It is a meaningful sign of the times that Astor Piazzolla is arguably one of the most frequently performed composers on the contemporary musical stage, even though he probably never aimed at writing “classical” music. True, one of the fundamental encounters of his life was with composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, who mentored many of the most important avant-garde musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. And, under her guidance, Piazzolla did attempt to express his personality through the language of Western contemporary music. The results, of course, were very good, since nobody could question Piazzolla’s talent. Yet, when Piazzolla performed one of the tangos he had already written to his professor, she exclaimed: “Astor, all your classical pieces are well written, but the true Piazzolla sound is here, never leave it behind!”. And if the language of Piazzolla’s music does not correspond to that of the coeval European avantgardes, neither does it conform to the standards of the Argentinian tango tradition. It is precisely for his utter originality that Astor Piazzolla rightfully claimed and obtained a place in the pantheon of twentieth-century classical music. But it is also this originality that may puzzle those attempting to classify him within one of the established musical categories.
Piazzolla’s biography is well known, but it nonetheless is worth recalling, particularly because it has more than a light bearing on his style and musical personality. Piazzolla’s hundredth birthday has been recently celebrated, in 2021, but unfortunately the composer left us thirty years ago, in 1992: so, this year 2022 which follows by one year the jubilee of the composer’s birth is also the thirtieth anniversary of his death. He was born on March 11th, 1921, in Mar del Plata, in Argentina. His father came from a city in Southern Italy; his fate had been that of many Italian emigrants who crossed the Atlantic in search of fortune. And as happened to many emigrants, North and South America were frequently seen as a single identity; “America” was the promise of a better life, and the US or countries like Argentina or Chile offered hope and opportunities. Thus, whilst Astor was born in Argentina, his family soon moved to North America, where the child’s father opened a barber’s shop in Manhattan. In his earliest years, therefore, the child was exposed to the exhilarating and exciting scene of the Roaring Twenties with their innovative music. At the same time, Astor’s uprooted father did not forget the provisional roots he had established in Argentina, and, when the time came, he presented his son with a second-hand bandoneon, the quintessentially Argentinian instrument. It had been developed in the previous century by a German engineer, who curiously (in our eyes) created it as a replacement for the organ in the open-air religious services of the Lutheran church. From the processions with sung chorales to the world of tango, the bandoneon had a long way to go; yet, it currently owes its success doubtlessly more to its secular repertoire than to its sacred origins. One element, however, does connect the bandoneon and its most typical repertoire, the tango, to its sacred vocation: it is the element of longing, of nostalgia, of yearning. Tango uniquely expresses the desire of human love; still, as Kierkegaard famously and brilliantly demonstrated in his interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, this very yearning is an expression of the deeper aspiration to infinity found in the depths of the human heart. And whilst tango dancing displays a deep bodily union between the partners, the melancholia of both music and gestures reveals that not even that union can fully satisfy human beings. While remaining firmly secular, and at times frankly erotic, tango music still demonstrates that the fullness of a human being’s reality transcends materiality and what pertains to the world of the senses. Enthralled by the bandoneon and by its repertoire, young Piazzolla quickly became a virtuoso; at the very young age of thirteen, he was deemed accomplished enough by legendary singer Carlos Gardel to be invited to join him on an international tour. To Piazzolla’s chagrin, Astor’s father forbade the teenager to embark on that adventure. But this choice saved his life, since the plane crashed. In 1936 Piazzolla went back to his homeland, Argentina, and became a respected member of the local musical scene, participating in performances with the greatest bandoneonist of all times, Anibal Troilo also known as “Pichuco”. After the end of World War II, Piazzolla established his own orchestra, and, as previously said, crossed the Atlantic in order to study with Boulanger. He sought, for a while, to suppress his “Argentinian” vein and to conform to the European idioms; but, fortunately, was convinced to get back to his own language and personality. At the same time, Piazzolla’s immersion into the ebullient atmosphere of post-War Paris did not leave him unaffected. He absorbed the novelties of the experimental languages which were crafted there, and mixed them with the Argentinian heritage he bore, giving life to a novel, unique style. This style is blended from elements such as polyrhythmy, polytonality, and the fundamental rhythm which characterises tango music, and which derives from the Cuban Habanera and Contradanza.
Europe did not only represent the composer’s deep roots; it was also his future. It was in Italy that he recorded his first international successes, along with some of the greatest Italian musicians of the “non-classical” scene of the era. In 1974, he recorded Libertango, a hymn to freedom in music, with an ensemble including many non-traditional instruments – such as drums or electric bass. It was a sensation. It left nobody indifferent: it enthused most of its listeners, who rightfully recognised in it the potential for a whole new genre – the one which would be called New Tango – and it outraged its detractors, who found offense precisely in the same reason. Another legendary Italian project was that leading to the creation of Oblivion, one of Piazzolla’s best known compositions. It was commissioned in 1984 by film director Marco Bellocchio, who employed it as the score for one of his films, by the title of Henry IV (Enrico IV).
Italy also led Piazzolla to know two unique female voices, those of Milva and Mina. In particular, the former impressed him indelibly, with her unique timbre and personality. For her, Piazzolla created a variation on Oblivion, conceived in such a fashion that she could sing it, with the touching, sweet, lyrical, and enchanting mood of this piece. For her, Piazzolla also wrote an entire opera, albeit a short one (an operita), called Maria de Buenos Aires. Within the second half of this opera, there are two instrumental pieces, the last of which is Allegro tangabile, just before the two concluding pieces. Here we see, once more, the complex dialectics between the sacred and the secular, the religious and the scandalous. The subject matter of Maria de Buenos Aires verges on the blasphemous; yet, going beyond its superficial appearance, it also powerfully affirms the sacredness of human life, and the miracle of our existence. In the version of Allegro Tangabile recorded here, Zambelli inserted a fragment out from another adagio, excerpted from Piazzolla’s Chin Chin. Even more clearly, the bandoneon resumes its original calling in Adios Nonino, a tango which is also a dirge. It was written in 1959, while the composer was on tour in New York, and he was given the sad news of his father’s sudden death in a bicycle accident. As recounted by his son Daniel, “Dad asked us to leave him alone for a few hours. We went into the kitchen. First there was absolute silence. After a while, we heard dad playing the bandoneon. It was a very sad, terribly sad melody. He was composing Adiós Nonino”. The piece derives its name from “Nonino”, the family’s appellative for Astor’s father, and from an eponymous tango Piazzolla had written five years earlier. It is a heart-rending piece full of nostalgia and tenderness, and very close to an instrumental, tangoed requiem.
Mystical themes, albeit revisited in a typically Piazzolla fashion, are also found in the Milonga del Ángel, written in 1962 along with two other “angel” pieces (Introducción al Ángel and Muerte del Ángel). They were joined, three years later, by a Resurrección del Ángel, where the earlier sad conclusion was reversed. This piece was recorded by Piazzolla on several occasions, among which in an eponymous album and in Tango: Zero Hour. In this last album was also contained Mumuki, a piece revisited in this Da Vinci Classics CD blending it with Chick Corea’s Señor Mouse. Italy also inspired a sequence of six tangos, written in 1974, and having very innovative names (Piazzolla famously affirmed that it was easier to write the music than to find the titles!). Among them there is Meditango, a piece whose Baroque inspiration is indebted to Vivaldi, as the composer himself acknowledged, rather than to Bach with whose music Piazzolla had been familiar since his childhood. He had played Bach, of course, on the bandoneon, and another piece in this album pays homage to Piazzolla’s unceasing friendship with his instrument. It is Tristeza de un doble A, whose perplexing title refers to the name of the musician’s instrument. Vivaldi also recurs in the Estaciones Porteñas, which explicitly pay homage to Vivaldi’s best-known works, the Four Seasons. Here the “seasons” are those of Buenos Aires, whose inhabitants call themselves Porteños. In this recording, however, the “four seasons” are collapsed into just one. Ironically, Zambelli suggests that this is due to the disappearance of the meteorological seasons due to climate change… Still, this idea perfectly mirrors the flexibility in scoring and musical structure which was Piazzolla’s, and which Zambelli consistently adopted in his arrangements. Throughout the programme, he mimics the concerto-like tripartite structure (Allegro/Adagio/Presto) so frequently found in Piazzolla’s music, and freely combines excerpts from a variety of works. The performer’s most creative approach, however, is that found in Chick Corea / Piazzolla, where he combines a piece by Piazzolla dedicated to a dog, Mumuki, with one by Corea dedicated to a mouse. The piece was extemporised, at first, when the news about Corea’s death reached the musicians, who were recording this album at that moment. On the spur of the moment, a beautiful musical idea was created; encouraged by the approval of his colleagues, Zambelli realised a new work which is premiered here. Corea and Piazzolla never played with one another, but their works have many points in common (both loved jazz, and Corea adopted flamenco suggestions which can be likened to tango). Also in Astor Suite, Zambelli combined a suite out of pieces by Piazzolla, later arranging this Suite for solo bandoneon and orchestra (in this form, he performed it in a China tour with symphony orchestra).
Virtually all pieces in this CD, therefore, display an Italian connection: from the “Nonino” who emigrated to pieces originally born and recorded in Italy, from Vivaldi to Zambelli. The long roots of the most Argentinian of the Argentinian musicians dig deep into Italian soil.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Originally from the Principality of Monaco, he graduated from the "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Milan in Jazz Accordion and from the Conservatory "Luca Marenzio" of Brescia in Oboe. An eclectic accordionist and bandoneonist who moves between classical music and improvisation, he is considered one of the best talents of the new Italian school of the accordion "(Amadeus December 2011). Since 2010 he has collaborated with the soloists of La Scala in Milan and has been working as a soloist in various national and international orchestras. He has played and plays with: Oscar winner Nicola Piovani, Francesco de Gregori, Peppe Servillo, Giusy Ferreri, Celeste i Moderni, Haifa webber, Tino Tracanna, Gianni Alberti, Guido Bombardieri, Paolo Alderighi, Fausto Beccalossi, Fulvio Sigurtà, Faraò, Vincenzo Albini , Simone Prando, Roberto Bertazzi, Oscar DelBarba, Paolo Pellegatti, Andrea Noferini, Giulio Tampalini, Ernesto Baroni, Federico Caldara, Luca Fanfoni, Marco Somadossi, Mauro Occhionero, Filippo Lama, Giuseppe Cacciola, Cinzia Milani, Anton Dresler, Luca Belleri, Roberto Plano, Javier Fernandez, Martin Troncozo, Laurianne Langevinne. He has recorded numerous records including: "Cantabile" by Nicola Piovani, with the Sony label; "Concerto for Accordion, Guitar and Orchestra" by Paolo Ugoletti, for the Brillant label; Amadeus disc of December 2011 for the 150th anniversary; "TrioAdar", for the Amadeus label; "The Snare duets" by Paolo Pellegatti, for the Limen Music label; "Chutzpah", for the Twelve Moons label; "GinasteraTango5", for the Movimento label, "Brick Dance" by Giuseppe Cacciola, with the Patahaus label; "Tango Invisible"; "Tango Pichuco"; "Baila" by Tonino Carotone, for the new music international label, La Realidad Que Vivo.
“The Quartetto Bazzini play this music with a great sense of style and energy”- Stuart Sillitoe, Music web international. “Il faut saluer la liberté des musiciens et la prise de risque qu’ils ont osé” – Le Parnasse Musical Formed in 2010 and based in Brescia, the Bazzini String Quartet has always worked with the intention of rediscovering the unjustly forgotten repertoire of the italian composer Antonio Bazzini, a great violin virtuoso, teacher of composition and, for many years, director of the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan. With its members, the Bazzini Quartet represents Brescia, Antonio Bazzini's hometown, where violinists Lino Megni, Daniela Sangalli and violist Marta Pizio trained, and Cremona, the city of the violin, where cellist Fausto Solci specialized. The Quartet's vast repertoire ranges from classical to romantic to contemporary, with special emphasis on the rare Italian quartet repertoire. The group has partnered in performance with important exponents of classical music such as Marco Zoni (principal flute of Teatro alla Scala in Milan), jazz and pop such as Gianluigi Trovesi and Antonella Ruggiero. From 2014 to 2016 they collaborated with the prestigious Società dei Concerti of Milan, making their official debut at the Gaber Theater in Milan for the 2015-16 concert season. Since 2017 they are regularly invited to present masterclasses in Guanghzhou (China) and perform concerts in the main local theaters like the Xinghai Music Hall. The Quartet was chosen to play for the special Cremona Musica Exibition in 2020 at the Auditorium Arvedi of the Violin Museum in Cremona. For the occasion, the Quartet played instruments from the Consorzio Liutai di Cremona. The Quartet recorded the CD Cattedrali with Antonella Ruggiero in 2015 for Sony Music. In 2018 its first CD Quartetti nos. 1 and 3 was released on the Tactus music label on the bicentenary of the birth of the Brescian composer; the album has been very well received by the international critics. In June 2022 their second work Quartetti nos. 2,4,5 will be released on the same label. The Quartet also recorded the contemporary music project Il Re Pazzo by Luca Natali Stradivari.
Astor Piazzolla: (b Mar del Plata, 11 March 1921; d Buenos Aires, 5 July 1992). Argentine composer, bandleader and bandoneón player. A child prodigy on the bandoneón, Piazzolla and his family emigrated to New York in 1924; in his teens he became acquainted with Gardel, for whom he worked as a tour guide, translator and occasional performer. Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 where he gave concerts and made tango arrangements for Aníbal Troilo, a leading bandleader; he also studied classical music with Ginastera. In 1944 Piazzolla left Troilo’s band to form the Orquesta del 46 as a vehicle for his own compositions. A symphony composed in 1954 for the Buenos Aires PO won him a scholarship to study in Paris with Boulanger, who encouraged him in the composition of tangos; the following year he resettled in Argentina and formed the Octeto Buenos Aires and, later, the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, which performed at his own club, Jamaica. Piazzolla left Argentina in 1974, settling in Paris, where he composed a concerto for bandoneón and a cello sonata for Rostropovich, among other works.
Piazzolla’s distinctive brand of tango, later called ‘nuevo tango’, initially met with resistance. Including fugue, extreme chromaticism, dissonance, elements of jazz and, at times, expanded instrumentation, it was condemned by the old-guard, including not only most tango composers and bandleaders but also Borges, whose short story El hombre de la Esquina Rosada was the basis for Piazzolla’s El tango (1969); like tango itself, Piazzolla’s work first found general approval outside Argentina, principally in France and the USA. By the 1980s, however, Piazzolla’s music was widely accepted even in his native country, where he was now seen as the saviour of tango, which during the 1950s and 60s had declined in popularity and appeal. In the late 1980s Piazzolla’s works began to be taken up by classical performers, in particular the Kronos Quartet, who commissioned Five Tango Sensations (1989). In all he composed about 750 works, including film scores for Tangos: the Exile of Gardel (1985) and Sur (1987). Shortly before his death, he was commissioned to write an opera on the life of Gardel.