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The Birth of Piazzolla

27th April 2021

Astor Piazzolla was born a hundred years ago....

The Argentine composer Piazzolla
came to us a hundred years ago
in Mar del Plata. When he was aged five
the family migrated to New York
and lived among the Latins in the woke
metropolis. His native land remained
a pleasant memory enhanced by tales
the grown-ups told and so it was that Astor 
Piazzolla yearned for Argentina
from afar. His father gave him for 
his birthday a bandoneon when he 
was eight and this street instrument of Buenos
Aires remained with him throughout his life. 
He loved the music of Carlos Gardel
on discs his father owned and met the great
band leader in New York. In fact Gardel
proposed he join the band to learn the trade
but Piazzolla senior said no, 
he was too young and here fate intervened 
because Gardel and his entire band 
were killed in a plane accident that tour.
He studied in Paree with Nadia
Boulanger at the Fontainebleu Conservatoire,
loved Bach and Ellington, but she
encouraged him to dedicate himself 
to music of his heritage - tango!

I have a lot of Piazzolla here
from Milos the guitarist to Grace Jones
but one I often play includes his voice 
behind the gently lilting three three two.
Pianist Joanna MacGregor plays
his Libertango on her CD Play
above an interview in Spanish that he gave 
on radio in nineteen seventy nine.
One hears his words in snatches through the rests,
a ghostly apparition of one dead.
He says when he was eighteen he had heard
pianist Alfred Rubenstein play live
in Buenos Aires and had loved so much
his playing that he straight away composed
a piano concerto which he showed 
the virtuoso. After studying
the score, the great man asked, 'but where's the part
for orchestra? There's only piano.
There always has to be an orchestra!'
And Piazzolla said he didn't know,
it's what he thought a concerto should be.
His naive answer touched old Rubenstein
who asked if he liked music. 'Yes of course,'
said Piazzolla. 'Then you must devote
yourself entirely to study it.'