Astor Piazzolla looks at us from a star

Astor Piazzolla looks at us from a star
Astor Piazzolla looks at us from a star

32 years have passed since the death of Astor Piazzolla (Foo: Astor Piazzolla Foundation Press)

A standard-bearer for the synthesis between classical music and music originating in other musical forms, with the magic of a very moving feeling, Piazzolla is one of the most outstanding creators of the 20th centuryHis scores have an unmistakable imprint. They contain that porteño nostalgia that first brought tango to the fore. His compositions are not easy to interpret in general, but of course, the richness of them comes precisely from having achieved a language of syncopations, semitones, rhythmic changes within the same piece, chords and tempos that exceed 2 x 4 and 4 x 4. In short, something different and not written for improvisation. But he not only excelled as a composer, but also as an instrumentalist and director.

Hay people who left their mark on Piazzolla And I think it is interesting to mention them. By the way, they are not the only ones.

“Nonino” was a man who wanted a better future for his son. He first traveled alone in 1925 to New York in search of new horizons, and then his wife and Astor came along. He made contact with a Sicilian family, that of Vicenzo Baudo, very good people who helped him and lent him a room in their house. He then learned the trade of hairdresser and began to work in the barbershop of a certain Nicola Scabutiello. His mother made synthetic fur coats. Although his upbringing, apart from school, was on the streets of NY because his parents did not have much time available, the truth is that the example of effort for the future was something that marked him forever. In addition, the chance to open doors in the northern country, learn the language, contact him with Carlos Gardel as he did by giving him a craft to give as a present when he found out about his stay in the same city, learning English as well as the Italian that his grandfather brought, instilling in him the love for tango that “Nonino” used to listen to every night (he left some tangos written down with basic musical notation, Astor said).

He also remembers his good humor, kindness and rigidity for some things. The fact that give him a bandoneonperseverance in the plan to improve the situation, given that they first spent five years in New York, but after returning to Mar del Plata they went back and settled in a modest apartment on 9th Street.

They supported him when he, already at the age of 16, wanted to leave Mar del Plata and come to Buenos Aires. They gave him some money every month. Without a doubt, all this was reflected in his magnum opus. Goodbye Noninocomposed by Piazzolla upon learning of the death of Don Vicente and made on the basis of the Grandpa which he had written five years earlier in Paris.

With the Troilo’s orchestraPiazzolla made his debut on the stages of Buenos Aires. He frequented the Café Germinal, a meeting place for “Pichuco” and others. In addition, he knew Troilo’s repertoire by heart from the many nights he went to listen to him and played with his fingers on the table imagining rhythms and buttons on the bandoneon, which he then practiced. One Friday the bandoneon player of the orchestra, “Toto” Rodríguez, fell ill and the violinist Baralis had already told him about Astor. So, “Pichuco”, quickly, to fill the void, went to Piazzolla, who was hanging around because he knew about the matter, and asked him: “So you’re the one who knows all my repertoire?” He tested him and at the end said: “Well, kid, get yourself a blue suit and you debut tonight.”

From then on, a new path was opened. He began to earn some money and to grow in the technique of the bandoneon, given that Troilo’s was the most exalted tango orchestra. As he studied in parallel with Ginastera (whom we will talk about later), his musical and compositional knowledge grew with the days. In this way, and At the request of “Pichuco, he was making arrangements for the orchestraThe constant restlessness of our author and the knowledge he was acquiring with the aforementioned teacher made the geometry of the tango fit him like a suit from another era and he could not modify it there, since it generated criticism, resentment and “Pichuco’s” eraser was getting bigger and bigger.

He stopped playing in the orchestra, but that did not tarnish the friendship that they cultivated, to the point that Zita, Troilo’s widow, gave Astor her husband’s bandoneon.

On July 3, 1940, the pianist arrived in Argentina Arthur Rubinsteinone of the most outstanding pianists of the first half of the twentieth century. When Piazzolla heard about this, he went to the Palacio Álzaga Unzué, on Arroyo Street, where the musician had been staying for two months. The pianist himself opened the door and received his guest. Astor brought him a sketch of a piano concerto. The pianist played a part and asked the young man if he wanted to study seriously. After the affirmative answer, Rubinstein called Juan José Castro, the Argentine composer and conductor, telling him that he would be his tutor. But finally Castro referred him to Alberto Ginasterawho lived in Barracas, with whom he took classes between 1939 and 1945.

These six years were extremely important in Piazzolla’s musical training for two reasons: first, because he studied piano and composition; and second, because Ginastera was a teacher of substance. Among other things, he encouraged him to attend the rehearsals of symphony orchestras. This outstanding teacher and composer was the son of a Catalan father and a mother from Lombardy (Italy). He composed his first work before graduating from the Alberto Williams Conservatory, at the age of 22: the Suite from the Panambi balletwhich would premiere at the Teatro Colón a few years later.

In 1945, for his skill and prestige as a composer, Ginastera received a Guggenheim scholarship. He lived in the United States for two years, studying under none other than Aaron Copland. He spent his last ten years in Switzerland and was buried in the Cementerio de los Reyes. Borges lies near him.

Piazzolla put most of his energy into classical music, into the secrets that these compositions contain. Thus, for example, Astor is credited with the creation of Suite for Oboe and Strings -Opus 9- of 1949. Also the Rhapsody of Buenos Aires for symphony orchestra -Opus 8-from 1947, which won second prize in the 1948 competition, sponsored by the Empire Tractor Company in the USA. Another, the Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra -Opus 19-selected by critics of Buenos Aires as the best work of 1953.

Maria Susana Azzi and Simon Collier, in Astor Piazzolla, his life and his music (Ateneo publishing house), they note that the sagacity and diligence of Ginastera’s disciple can already be seen in these works.

After winning the first prize in the Fabien Sevitzky competition, he received a scholarship from the French government for a year. There, in the City of Light, is where a turning point in the author’s life occurs, when he takes classes with the legendary Nadia Boulangerthe most outstanding pedagogue of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. Many of her disciples are in the Hall of Fame. We can say that she is in some ways the mother of modern sound. Mentora legendaria de compositores como Aaron Copland, Leonard Berstein, Virgil Thomson, Jean Francaix, Elliott Carter, Daniel Barenboim, Lennox Berkeleytaught classes and was friend of none other than Igor StravinskyThe latter did not publish any work if it was not first reviewed by teacher Nadia.

At the time, Stravinsky was a musically controversial figure. However, she recognized his valuable talent. Boulanger, among other virtues, had that of discovering the inner voice of his disciples and students. Thus, in the apartment on the 4th floor of the rue Ballu, surrounded by photographs of famous musicians, painters and outstanding artists, with the indifference of the scheming cat “Tascha”, who was allowed to scratch armchairs and curtains, and talking to her in the English he had learned as a child, he found the one he would later call his “second mother” and write to her years later on a postcard. “Nadia, I will never forget you”.

Nadia, 70 years old, after some harmony and composition classes and having reviewed parts of the award-winning concert, asked him directly what music he played in Argentina and Astor answered “tango”, to which she replied “I love that music, what do you play it on?” “On the bandoneon”, said Astor timidly (because she had brought it to Paris, in a certain reverential fear). Then, Nadia asked him to play one of his tangos and he chose “Triunfal”.

After a few bars, he placed his hand on Astor’s to interrupt him and said: “Never give up on this. This is your music, this is Piazzolla”. From then on, and in some early cases with the intermediation of the teacher and in Paris, he quickly signed a contract with three French record companies for which he composed and performed tangos, which already highlighted his autonomy of flight in composition. What’s more, he called one of the tangos Picassoin tribute to the great artist of The ladies of Avignon and the Guernicaamong thousands of his works. This great teacher discovered and was decisive in Astor’s compositional path when the latter was debating between classical music and tango.

His heroes in music were Bela Bartók, Igor Stravinskyand he certainly frequented with admiration Bach y DebbusyBut this was not his only support: López Ruiz remembers that on the trips they made together by car in the sixties, he would tune the radio to the classical music station and immediately recognize what they were playing at that moment. He also liked Gershwin and Villa-Lobos. In their musical sensitivity and related to jazz, the podium was occupied by figures such as Stan Getz, Evans y G. Mulliganand groups like the Jazz Quartet.

With this academic background nourishing his genius and combined with his devotion to Buenos Aires, Piazzolla became a generating plant that overflowed classical tango. He had much more to tell us, and that is why he introduced the scalpel into our beloved traditional tango (2/4 or 4/8), but without killing it, because both will never die.

Perhaps the most important thing that Astor took from jazz was the idea of ​​swing.. In fact, Piazzolla created his own sense of swing: “A four-bar swing based on the rhythmic unit established in the piano bass by the left hand, which was counterbalanced by various out-of-time rhythmic figures – syncopated -, many of which were created by him,” described Pedro Aslan.

Another characteristic of much of Piazzolla’s music is its rhythmic structure. Its accents: 3-3-2 (that is, the emphasis on the first, fourth and seventh notes of the octets in a 4/4 time signature).

That same rhythm had already been incorporated by that great Piazzolla, the aforementioned Béla Bartók, leaving an indelible mark on him. However, whatever the origin of the 3-3-2 rhythm, the truth is that he made it his own in a special way. His rhythmic sensitivity was extraordinary. Eagle Martin remembers him as a “walking encyclopedia” of rhythms.

But the notable percussion effects – for example, the imitation of the siren of an ambulance or a police car, symbol of the modern city; the effects with the violin, such as the cicada; the sound of its rings against the instrument; in short, the rhythmic daring – would not have gained prominence if they were not accompanied by an emotional, very Italian melodic line. To do this, he made use of melodic minor keys (Puccini).

Many of Piazzolla’s melodies reach the soul. Let us just remember the song he composed on the occasion of his father’s death in 1959, his famous Goodbye Noninowhich travelled around the world, becoming a kind of hymn of identification. The adagio part expresses an infinite sadness, then continues with a melancholy that, even after the song ended abruptly, as he experienced the disappearance of Don Vicente, continues to move us.

Piazzolla said goodbye on July 4, 1992. Since then, he has been looking down on us from a star.

Here we close our tribute, although it will not end.

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