Gardel to get to know the city and they began a great friendship.

Then Gardel proposed to Astor to play a little canillita in the film “El día que me Quiero”, in 1935. After filming, the Argentines organized a party and Gardel asked Piazzolla to accompany him in the interpretation of “Arrabal bitter”. It was his first live performance and would mark his destiny. Gardel then invited Piazzolla to join him on his tour of America, but his father decided that he was still too young, for this reason, his place was taken by the Argentine boxer José Corpas Moreno. This early disappointment turned out to be great luck, as it was on this tour that Gardel and his entire band lost their lives in the plane crash in Medellín, Colombia. In 1978, in an imaginary letter to Gardel, Piazzolla would joke about this fact: “…It was the spring of '35 and I was turning 14 years old. The old people didn't give me permission and neither did the union. Charlie, I'm saved! Instead of playing the bandoneon I would be playing the harp."

In 1936, his family returned to Mar del Plata, and Astor participated in several groups and learned about the work of Elvino Vardaro's sextet, which influenced him definitively. Determined to explore tango, he moved to Buenos Aires at the age of seventeen and, shortly thereafter, achieved his goal: joining Aníbal Troilo's orchestra, first as a bandoneon player and occasional pianist, and later, becoming the arranger of the orchestra. orchestra. He continued his studies in academic music with Alberto Ginastera and, in piano, with Raúl Spivak. His arrangements took him further and further away from classical tango.

Around 1944, he left the Troilo Orchestra to direct the orchestra that accompanied the singer Francisco Fiorentino until 1946, when he composed “El desbande”, considered by himself his first tango with a different formal structure. He formed his own orchestra, which he disbanded in 1949, and began writing music for films. He moved away from the bandoneon and approached jazz: the search for a different style in everything led him to deepen his musical studies.

Between 1950 and 1954, he composed works that were clearly different from the conception of traditional tango up to that time, such as “Para Lucse”, “Tanguango”, “Preparense”, “Contrabajeando”, “Triunfal”, and “Lo que vende”, and There he began to define his style. Also at this time, he wrote pieces of cultured music, such as “Rapsodia porteña” (1952) and “Buenos Aires, three symphonic movements” (1953). For the latter, he won the Fabien Sevitzky Prize, and the French Government gave him a scholarship to study in Paris with the famous musical pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who convinced him to persist on the path of tango: “Astor, your erudite works are well written, but here is the real Piazzolla, never abandon him,” he told him. The scholarship lasted almost a year and, during that time, he formed a string orchestra with Paris Opera musicians Martial Solal and Lalo Schifrin. With Schirfrin, he recorded “Two Argentinians in Paris” in 1955.

When he returned to Argentina, he summoned top musicians and formed the “Octeto Buenos Aires”. It was made up of Enrique Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis, on violins; Roberto Pansera, on bandoneon; José Bragato, on cello; Aldo Nicolini, on bass; Horacio Malvicino, on electric guitar, and Atilio Stampone, on piano. Several versions of the Octet had a decisive influence on the future evolution of tango, due to its rhythmic and contrapuntal innovations.​

When his father died, in 1959, he composed one of his most beautiful works in tribute: “Adiós Nonino”.


In 1960, after a stay in the United States, where his style was presented as jazz-tango, Piazzola formed a quintet in Buenos Aires that included musicians such as Elvio Bardaro, Dante Amicarelli, Antonio Agri, Horacio Malvicino, Oscar López Ruiz, Kicho Díaz, Osvaldo Manzi and Cacho Tirao.


In that decade Piazzola lived on the top floor of the building at Av. Entre Ríos 505, in the Congreso neighborhood, where there is a plaque that commemorates him.


In 1968, he composed, with the poet Horacio Ferrer, the opera “María de Buenos Aires”, for eleven instruments, female and male recitalist and singers. The work premiered at the Sala Planeta, located at that time in Suipacha and Paraguay in the Retiro neighborhood. In 1969, he began to write, also with Ferrer, simpler songs for the voice of Amelita Baltar, his partner at that time. They composed “Balada para un loco”, which became a great popular success, followed by others such as “Chiquilín de Bachin”.

In 1972, after a heart attack, he decided to settle in Italy for five years. He formed the Electronic Ensemble, recorded “Libertango” and experienced his approach to jazz-rock. In 1974, he recorded “Summit” with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. And a year later, after the death of Aníbal Troilo, he composed the album “Suite Troileana”.


In 1976, he appeared at the Gran Rex Theater with his work “500 Motivations”. And in 1977, with a series of concerts at the Olympia in Paris. In 1978, he returned with his Quintet and consolidated his international fame with tours of Europe, South America, the United States and Japan.


In 1983, at the Teatro Colón, he offered a program entirely composed by him.


In 1984, he performed with the singer Milva and produced the album “Live at the Bouffes du Nord”; In Vienna, he recorded “Live in Wien” with the Quintet.


In 1985, he was named Illustrious Citizen of Buenos Aires; and he premiered, in Belgium, at the Fifth International Guitar Festival, the Concerto for Bandoneon and Guitar: Homage to Liege, conducted by Leo Brouwer.


In 1986, he received the César Prize in Paris for the soundtrack of the film “El exilio de Gardel”; and he recorded live, together with Gary Burton, “Suite for Vibraphone and New Tango Quintet”, at the Montreux jazz festival (Switzerland).


In 1987, he performed with a massive recital in Central Park (New York). In 1988, he recorded his last album with the La Camorra Quintet. In 1989, he formed “Sexteto Nuevo Tango”, with which he performed at the Teatro Ópera, toured and performed as a soloist until its dissolution at the end of that year.


On August 4, 1990, in Paris, he suffered a cerebral thrombosis that left him prostrate. He died on July 4, 1992, in Buenos Aires.


Piazzola left a great legacy in Argentine and international music. In 1992, American music critic Stephen Holden described Piazzolla as “the world's most important composer of tango music.”


In 1995 the Konex Foundation awarded him the Konex Honor Award for his incalculable contribution to music in Argentina.


In 2016, a sculpture in honor of Astor Piazzolla was inaugurated on Paseo del Tango, which is located between Carlos Gardel and Jean Jaures streets, in the Balvanera neighborhood. The work of the renowned composer, made by the artist Carlos Benavidez, shares the walk with those of Aníbal Troilo, Roberto Goyeneche, Tita Merello and Alberto Castillo.