Astor Piazzolla is one of the most widely performed composers of the late 20th century. His reinvention of the classic Argentine tango caused him to be branded an artistic heretic by tango traditionalists and hailed as a genius by musicians and listeners worldwide. Piazzolla's sensual, jazzy, radical New Tango turned traditional tango on its head, bringing it out from the sanitary, upper-class dance halls and onto the streets of Buenos Aires.
While his tango works have been recorded and studied thoroughly, much less is known about his mastery of other compositional styles. Thanks to The Unknown Piazzolla, the new Chesky Records release featuring world-premiere recordings, Piazzolla fans can now discover his chamber music.
Born in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1921, Piazzolla and his family moved to New York City's Greenwich Village when he was 4. At the age of 8, Piazzolla's father presented him with a bandoleon he had a purchased at a pawnshop. The bandoleon, a small accordion with buttons in place of keys, was to become Piazzolla's signature instrument.
While studying with Hungarian pianist Bela Wilda, Piazzolla was exposed to the music of great composers such as Bach and Bartok. As he adapted their music for the bandoleon, he began to focus his attention on classical composition.
At the age of 17, Piazzolla moved with his family back to Argentina. Four years later, he began studying with renowned Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. In 1940, Piazzolla joined the Anibal Troila Orchestra as a bandoneonista. During this time (1943 to 1953), Piazzolla composed most of the music presented on The Unknown Piazzolla. He had not yet turned towards the tango as his signature medium, but one can hear the stirrings of the cool, sexy New Tango that Piazzolla was to pioneer later on. After Troila died, Piazzolla embarked on his solo career, which brought him massive success through the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1953, Piazzolla received a scholarship from the French government to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Since 1950, Piazzolla had abandoned the bandoneon for the piano. After Boulanger told him that his classical compositions were wonderful but that his personality came out in his tangos, he returned to the bandoneon and threw himself passionately into composing and arranging tangos, completing more than 40 works in 2 years.
In 1955, Piazzolla formed the Octeto Buenos Aires, an instrumental octet which began the New Tango revolution. The group consisted of two bandoneons, two violins, piano, cello, electric guitar and bass, which was an entirely new combination. In 1976, he formed the Quinteto Tango Nuevo, featuring Fernando Suarez Paz, Pablo Ziegler, Horacio Malvicino, and Hector Console.
From the 1950s until his death on July 4, 1992, Piazzolla and his many ensembles traveled the world performing concerts with an almost manic energy. He also produced a large body of work for musical revues, theater, and more than 60 films, including 12 Monkeys, Blue in the Face, Happy Together, and Lumiere.
In 1987 he performed in New York City's Central Park. This legendary concert was recorded and later released by Chesky Records as Astor Piazzolla: The Central Park Concert. It was to be his last recorded performance.
He married three times and fathered two children, Daniel and Diana.