Astor Piazzolla

1921 - 1992



Astor Piazzolla (born March 11 1921, Mar del Plata, Argentina) was an Argentine musician and composer. A virtuoso on the bandoneon, Piazzolla left traditional Latin American tango bands in 1955 to create a new tango that blended elements of jazz and classical music. He was a major Latin American composer of the 20th century.

He received his first bandoneón at age eight and learned to play both that instrument and the piano as a child. In Mar del Plata in 1936, Piazzolla began playing with a variety of tango orchestras. At age 17 he moved to Buenos Aires. He formed his own orchestra in 1946, composing new works and experimenting with the sound and structure of the tango. About the same time, he began to wite film music. In 1949 he disbanded the orchestra, unsatisfied with his own efforts and still interested in classical composition. Having won a composing contest with his symphonic piece Buenos Aires (1951), he went to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She urged him to remain true to himself and to continue his experiments with the tango. Henceforth he combined his two musical passions, despite much criticism from tango traditionalists. He returned to Argentina in 1955 but moved once again to the United States, where he lived from 1958 to 1960. When he returned again to Argentina, he formed the influential Quinteto Nuevo Tango (1960), featuring a violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, and bandoneón. Though many of his 750 compositions were written for that quintet, he also composed pieces for orchestra, big band, bandoneón, and cello. His innovations, including counterpoint and new rhythms and harmonies, were initially not well received in his country, but they were greatly admired in the United States and Europe. In Argentina Piazzolla’s new tango gradually gained acceptance, and his music influenced a new generation of tango composers and was featured during the 1970s and 1980s in film scores, television programs, and commercials. His later compositions included a concerto for bandoneón and orchestra (1979) and, commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Five Tango Sensations for bandoneón and string quartet (1989).

Astor Piazzolla died in Buenos Aires on July 4, 1992.


Astor Piazzolla was born in the city of Mar Del Plata in Argentina on March 11, 1921. From 1924 to 1937 he lived with his parents in New York. In 1930 he began to study the bandoneon, which he went on to perfect under the guidance of Maestro Bela Wilda (a former pupil of Sergei Rachmaninov), adapting piano compositions to the bandoneon.

At just fourteen years old, Piazzolla met the 
renouned interpreter of tango Carlos Gardel, in New York who invited Piazzolla to record various themes for his film "El Dia Que Me Quieras”. In 1937 he moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to work as a bandeonist and arranger in the Anibal Troilo Orchestra. In 1940 he started to study with Alberto Ginastera and six years later in 1946 he formed his first orchestra. During this time in the first half of the 1940s, Piazzolla devoted himself to concert music and composed chamber works for large orchestra and in 1950 he left the orchestra to dedicate himself entirely to composition.

In the 1950s Piazzolla won several notable awards for composition; first in 1952, the Empire Tractor Co. USA award for composition Rapsodia Porteña. Then in 1953 he won the Fabien Sevitzky prize with the symphony Buenos Aires and in 1954 he obtained the Mention Of Music Critics Of Buenos Aires award for his piece Sinfonietta. During this same period, he studied orchestral conducting with Hermann Scherchen and the following year the French government offered him a scholarship. During this time in Paris he studied with Nadia Boulanger, who advised him to continue with popular music by telling him “Here's Piazzola, don’t ever leave him!”.

After his return from France, he formed two bands: El Octeto De Buenos Aires and La Orquesta De Cuerdas that revolutionised the music scene of Buenos Aires and attracting the most severe criticism, but this did not deter Piazzolla from continuing in the genre he felt so deeply for. He was boycotted by record companies, radio and television and for this reason he moved back to New York in 1958, where he worked as an arranger. After two years he returned to Buenos Aires and formed a quintet, even more convinced that tango was a music to listen to and not to dance. He played concerts, made records and numerous tours in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, United States. In 1963 he received the "Hirsch" award, composed Tres Movimientos Sinfonicos that Paul Klecki conducted that same year. In 1967 Piazzolla wrote with the poet Horacio Ferrer the small work Maria De Buenos Aires. Later he composed Tangazo at the request of Maestro Pedro Ignacio Caldenòn, conductor of the Ensemble Musical de Buenos Aires, that went on to perform the work during a tour in the United States. Piazzolla composed two works Tango Seis for the Melos Ensemble and Milonga En Re for the violinist Salvatore Accardo.

Continuing to work with Ferrer, Piazzolla began a new compositional idea, the tango-song. In 1969 the theme Balada Para Un Loco became the biggest success of the year in several South American countries, beating all the record sales in Argentina. This genre, apparently more commercial, gave him the opportunity to approach a wider audience. His concerts, previously attended by a small number of people, were now attracting an increasingly larger audience that finally recognised Piazzolla as the most authentic expression of Buenos Aires music.

In 1970 he returned to Paris and lived in the Cité des Arts (Mozarteum) for five months, during which he composed, again with Ferrer, an oratory: El Pueblo Joven, whose first performance was given in Saarbruken.

In September 1971 he formed his Conjunto Nueve, and it was now the "Municipalidad de la ciudad de Buenos Aires" who casted him for two years to give concerts throughout Argentina and all over the world. His greatest triumphs were in Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Santiago de Chile. In April 1972, after having had him as guest at the International Festival Onda Nueva in Caracas, the Maestro Aldo Pagani, who later become Piazzolla’s publisher and producer, found the opportunity to present Piazzolla and his Noneto to the Italian audience, organising two concerts at the Istituto Italo-Latino-Americano in Rome and recording for RAI the broadcast "Teatro 10" presented by Alberto Lupo. As a regular guest of the show, the singer Mina, who was fascinated by the music of Piazzolla, wanted to record with Piazzolla the song Balada Para Mi Muerte.

For the first time, on August 17 1972, Piazzolla gave a concert in the famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires and whilst preparing for the concert, he turned down an offer by the director Bertolucci to write the music of the film Last Tango In Paris. However, Piazzolla dedicated to this film the song Jeanne Y Paul. Also in August of that year he presented at the Teatro Coliseo the premiere of his Concierto De Nacar for nine soloists written for the Ensemble Musical de Buenos Aires. In 1984 he began a series of recitals with the Quintet and the singer Milva.

In recent years Piazzolla preferred to perform in concerts as a soloist accompanied by symphony orchestras performing his own compositions, and even to perform some concert with his quintet. He recorded with Lalo Schifrin and with the St. Luke Orchestra Aconcagua (Concierto para bandoneon y Orquesta) and Tres Tangos;
 Punta Del Este Suite with the Caracas Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Aldemaro Romero, and with the Kronos Quartet he recorded the suite titled Five Tango Sensations which remained in the top classical album charts for more than a year in the USA. Astor Piazzolla was one of the few people who have recorded all his works (over 600) on approximately fifty albums.

Piazzolla also had much success with film music demonstrated by the stellar soundtracks of the films Ernrico IV by Marco Bellocchio, Cadaveri Eccellenti by F. Rosi,
El Exilio De Gardel and Sur by Fernando Solanas andTwelve Monkeys by Terry Gillian. He also collaborated on films by Jean Moreau, Alain Delon, Trintignant, and composed music for theatre and ballets. Director Gabriele Salvatores had presented at the Venice Film Festival 2000 the film Denti whose soundtrack contains the song El Penultimo.

The jury of the Italian Music Critics Award, in 1974, unanimously awarded Astor Piazzolla the First Prize for the best instrumental music record, with the following motivation: "For the validity of the compositions and for the surprising inventiveness of the arrangements that give tango a completely new dimension”. In 1993 in Los Angeles the song Oblivion got nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the category "Best Instrumental Composition": The song, Oblivion, is widely agreed by many critics of international fame, to be one of the most beautiful compositions ever written by Piazzolla, as well as being one of the most recorded. In 1998, in Hollywood, the song Libertango won the GRAMMY Award for best instrumental composition of the year, thanks to the album Soul of Tango record by cellist Yo Yo Ma. The date marked the beginning of a new ascent of “piazzollana music”, which in a short time became a transversal genre, captivating new generations of artists, producers and audiences.

In 2001 the French band Gotan Project reached world fame with the album "La revancha del Tango", in which appears the song Vuelvo al sur, composed by Piazzolla with lyrics by Fernando Solanas. In 2003 Richard Galliano published the album “Piazzolla Forever”, a homage to the music of the Maestro. But it was the great conductor Gustavo Dudamel who recently brought Piazzolla's music back to a more classic context, with the LA Philharmonic’s show “Tango under the Sky”, on stage in 2017 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Other great artists who have performed the music of Piazzolla include Al Di Meola (guitarist), Gidon Kremere (violinist), Michel Camilo (pianist), Tomatito (guitarist), Aleandra De La Parra (conductor), Sarah Chang (violinist), Cameron Carpenter (organist), Bob Sinclar (DJ).

Astor Piazzolla died in Buenos Aires on July 4, 1992.


17th December 2021

Konstantin Ischenko
Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt
Norbert Nagel
Messehalle 4, Frankfurt Oder, Germany

16th January 2022

Homburger Sinfonieorchester
Jonathan Kaell
Saalbau , Homburg, Germany

30th January 2022

Homburger Sinfonieorchester
Jonathan Kaell
Saalbau , St.Wendel, Germany