Posted by: rbbadger | October 19, 2010

Astor Piazzolla

I’ve posted quite a lot about Latin American music in recent days, focusing especially on musical education in Venezuela. I am now going to take a look at a different country of Latin America, namely Argentina. Argentina has produced a number of world-class musicians and composers. Alberto Ginastera is perhaps the most prominent of Argentina’s composers. Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich, two concert pianists of great renown, were born there. Argentina is also famed for the tango.

One prominent Argentine tanguero was the late Astor Piazzolla Manetti. Born in 1921 in Mar del Plata as the grandson of Italian immigrants, Piazzolla grew up partially in the United States where he was exposed to jazz and Bach at an early age. His father, Vicente Nonino Piazzolla spotted a bandoneón in a pawn shop in New York. Piazzolla quickly mastered the instrument. Returning to Argentina in the 1950s, he became a student of Alberto Ginastera and won a prize for a symphony which enabled him to study in France under the tutelage Nadia Boulanger.

Boulanger was perhaps one of the greatest teachers of composition in history. She counted among her students Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Jean Françaix, Phillip Glass, Gian Carlo Menotti, and many other very prominent composers and musicians. Piazzolla was actually quite embarassed to reveal to Boulanger that he had made his living playing in nightclubs and that he was a composer of tangos. He tried to impress her with his more “serious” works, but with her guidance, he came to draw on tango, jazz, as well as the wider traditions of western classical music in creating what he called “nuevo tango”.

Piazzolla’s new tango was very controversial in Argentina. It took a while for it to become accepted. Piazzolla even found himself the object of death threats. He also composed film scores, an opera, and a number of works for orchestra. Many of them feature his own instrument, the bandoneón, a close relative of the concertina and a standard instrument in Argentine tango. His concerto for that instrument is one of my very favourite pieces of music. This piece, Adios Nonino, is one of his most well known and most popular. The soloist is Piazzolla himself.



  1. I first heard his music the day he died, on NPR, and have loved it ever since.

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