Libertango - Astor Piazzolla
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Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, was a tango master not of the barrooms but of the concert hall. He expanded upon one of the great popular dance traditions of the Western Hemisphere, constantly crossing and recrossing the line between popular and classical music.
His family moved to New York's Little Italy, and his musical education was shaped by American jazz and pop. But his father gave him a bandoneón, a large Argentine concertina, to keep the family's connection to Argentine culture alive, and he also studied classical music. In 1934, he recorded with the Argentine tango pioneer Carlos Gardel, who soon would be killed in a plane crash. Returning to Argentina, he played the bandoneón in a Buenos Aires tango orchestra from 1936 to 1944, but the world of classical music had made a deep impression on him. A chance meeting with the great pianist Artur Rubinstein brought him into contact with Alberto Ginastera, Argentina's leading composer, and that led to several years of classical study. Piazzolla's Sinfonia Buenos Aires gained international acclaim but was poorly received in the composer's home country.
In 1954, Piazzolla went to Paris for further classical studies with the most famous composition teacher of the time, Nadia Boulanger. However, the experience led him to reconnect with the tango; Boulanger, after hearing him play one of his tango pieces, told him to discard the rest of his compositions. Back in Argentina, Piazzolla created nuevo tango (new tango), which broke sharply with the genre's traditional sound, and once again antagonized tango's Argentine partisans.
Abroad, however, Piazzolla's reputation began to spread. Often written for his Quinteto Tango Nuevo (formed in 1960), featuring violin, guitar, piano, bass, and bandoneón, Piazzolla's more than 750 tango compositions included complex harmonies drawn from the world of modern concert music. The 1968 stage work Maria de Buenos Aires, inspired by Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, finally won over tango traditionalists, and for the last two decades of his life Piazzolla was an Argentine hero. Internationally, his reputation with both popular and specialized audiences continued to grow; his compositions became part of the 1986 musical Tango Argentina and also attracted progressive musicians like the members of the Kronos Quartet, who recorded Piazzolla's Five Tango Sensations of 1989. He died in Buenos Aires on July 5, 1992.
Piazzolla reawakened interest in the tango, and the international exposure given his works touched off a series of tango films, stage productions, and recordings. The key to Piazzolla's popularity was that no matter how much he experimented with the musical materials of the tango, he never lost touch with its sensual yet despairing emotional essence. The popularity of Piazzolla's unique blend of tango, classical music, and jazz continued to grow after his death. Jazz musicians, such as guitarists Al di Meola and Charlie Byrd and the vibraphonist Gary Burton have used Piazzolla's music as a point of departure, and classical performers as well took to his music; at the end of the 1990s, recordings by the famed Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer showed that despite its association with the bandoneón, Piazzolla's music could be transferred to other instruments. At the turn of the century, Piazzolla's boundary-crossing music was continuing to gain listeners of all kinds.
Pressured by his European agent to write shorter, more "airplay-friendly" pieces, Astor Piazzolla produced Libertango in 1974. This was during the period from 1971 to 1978 when he was working with a highly electric and eclectic nonet, Conjunto 9, which gave his work a more commercial, rock - and jazz- influenced sound. But when Piazzolla re-formed his mainly acoustic quintet in 1978, Libertango was one of the pieces that easily survived the transition back to Piazzolla's earlier, grittier, more intimate sound.
Although details varied from one performance and recording to another, Libertango, a "sort of song to liberty," begins with an extremely fast, busy piano solo with bass acoustic and electric support. Piazzolla's own bandoneón soon takes center stage for the remainder of the piece, which moves forward relentlessly. After a very brief respite three-quarters of the way through, the material returns even faster and more urgently. Too frantic to be either a successful song or a practical dance (except for the most elite specialists), Libertango is one of Piazzolla's pure concert tangos: compact, dynamic, and unforgiving.
Libertango, tango for Chamber Ensemble
Arranged for cello, bandoneón, violin, guitar, double bass & piano
Yo-Yo Ma, Cello
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