“I still can’t believe that some pseudocritics continue to accuse me of having murdered tango. They have it backward. They should look at me as the saviour of tango. I performed plastic surgery on it.”
On his eighth birthday, Piazzolla was bitterly disappointed to open a present from his father and find a bandoneon instead of the roller-skates he was hoping for. The family had moved to New York when Piazzolla was only three years old, but his father still earnestly desired that his son learn the music of his Argentinean homeland; the tango.
Despite his belief that both the bandoneon and the music it embodied, the tango, were boring and out-of-date, Piazzolla eventually fulfilled his father’s wishes, and in his twenties he played in, led and wrote music for a number of tango orchestras.
But as he grew older, Piazzolla grew increasingly dissatisfied with the music of the tango and began devoting more and more of his time to studying and writing classical music. Eventually, several years after deciding to drop the Bandoneon altogether, Piazzolla’s efforts were rewarded when he received a scholarship enabling him to travel to Paris and study with one of the greatest musical educators of the time, Nadia Boulanger.
On looking through Piazzolla’s scores, Boulanger remarked that while they were well written, they lacked originality; an expression of the composer’s individuality. Boulanger began questioning him about his early musical background, and although Piazzolla had initially been reluctant to admit to his beginnings as a night-club musician, he was eventually persuaded to play for her.
After eight bars Nadia Boulanger stopped him and said “This is Piazzolla, never give it up”.
From that point on, Piazzolla began developing an increasingly unique fusion of tango, jazz and classical music. He employed the structures and techniques of serious concert music while retaining the passion of the tango; creating a ‘nuevo tango’ that is now performed and admired throughout the world.
However, this was not always the case, and for much of his life Piazzolla was obliged to deal with criticism and scorn, and once, after a radio interview, was even threatened with a gun by ardent supporters of the traditional tango.
”Traditional tango listeners hated me,” Piazzolla told the New York Times towards the end of his life. ”I introduced harmonies, fugues, counterpoint and other irreverences; people thought I was going crazy. All the tango critics and the radio stations of Buenos Aires started criticizing me – they called me a clown, they said my music was ‘paranoiac.’ And they made me popular.”