The Argentine bandoneon player and composer Astor Pantaleón Piazzolla was born on March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata and died on July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires. March 2021 will mark his 100th birthday.
From 1929 Piazzolla learned to play piano and bandoneon. Despite an encounter with the tango legend Carlos Gardel he was captivated above all by jazz and the music of J.S. Bach. Only ten years later he did perfect his bandoneon playing and joined an orchestra, for which he also made arrangements. The pianist Artur Rubinstein encouraged him to pursue further music studies. From 1940 he took composition lessons and in 1946 founded his first “Orquesta Tipica” with which he also made a few recordings. In the early 1950s Piazzolla wrote some orchestral and chamber music works, for which he won national critics’ awards in 1953 and 1954. He distanced himself from his early tangos of the 1940s, for he wished to be taken seriously as a composer, and he considered that impossible at the time as the tango was held in ill repute by the country’s upper class. The 1954 critics’ prize enabled him to travel to Europe. He went to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger and conducting with Hermann Scherchen. Boulanger recognized in Piazzolla’s works the influences of Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith, but missed an individual style. She encouraged him to return to the tango. In 1955 Piazzolla returned to Argentina, founded the “Octeto Buenos Aires”, and with this ensemble made the transition from the traditional “Tango Argentino” to the “Tango Nuevo”. Initially his works were met with criticism and disapproval, but despite all the hostility he composed and performed with enormous productivity. Over the years Piazzolla composed more than 300 tangos, and music for some 50 films. Many of his tangos are not ‘danceable’ in the traditional sense, but first and foremost music for listening. He enlarged the harmony of the tango with stylistic elements of jazz, the baroque suite, opera and the popular music of the 1970s.
The video shows Astor Piazzolla and his band performing “Libertango” (composed in 1974). The recording was made during a European tour on May 18, 1977 on a Swiss television program.