About this Recording
8.573896 - PIAZZOLLA, A.: Arrangements for Accordion and Piano (Time of Life) (Draugsvoll, Rasmussen)

Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992)
Time of Life


Astor Piazzolla’s energetic and melancholic music appeals to listeners of all ages throughout the world, and Time of Life is a tribute to his music and his importance as a composer. Using elements of jazz and classical music together with the traditional Latin American tango, he managed to create a whole new world of sounds and expressions in the Nuevo Tango genre.

Considering his background and life in Argentina, the US and Europe, it is perhaps natural that he tried to combine these impulses into a new style. His fundament as a composer was made during his younger years through studies with Alberto Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger.

Astor Piazzolla composed more than 400 works in a variety of different settings such as film music, ballet, orchestral music, chamber music and of course within the more traditional tango genre. His musical spectrum is so colorful, that it has been a challenge to decide what to perform. However, we have picked carefully from his wonderful garden of music, and Time of Life represents a bouquet of some of his very best pieces throughout his career.

Geir Draugsvoll and Mette Rasmussen

About Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla’s name has become synonymous with tango, the signature dance of his native country, Argentina. Like Johann Strauss, Jr. with regard to the waltz, Piazzolla transformed a popular idiom into sophisticated art music that reveals a complex, enormously gifted and prolific composer, performer and cultural icon whose influence continues to be felt across musical genres.

The tango is notoriously resistant to simple definitions. It contains within its hypnotic pulse an amalgam of diverse influences out of Europe and Africa, which were stirred together in the slums and brothels of Buenos Aires. Immigrant workers within that great port city in the late 19th century shaped the unmistakable rhythmic gestures, instrumentation and general attitude of the tango. It then crossed lines of class and milieu. But the tango has always been defined by paradox. It can be heard in the tension between a strict, tight rhythmic control and the sensuous freedom suggested by the melodic line. Melancholy is countered with menace, while genuine passion faces up to dissembling masquerade.

Tradition and innovation are another paradox inherent in the tango as Piazzolla came to experience it. The son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, he moved with his parents to New York City, where he had a streetwise upbringing in Little Italy. As a young boy, Piazzolla had little interest in the music from back home until, at the age of eight, his tango-loving father bought him a bandoneon, or button accordion, at a pawn shop. The young Piazzolla fed his growing interest in classical music while becoming a prodigy on the instrument. In 1936, while he was still a teenager, the family returned to Argentina, and before he was 20 Piazzolla was already playing in Buenos Aires’ top-notch tango orchestra, led by Aníbal Troilo. Piazzolla acquired practical experience from countless nights in smoky clubs, but he already had a hankering for innovation—which proved to be a problem during this golden age of the cabaret tango. Its aficionados tended to be ultra-traditionalists, resistant to any tinkering with the now familiar formulas of tango culture (an irony, considering how dramatically the tango had evolved in just a few decades).

Inevitably, Piazzolla stirred up resentment when he began experimenting with new tango hybrids. His approach was iconoclastic and gave birth to a revolutionary musical movement, dubbed Nuevo Tango, which borrowed elements from jazz and classical music (from the Baroque to contemporaries such as Stravinsky and Bartók). Nuevo Tango had greater complexity in terms of rhythmic patterns, harmonic vocabulary and contrapuntal textures. Piazzolla also began exploring longer forms suggested by classical music. Moreover, he bypassed the sacrosanct instrumentation of the standard tango orchestra and added electric sounds to the acoustic mix.

Piazzolla said that Buenos Aires taught him the secrets of the tango. He learned these ‘in a cold room in a boarding house, in the cabarets in the 1940s, in the cafes with balconies and orchestras, in the people of yesterday and today, in the sounds of the streets.’ But in addition he singled out his two great teachers from the classical world: Nadia Boulanger and Alberto Ginastera.

Thomas May

The Music

Astor Piazzolla was a master of beautiful melodies, and his Milongas are world famous and performed on practically all kinds of instruments. Maybe this is why he was extensively used as a film composer throughout his career. Tanti anni prima and Oblivion were both written for the film Henry IV, which was directed by Marco Bellocchio, and they turned out to be some of his most popular melodies. As is his famous Milonga del ángel, and his beloved song, Chiquilín de Bachín. This lyrical waltz tells the sad story about a boy begging at the restaurant Bachín as Piazzolla was dining with his friends. Michelangelo 70 is, however, a very energetic tango, with sharp rhythms and special effects.

The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires are four individual tangos which was originally written for piano solo, but was later made famous in the arrangement for his own Quintet. This beautiful suite is inspired by the impressions of the contrasting seasons in Buenos Aires.

One of Astor Piazzollas most classically orientated compositions, is without doubt his Hommage á Liége, originally composed for bandoneon, guitar and string orchestra. It is regularly performed in concert halls around the world in its original version, but has also been arranged for various combinations. From the improvisational and playful Introducción to the beautiful Milonga and the catchy Tango, this composition sums up most of the characteristics that Astor Piazzolla shared with us during his ‘Time of Life’.

Geir Draugsvoll and Mette Rasmussen

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