Astor Piazzolla Estaciones porteñas (sheet music)

Astor Piazzolla – Estaciones porteñas (with sheet music)

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Under the title “ Four seasons of Buenos Aires ”, four small pieces are included that describe the city of Buenos Aires in each of the seasons of the year, in a similar way to what Vivaldi did in his violin concertos entitled “Four seasons”. Piazzolla composed this series of pieces at different times, being independent works that can be performed separately.

Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine bandoneon player and composer, who is currently considered one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

Piazzolla’s childhood was spent in New Jersey, where his parents moved two years after Astor was born, and it is there that Piazzolla had his first contact with tango, and none other than Carlos Gardel.

The music that the young Piazzolla was listening to at that time was more related to jazz, more fashionable than tango, but a chance meeting with Carlos Gardel, who at that time was in the United States working on the film “The day I you want”, made Astor Piazzola approach that musical genre. Later he played and made orchestral arrangements for the bandoneonist, composer and conductor Aníbal Troilo.

The four seasons were written for an instrumental quintet made up of bandoneon, violin, piano, electric guitar and double bass, giving the ensemble a sound that the most purists of the time did not quite like.

When Piazzolla began to innovate in tango in terms of rhythm, timbre and harmony, he was highly criticized by the more orthodox “Guardia Vieja” tangueros in terms of rhythm, melody and orchestration.

Later on this sound would be claimed by intellectuals and rock musicians, and to the criticisms of the most purists, Piazzolla responded with a new definition, clarifying that he made “contemporary music from Buenos Aires”, deliberately eliminating the word “tango”. Despite this, record labels did not dare to publish his music, considering Piazzolla a disrespectful snob who composed hybrid music, with outbursts of dissonant harmony.

Piazzolla is currently considered the great innovator of Argentine music, his style is his own and unmistakable, and in his compositions we hear a mixture of tango sounds and rhythms with a fresher and more innovative language, elaborated with technical, harmonic and contrapuntal styles that the composer learned in Europe and knew how to adapt to his particular musical language.

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Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on March 11, 1921. When he was four years old, he moved to New York, along with his father Vicente Piazzolla and his mother Asunta Manetti. There they settled in lower Manhattan, specifically in ‘Little Italy’, the Italian neighborhood.

His childhood in New York was influenced by his father’s taste in music. ‘Nonino’, as they called him at home, loved tango and enjoyed artists like Carlos Gardel and Julio de Caro. So he gave a bandoneon to his son Astor. But tango was not taught in New York, so the first studies were classical music, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin.

Nonino’s fervor for Gardel’s music led him and his son Astor to meet him in New York. The chemistry between the adolescent Astor and the veteran Gardel brought them together on the set of the film ‘The day you love me’ in 1934.

By 1935, two weeks before Gardel’s death in the tragic plane crash in Medellín, the Argentine musician had invited Astor Piazzolla to accompany him on tour. But his parents refused because he was only 14 years old. Joking, years later, Piazzolla said that if he had made the trip, he would not have played the bandoneon, but rather the harp.

The break with dance in Piazzolla’s tango proposal

At the age of 16, Piazzolla returned to his hometown of Mar del Plata and some time later settled in Buenos Aires. His entry into the ranks of tango was as a bandoneon player and arranger in the Aníbal Troilo orchestra, one of his first mentors.

Piazzolla began to introduce symphonic elements to Troilo’s tango, which did not go down well. So he left that orchestra to found his own in 1946.

Piazzolla himself had said it: “In Argentina everything can be changed, except tango”. Despite affirming it, Piazzolla modeled tango after him. For many, his orchestra was ahead of its time, it was music from the future.

Traditionally, the Argentine tango is a popular music that is danced. But Piazzolla did not like dancing. He said that tango was for listening to it. And he continued to refine his concept by taking classes with maestro Alberto Ginastera and then, in the 1950s, with the French composer Nadia Boulanger.

On a trip to France he discovered to his astonishment that the jazz and swing musicians enjoyed their improvisations on stage, while the solemnity and monotony of the tango musicians reminded him of funerals.

With that premise in mind, Piazzolla composed ‘El Octeto de Buenos Aires’ in 1956, a contemporary tango with a level of creativity that showed his musical genius. This was music to listen to, with two violins, a cello, a double bass, a bass, an electric guitar, a piano, and of course his bandoneon. The break between his tango and dance was evident.

In 1958 he returned to New York for two years where he was influenced by jazz, improvisational solos and the music of Charlie Parker whom he admired. This new step in the Big Apple inspired him to form his famous quintet. A group of musicians in which each member was capable of interpreting a solo of his instrument. It was again a concept of chamber music, in which the dance did not enter.

A year later, in 1959, his father Vicente died, and that was the moment when Piazzolla composed a hymn to his memory, to the love he professed for him, “Adiós Nonino”. It was one of the most representative pieces of Piazzolla’s vast musical career.

The passage through popular tango and electronic tango

By the end of the 1960s, Piazzolla sought to get closer to popular music, less disruptive, less elite, and in 1966 managed to work on the album ‘La Historia del Tango’.

In 1967, together with the poet Horacio Ferrer, he composed the tango opera ‘María de Buenos Aires’, premiered and starring in 1968 by Amelita Baltar and Héctor de Rosas.

Two years later, in 1969, Piazzolla composed ‘La balada por un loco’, a musical theme that brought him closer to the ordinary Argentine, to that of the cantinas, to that of the neighborhoods.

But Piazzolla had prepared a change in his way of approaching tango. So by the 1970s, he settled in Italy where he dabbled in electronic sounds. In 1973 he recorded one of his most famous songs, ‘Libertango’, a progressive, avant-garde music. A tango that flirted with jazz and rock. A music of the future. He was so passionate about this change that he formed his electronic octet, but it was quickly disbanded due to criticism that his music was deafening.

The worldwide consecration of the Argentine composer

Back in Argentina, Piazzolla formed a second quintet in 1978, with a very intense work of presentations and concerts. It was about Piazzolla’s maturity, a time of consecration in which the entire world admired his work.

He collaborated with highly renowned international artists such as vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, Italian singer Milva, among others. He even came to compose soundtracks for films like ‘El exilio de Gardel’, for which he received the César Award, in 1986, the so-called French Oscar.

Applauded by his generation and seen as a virtuoso, in 1979 Piazzolla explored symphonic music, with works such as ‘Concierto Para Bandoneón y Orquesta’. But many experts criticized that this erudite music was cultured and was not their thing.

So Piazzolla returned to tango in the 1980s, with a second quintet, and in 1988 he composed ‘La Camorra’, his last ensemble which he said was “the greatest thing he had ever done”.

Afflicted by his health, Piazzolla suffered a cardiac arrest and later a cerebrovascular accident that slowed him down until his death on July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires.

On March 11, 2021 he would be turning one hundred years old. This musician ahead of his time once said that he had an illusion, “that his work would be heard in 2020, and in 3000 too.”

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