Piazzolla's Path to Nuevo Tango

For anyone like myself who may have had Astor Piazzolla pegged as some kind of King of Tango, the facts of the matter are far more complex. In actuality, the development of his style was uniquely informed by a wide range of influences. His style became so alien to Argentinian tango traditionalists that he became a pariah in his own country! 

Astor Piazzolla was Argentine-born of Italian heritage, but he spent more or less all of his childhood in New York City. There he encountered an eclectic mix of influences, everything from J.S. Bach to American Jazz. He also took up the bandoneón (a type of accordion) at his father's behest. By the time he was a teenager had become a kind of boy wonder on the instrument.

Buenos Aires
He returned to Buenos Aires in 1937 at age 16. It was the golden age of tango in Argentina, and the music and culture of tango was more or less inescapable. He took to it ardently. By 18 he had steady work playing in Buenos Aires cabarets. Though content enough, it is evident he wished to continue developing. First he studied piano with Buenos Aries resident Arthur Rubinstein. It does not appear that Rubenstein was greatly impressed with Piazzolla's skills as a pianist, but he did refer him "down the line" to Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Here Piazzolla became immersed in the music of Bartok, Stravinsky and Ravel.

Finally, in 1953, at age 31, his talent composing was pronounced enough for him to win a grant from the government of France to study with renown composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. And it was here that one of the most decisive turn of events imaginable took place:
"When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: "It's very well written." And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: "Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what's wrong? I can't find Piazzolla in this." And she began to investigate my private life: what I did, what I did and did not play, if I was single, married, or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to tell her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, "I play in a night club." I didn't want to say cabaret. And she answered, "Night club, mais oui, but that is a cabaret, isn't it?" "Yes", I answered, and thought, "I'll hit this woman in the head with a radio…." It wasn't easy to lie to her. She kept asking: "You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?" And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneón player, because I thought, "Then she will throw me from the fourth floor." Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. 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" (Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir).
Nuevo Tango
So began this man's dedication to and transformation of Tango music. His developing style was so new and non-traditional, it incorporated so many outside influences, that his countrymen dubbed it Nuevo Tango - New Tango - to distinguish it from traditional tango.

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