About this Recording
8.572611 - PIAZZOLLA, A.: Tangos for Violin, Brass Quintet and Percussion (Tacchi, Quintetto di Ottoni e Percussioni della Toscana)

Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992):
Tangos for Violin, Brass and Percussion Quintet


Astor Piazzolla, born at Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921, emigrated with his family to New York in 1924. As a child prodigy he learned to play the bandoneón, the square-built button accordion or concertina, popular in Argentinian tango orchestras. When in 1933 Carlos Gardel (1890–1935), the greatest of all tango singers, came to the United States, Piazzolla became Gardel’s translator and occasional accompanist. Gardel wanted the boy to tour with him as an assistant, but Piazzolla’s father refused to let him go. Tragically, Gardel was killed in a plane crash at Medellín airfield, Colombia on 4 June 1935, along with José Corpas Moreno, who had gone in Piazzolla’s place.

Piazzolla returned to Argentina in 1937, eventually joining Aníbal Troilo’s tango band in Buenos Aires, but he yearned to develop the tango into a more profoundly expressive form where the music was ‘for the ear as well as for the feet’, an attitude at first resented among the leading tango practitioners. On the recommendation of the great pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, Piazzolla began composition lessons with Alberto Ginastera. Following the completion of his Buenos Aires symphony in the early 1950s, Piazzolla was awarded a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris for four months. This eminent teacher encouraged him to develop artistically through the tango rather than devote himself to progressive European genres of the era.

On Piazzolla’s return to Buenos Aires he formed various ensembles, including the Octeto Buenos Aires and the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, which performed at his club, the Jamaica. In 1958 Piazzolla lived for a while in Manhatten where he assimilated more jazz elements into his music and broadened the scope of his work. Becoming slightly disillusioned as he had not yet broken through to the American public at large, Piazzolla and family went back to Argentina in 1960, but his fervent advocacy of a new order of tango continued with constant foreign tours. By the 1980s Piazzolla’s music was famous world-wide and, moreover, began to find acceptance in his native Argentina, where his progressive concepts had at first been vigorously resisted. Piazzolla died in Buenos Aires in 1992, and was described in The New York Times as ‘the modern master of tango music’. A British periodical commented that ‘Piazzolla’s tangos will live as long as music is appreciated for its ability to convey human emotions’.

Piazzolla’s prolific range of compositions, some 750 in all, incorporate diverse influences such as European traditions, jazz and popular elements, while retaining at their core an essential and unmistakable Argentinian identity. His output includes theatre music, film scores, concertos, chamber works, and songs, as well as many instrumental pieces available in a variety of solo arrangements for piano, bandoneón, and guitar. In this recording the compositions of Piazzolla are given new timbres within instrumental arrangements for brass and percussion (with occasional solo violin) of great colour and vivacity.

The history of the tango extends back to the nineteenth century having strong associations with both the Andalusian tango and the Cuban habanera. In particular the tango found a fertile home among the slums of Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century, where a vigorous tradition developed. Later, owing to the influence of tango masters such as Carlos Gardel, the dance became esteemed throughout the world, though sometimes considered risqué or even immoral by the authorities. Astor Piazzolla’s concept of the tango was to progress beyond the dance form towards a more developed medium conveying fine elements of pathos and passion, longing and sensibility.

In 1974 Piazzolla signed a contract with Aldo Pagani, an Italian agent, which enabled the composer to live in Europe for three years. Piazzolla settled in Rome and Pagani asked him for a number of short pieces lasting around three minutes each to be performed on the radio. The result was a series of instrumental items which included Violentango, Amelitango, and Tristango, where the ingenious names reveal some of the nature of the individual composition.

Violentango (Violent Tango) is a bold and innovative dance with much jazz-like syncopation. Its contrasting middle section is characterized by a poignant melody played here on the trumpet. Amelitango was written for Piazzolla’s beloved companion, the singer Amelita Baltar, celebrating their time together in Italy. When they separated after seven years, he erased the title on the original score and changed the name of the piece to ‘Music of Buenos Aires’. An attempt at reconciliation a few months later ended in failure. Tristango (Sad Tango) begins here with a plaintive trombone introduction, the mood throughout being bitter-sweet and nostalgic. These works were eventually recorded on Libertango, the title given to Piazzolla’s first Italian album.

Verano porteño (Summer in Buenos Aires) was one of four pieces originally written for Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz’s play Melenita de oro (The Golden Mop of Hair), staged in 1965. It became the first of his Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires) which like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons express the changing moods of the year. The suite was first recorded during a live show by Piazzolla’s Quintet in May, 1970. Otoño porteño (Autumn in Buenos Aires), Invierno porteño (Winter), and Primavera porteña (Spring) provide a vivid sequence, each movement possessing its own picturesque themes.

Undertango, with the alternative title of Mister Tango, was first recorded in Italy in mid-March 1975 with the French actor and singer, Guy Marchand (b.1937), who wrote the lyrics. Piazzolla conducted the orchestra and performed on bandoneon. It is one of the composer’s most superbly inventive tangos, with dramatic rhythmic and melodic flair. Novitango, the title proclaiming the composer’s ambition to transform the tango into new artistic vitality, also appeared on the album, Libertango, mentioned previously. In this arrangement a trumpet introduction sets the mood.

Bordel 1900 is taken from the suite Histoire du Tango for flute and guitar, which tells the history of tango in four pieces of music styled at thirty year intervals. Marked molto giocoso, the syncopated ragtime rhythms re-create the slightly seedy atmosphere of the turn of the century.

In his Angel Suite, composed in the early 1960s, its three movements originally written and frequently performed as individual pieces, Piazzolla explored the tango’s more introspective aspects and also incorporated a religious element. The middle movement of the triptych, La muerte del Ángel (The Death of the Angel) (1962), expresses the fury and passion of death as well as aspects of sad serenity.

Meditango, yet another piece written during the composer’s stay in Rome in 1974, was described by Piazzolla as ‘almost Vivaldian’. This arrangement, opening with a seductive solo violin, evokes the warmth and sensuousness of Italy in a heart-felt musical homage to the Mediterranean scene.

Piazzolla’s Ave Maria expresses the meditative side of his art, often revealed in the slow contrasting interludes of his tangos. The composer had been baptised and brought up as a believer, describing himself in 1968 as ‘a Catholic but not too much’. However, during his relationship with Laura Escalada, his second wife, he reverted to a more fervent Catholicism, making an annual pilgrimage to the national religious shrine at Luján, Argentina and becoming a devotee of the Virgin of the Miraculous Medallion.

Oblivion, one of Piazzolla’s most enticing and moving tangos, was part of a film score for Marco Bellocchio’s movie Enrico IV, first shown in 1984, a screen adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s drama. In this arrangement, the violin’s sweet melancholy is contrasted against the warm brass accompaniment to build up an atmosphere of disjointedness, melancholy, and pathos. The play tells the story of an actor who falls from his horse in a historical pageant while enacting the rôle of Henry IV. When he recovers consciousness, he apparently believes that he really is King Henry. For the next twenty years his nephew, Count de Nolli, arranges for him to live in a remote villa where actors perform the part of courtiers and simulate the medieval environment.

Libertango is a full-blooded burst of musical energy in which once more the violin is given a central rôle, though this time in a context of frenetic movement and vigour. Composed in 1974, Libertango was first recorded in March, 1975 by Guy Marchand with the lyrics Moi, je suis tango. It became an immediate hit in France and by July was reputed to be selling some 30,000 copies a week. In the early 1980s it was given a new impetus by the Jamaican singer, Grace Jones, with the words I’ll Never See His Face Again, which proved once more to be an international bestseller.

Graham Wade

Grateful acknowledgement in the compilation of these notes is due to Le Grand Tango: The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla by María Susana Azzi and Simon Collier, published by Oxford University Press, 2000.

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