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(1921-1992).  Piazzolla was instrumental in the renaissance of the tango after World War II. Born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, he moved to New York’s lower East Side at a young age. Oddly, it was in New York, where he lived from age three to fifteen that he developed nostalgia for a country he scarcely remembered. He taught himself to play the bandoneon and was swept up in the newest craze in America: the tango of Argentina. At the age of 13, he was invited to tour Latin America by tango superstar Carlos Gardel. Piazzolla never made the tour, in the course of which Gardel died in a plane crash. But he was soon back in Argentina, playing in the band of Anibal Troilo (who, when he died, left Piazzolla his bandoneon). While in Argentina, Piazzolla studied composition with Alberto Ginastera.

In 1946, he formed his own orchestra, but after only four years, he decided to concentrate on classical music, composing for chamber ensembles and symphonic groups. In 1954, he went to Paris on a scholarship from the French government and studied under Nadia Boulanger, mentor of Aaron Copland and Philip Glass. She recognized Piazzolla’s talent and led him back to the tango. He returned to New York, but stayed only two years before finding himself again in Buenos Aires. There he put together his famed “Quinteto” – bandoneon, violin, piano, guitar, and double bass. The Quintet traveled all over the world, bringing the influence of jazz and contemporary “classical” music to the traditional tango. As Piazzolla himself said, “It may not be tango, but it mirrors the spirit of our city and of today’s porteño”.

Resolved to update the tango, Piazzolla succeeded in shocking tango traditionalists by infusing his tangos with the harmonic language he had learned in Paris, -- Bartok, Schoenberg, and Messiaen--, with the rhythms influenced by Stravinsky and by jazz, in addition to melodic innovations that many saw as severing tango from its roots. An Argentine pianist tells a story that best illustrates the depth of passion Piazzolla’s “new tango” aroused. “My father was a bandoneon tuner. One night Piazzolla’s orchestra came on the radio. There were a bunch of musicians at my father’s shop at the time. All of a sudden there was silence. This was unlike anything we’d heard before. The minute it was over, an argument erupted. While that was going on, the phone rang and my father answered. He listened--barely saying a word, then hung up and said, “So-and-so (a famous tango band leader at that time) is going to the radio station to wait for Piazzolla so he can beat him up!” Piazzolla himself proudly told how he was threatened with a gun during a radio interview.
This biography was most recently edited by...
steven - 14 Jan 2010
steven - 14 Jan 2010
paso - 10 Oct 2009
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