Astor Piazzolla: Praise song 5 to the courage of a life


Libertango, released March 2014, These times we are living



Astor Piazzolla, 1921- 1992, Argentinian


The bandoneón – a type of concertina brought to Argentina and Uruguay in the 1870s by German and Italian sailors –  was adapted and co-evolved with the tango.



The tango, was, until Astor Piazzolla – a melancholic, sensual, dramatic expression in music and dance of the pleasures and agony of life evolved in music and in dance by  emigres from Europe to South America:  to Uruguay and Argentina.


This was a popular music, composed and played – the musician always sitting down – within strict conventions. 


The dance expresses the emotional range of our lives translated into the complex relationship of the sexes to each other: longing and passion and  desire and interdependence; dominance and submission and balance; the longing for autonomy and individual freedom.  And mourning.


Astor Piazzolla infused into tango musical experimentations and instruments from the North and Hispanic American and European cultures to which he was exposed in the course of his life. 


It represents now a fusion of cultures, as heady and soulful and joyous as its original, adopted and adapted by those near and  far.



Born in Argentina to immigrant Italian parents, Piazzolla spent most of his childhood in New York where his parents migrated for work.  


His father surrounded him from babyhood with the sound of the tango.


He received his first bandoneón when he was 8 and began to play at 15 with traditional Argentinian tango bands. 


A farewell to his father who died in 1959 while Piazzolla was touring outside Argentina



At 17 he was in Buenos Aires with his own orchestra, composing.  Playing, always standing up.


For a time in his early 20s, Piazzolla, studying modernist Western masters, abandoned tango for classical composition.


From his return to Argentina in 1955 after studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (she encouraged him to evolve the music of the bandoneón which she understood as his passion)  and throughout his spells in New York, again Paris and Buenos Aires, Piazzolla did nothing but expand the range of the tango to take in influences of the musical forms he had absorbed in his travels. 


His influences were extensive:   the iconic singer and interpreter of tango, Carlos Gardel (1890-1935, Argentinian born France);  the ritual music of the synagogue in the lower East Side (NY) neighbourhood of his childhood;  the American baritone saxophonist; Gerry Mulligan, and other American jazz interpreters; and Western Classical composers, dead and alive.





Piazzolla’s music is called nuevo tango. It differs from tango in its inclusion of dissonance and improvisation and jazz elements.  He also used counterpoint. 


He included non-traditional instruments in his band: jazz drums; flute; electric guitar; saxophone.


He was much decried in his native country.  Called ‘the tango assassin‘, his life was threatened several times and he and his orchestra were attacked. His composition received no radio play.


A volcanic, passionate, single-minded, and demanding musician, assimilating musical forms from everything that he heard, Piazzolla persisted.  By the time of his death, he had composed several thousand compositions.


It was after his death – not so long after – that he achieved native acclaim and the devotion of many of his compatriots.


His reputation outside Argentina has done nothing but grow and his music is played on instruments other than the bandoneón.


The most pleasurably disconcerting images arose in my mind when I heard that the tango is now ‘almost’ the national dance of Finland.  Finland!



Astor Piazzolla from Argentina Gob Ar from



The header photo is modified from a Warner Classics cover for Libertango.



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