Originating in the working class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires during the mid-19th century, the tango grew out of a fusion of European, African, and native Argentine influences.
When the composer, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), moved this sultry street music into the concert hall, at first, traditionalists objected vehemently. By the time the heckling and boos faded, Piazzolla had revolutionized the tango with a fusion of new elements, which included jazz and twentieth century classical influences. The reinvigorated music fell under the label, nuevo tango.
Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to Italian immigrant parents. In 1925, the family moved to the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. At the age of eight, Piazzolla’s father gave him a bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument which originated in the Black Forest region of Germany, and later became popular in Argentina and Uruguay. Soon, Piazzolla was hailed as the “boy wonder of the bandoneon.” Around the same time, he fell in love with the music of Bach. Studies with the Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera, began in 1941. In 1954, Piazzolla composed a symphony for the Buenos Aires Philharmonic which earned him a scholarship to study in Paris with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. Setting aside the symphony, Boulanger asked the young composer to play a few bars of a tango he had composed. Piazzolla later recalled,
She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: ‘You idiot, that’s Piazzolla!’ And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds…
Composed in 1969, Piazzolla’s Tangazo is subtitled, “Variations on Buenos Aires.” The piece inhabits a dreamy world which is simultaneously sensuous and melancholy. It begins with a single mysteriously wandering line in the low strings. Soon, this ominous repeating bass line is joined, successively, by new contrapuntal lines in violas and violins. Out of the shadows of this somber introduction, the tango springs to life with glistening woodwinds and triangle, followed by a boisterous ascending piano glissando. As the vivacious tango unfolds, the violins become percussion instruments, with behind the bridge “scrubbing” and rhythmic tapping of the wood. A soulful musical conversation unfolds, with wistful statements in the solo horn, flute, oboe, and clarinet. It is something akin to the passionate, unspoken dialogue between partners in the dance.
This 2021 performance features Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra:
- Piazzolla: Tangazo (“Variations on Buenos Aires”), Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Houston Symphony Orchestra Amazon