Recording of the Week : The Soul of Tango

Astor Piazzolla was born in Argentina in 1921 to Italian parents.He grew up in New York City. As a child he heard both jazz and Bach. He also learned to play the bandoneon while in America. When he was 16 he returned to Argentina where he routinely played in the tango clubs of Buenos Aires. In 1954 he went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger.

Fluent in Spanish, Italian, English, and French he was equally versed in jazz, European classical music, and the tango. The result was a synthesis of all these styles that resulted in a unique idiom. Once you’ve heard Piazzolla’s music it stays in you head and you can readily identify anything he wrote.

His transformation of the tango into something new was initially met with resistance by his countrymen. His first success was in Europe and North America. But genius eventually wins out and he won over his compatriots. His music is typically written for five instruments – bandoneon, violin, piano, bass, and electric guitar. The tango is the foundation on which he builds his music, but jazz is often melded with it particularly in his piano writing. The influence of Bach is strongly felt by the intricate use of counterpoint in his writing.

The Soul of Tango is a two disc set that contains an excellent representation of Piazzolla’s music and development. The recordings were made in performance. They are outstanding as is the sound reproduction. Libertango was written when the composer was living in Rome in the 1970s. The influence of jazz is obvious in this piece. It is characteristic of his mature style.

This album is available on disc or by direct download. It’s well worth having for both those unfamiliar with Piazzolla’s music as well as those already aficionados of the Argentine composer and performer.  Piazzolla is clearly one of the 20th century’s finest composers. His voice is unique.

He died in 1992 following an incapacitating stroke in 1990.

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