9.22: Astor Piazzolla
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Piazzolla was world-famous as a composer, bandleader, and virtuoso of the bandoneón, a type of 38-key accordion considered one of the crucial instruments of the traditional tango ensemble. A child prodigy, Piazzolla was born in Argentina, but his family emigrated to the US in 1924. Thirteen years later they returned to their homeland, where Piazzolla made arrangements for some of Argentina’s most popular bandleaders and studied classical music with the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. In 1944 Piazzolla formed his own band, which featured primarily his own compositions. In 1954 he went to Paris to study with legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger, who felt his tango compositions showed great promise. He returned to Argentina, and for the next twenty years worked with his own tango groups. In 1974 he returned to Paris. Piazzolla’s distinctive music became known as nuevo tango (“new tango”) and was at first widely criticized by those who felt he had abandoned some of the important traits of the nearly century-old tango tradition. However, he was later widely viewed as responsible for tango’s renewed international popularity, as the music’s audience had declined sharply in the 1950s and 60s. In the 1980s, his works were featured by important classical performance groups, including the Kronos Quartet. At the time of his death he was at work on an opera about the life of Carlos Gardel, a hugely popular tango singer of the 1920s and 30s. He composed about 750 works, including a symphony, a concerto for bandoneón, and a sonata for the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.