A versatile musician and piano wizard, Louise Bessette is much in demand as a concert artist in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Numerous organizations and international competitions have recognized her [...]
They spoke about it
PORT OF CALL: BUENOS AIRES ASTOR PIAZZOLLA (MAR DEL PLATA, 1921 – BUENOS AIRES, 1992)
After Wim Statius Muller’s Caribbean, pianist Louise Bessette turns to Astor Piazzolla’s Argentina for the second part of her “Piano Around the World” series, which explores sophisticated music with popular roots.
The work of Argentine composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla is a fine example of the cultural cross-fertilisation typical of 20th century music as it moves from modernism to postmodernism, or, put more simply, as it perpetually redefines itself, ever striving to make something new out of something old. Hybridization is a direct result of encountering the other, which, for young Astor, occurred at the age of three, when his parents emigrated from Mar del Plata, Argentina to New York City. While his father Vincente brought his love of tango with him, Astor discovered Bach’s music emanating from the window of a neighbour who practised for hours on end. That neighbour was Hungarianborn pianist Bela Wilda, who was to become Astor’s teacher. At the time, he felt no particular attraction to the tangos of Carlos Gardel or Julio De Caro that resounded in his home, preferring the Mozart and Schumann he practised with his teacher. Occasionally he was asked to play Bach on the bandoneon that his father had given him.
In 1936, the family returned to Mar del Plata, where a teenaged Astor finally discovered a passion for tango, thanks to a concert by violinist Elvino Vardaro’s ensemble, which made him see the genre in a new light. Piazzolla soon formed his own group, before considering a professional career in Buenos Aires, where he rubbed shoulders with the best bandoneon players and worked as an arranger while studying composition with Alberto Ginastera. After earning first prize in composition for his piece Sinfonia Buenos Aires (which was not particularly popular among tango lovers), Piazzolla received a grant that allowed him to move to Paris in 1954 to study with the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. She persuaded him to give voice to his roots, but through the language of modernity. Thus were the doors of nuevo tango opened.
In 1959, during a series of concerts in Central America, he learned of his father’s death. When he returned to New York at the end of the tour, he recalled Nonino, a piece written for his father five years earlier while in Paris. Adíos Nonino became the new version. His homesickness, depression following an unsatisfactory tour, and the tragic accidental death of his father tinged the music with a stubbornly melancholic hue.
The pieces that comprise Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) were composed independently over a period of five years, between 1965 and 1970, and only came to be regarded as a suite after Piazzolla presented them as such in concert. There have been many arrangements; the one presented here, for violin, cello, and piano, is by José Bragato, former principal cellist of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra, the same orchestra whose rehearsals Piazzolla attended whenever he could while still dreaming of becoming the next Stravinsky. José Bragato’s cello, which had very little prominence in “old tango,” helped shape the sound of nuevo tango in several of Piazzolla’s ensembles.
Le grand tango was written in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich. The cellist, who knew neither the Piazzolla nor the tango, was in no hurry to perform it. An opportunity arose only in 1990, and Piazzolla himself gave Rostropovich suggestions on how to approach this new genre. This one-movement work has three sections, the last of which, marked “giocoso,” is highly energetic and a challenge for even the most proficient cellists. Rostropovich recorded it in 1996.
Oblivion, also from 1982, was part of the soundtrack for Marco Bellocchio’s film Enrico IV (1985), whose theme it evokes, with the film’s central character being struck by amnesia following an accident. It is without a doubt one of the Piazzolla’s best-known tangos. Its nostalgic melody has been arranged many times.
Originally written for flute and guitar, like the early tangos from a century earlier, Histoire du tango (1985) is a four-movement journey through the history of a genre that rose out of the disreputable establishments it frequented at the beginning of the century, emerging after several decades onto the great stages of the world.