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Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was born on March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina. In 1925, the family relocates to New York until 1936 with a brief return to Mar del Plata in 1930. In 1929, when Astor is 8 years old, his father gives him his first bandoneon. Astor studies the bandoneon for one year with Andrés DÁquila and he makes his first record, Marionette Spagnol. In 1933 he studies with the Hungarian pianist Bela Wilda, of whom Astor would later say “With him I learned to love Bach”. Shortly thereafter, he meets Carlos Gardel with whom he takes part in the movie “El Dia Que me Quieras”. This feature film plays a monumental role in the history of Tango. <BR><P> In 1936, he returns to Argentina for good, where Astor begins to play in some tango orchestras. It is here that he makes his second grand discovery (after Bach with Bela Wilda), when he listens to Elvino Vardaro’s sextet on the radio. Elvino would later become Astor’s violinist. He moves to Buenos Aires in 1938, where he plays in  second rate tango orchestras until 1939, when he realizes his dream of playing bandoneon within one of the greatest tango orchestras of that time; the Anibal Troilo orchestra. <BR><P>Astor feels the need to advance musically and begins his musical studies with Alberto Ginastera in 1941, and later in 1943, he  studies piano with Raúl Spivak. In 1942 he marries to Dedé Wolff and from this marriage he has two children.

In 1943, he begins his “classical” works with the “Suite para Cuerdas y Arpas” and in 1944 he leaves Troilo’s orchestra to lead the orchestra which accompanies singer Francisco Fiorentino, he plays with Firoentino until 1946, when he forms his first orchestra, which is later dissolved in 1949. With this orchestra, with a similar formation to the other orchestras of the day, he begins to develop his creative impulses with his works and orchestrations with a big dynamic and harmonic content. In 1946 he composes, “El Desbande”, considered by Piazzolla as his first formal tango, and shortly thereafter he begins to compose musical scores for movies.


In 1949 he feels the need to search for something else. He continues to study Bartók and Stravinsky, he studies orchestra direction with Herman Scherchen, he listens to lots of Jazz. His search for a style becomes obsessive, he longs for something that has nothing to do with tango. Everything was a mess and Astor decides to drop the bandoneon to dedicate himself to write and pursue his musical studies. He is 28 years old.

Between 1950 and 1954 he composes a series of works, clearly different from the conception of tango at the time. In 1953 he presents the work “Buenos Aires” (three symphonic pieces) – composed in 1951 – for the Fabien Sevitzky competition. Piazzolla wins the first prize and the work is performed at the Law School in Buenos Aires by the symphonic orchestra of “Radio del Estado” with the addition of two bandoneons and under the direction of Sevitzky himself. It is a full-blown scandal, at the end of the concert there is a generalized fist-fight due to the strong reaction of some members of the audience that consider it an indignity to include bandoneon in the “cult” setting of a symphonic orchestra.

One of the prizes he won at the contest was a scholarship to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, considered the best educator in the world of music at the time. At first, Piazzolla tries to hide his tanguero past, thinking that his destiny is in classical music. This situation is quickly remedied when he opens his heart to Boulanger and he plays his tango “Triunfal” for her. From then on he receives a historic recommendation: “Astor, your classical pieces are well written, but the true Piazzolla is here, never leave it behind”. After this episode, Piazzolla returns to tango and to his instrument, the bandoneon. What was once a choice between the sophisticated music or tango, now would be sophisticated music and tango, but in the most efficient way: to work the structure of sophisticated music with the passion of the tango. When Piazzolla returns to Argentina, he continues with the strings orchestra and he also forms a group, the Octeto Buenos Aires, which is the beginning of the contemporary tango age. He continues his personal revolution and continues to generate hatred among the orthodox tangueros, becoming the target of very mean  criticism. He does not sway and keeps going on the path which he more than ever deems his own, but the media and record labels make it an uphill battle. In 1958 he disbands the octet and the strings orchestra and he goes back to New York City to work as an arranger.

Between 1958 and 1960 he works in the US, where he experiments with Jazz-Tango with negative results and where, because of the death of his father in October 1959, he writes while in New York his famous, “Adiós Nonino”. Upon his return to Argentina, he creates the first of many famous quintets, playing New Tango (bandoneon, violin, bass, piano, and electric guitar). The quintet was Piazzolla’s most beloved formation; the musical synthesis that best expressed his ideas. In 1963 he premieres under the direction of Paul Klecky: “Tres Tangos Sinfonicos” and in 1965 he makes two of his most important records: Piazzolla at the Philarmonic Hall New York, which has the works he played at a concert at the hall with the quintet in May 1965; and “El Tango”, of historical  value, a product of his friendship with Jorge Luis Borges.

In 1968 he begins an extensive collaboration with the poet Horacio Ferrer. In 1969, with Horacio Ferrer, he composes “Balada para un loco”. This work turned out to be his first popular hit. In 1970 he returns to Paris where, with Ferrer, he composes the oratorio “El Pueblo Joven. That same year he forms the Conjunto 9, acting in Buenos Aires and in Italy where they tape many shows for RAI. This group was like a dream for Piazzolla: the picture-perfect chamber music formation he had always wanted and for which he composed his most elaborate music, but the economic impossibility of keeping the group together led to its dissolution. In 1973, after a period of great productivity as a composer, he suffers a heart attack which forces him to reduce his artistic activities. That same year he moves to Italy and begins a series of recordings which span 5 years, the most famous being “Libertango”, a work that is widely accepted in the European Community.

During these years he forms the “Conjunto Electronico: an octet. This group had nothing to do with the previous ones, and many considered this change as an approach to jazz-rock: but according to Piazzolla, “That was my music, it had more to do with tango than with rock” . In 1974 he separates from Amelita Baltar. That same year he records with the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan a great record: Summit, with an Italian orchestra. The music that Piazzolla composes for this disc is characterized by the exquisite melody of the bandoneon and the saxophone on top of a rhythmic base. Aníbal Troilo dies in 1975 and Piazzolla composes the “Suite Troileana” in his memory.

In 1976 he meets who would be his last wife, Laura Escalada. In December of the same year he plays an extraordinary concert at the Gran Rex theater in Buenos Aires, where he presents his work, “500 motivaciones”, written especially for the Conjunto Electronico.  This is the last time he has an “electric” group. In 1978, the second incarnation of the quintet is born, the one that would make Piazzolla world renowned. He also restarts his dedication to chamber music and symphonic works.