Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was a French composer, conductor and teacher who is notable for having taught many of the most distinguished musicians of the 20th century – including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Quincy Jones, John Eliot Gardiner, Elliott Carter, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Virgil Thomson, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass and Astor Piazzolla.
Recalling his first meeting with Boulanger in his autobiography, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) wrote:
“…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” …
After a long while she said:
“Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? 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 I was a tango musician. She kept asking: “You say you are not a pianist. What instrument do you play then?” And I didn’t want to tell her that I was a bandoneón player…
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…”
Piazzolla is, today, remembered as one of the great icons of 20th century music – the creator of a new style called tango nuevo which drew on jazz, fusion and classical influences as well as the traditions of the Argentinian tango that he grew up playing.
At his death in 1992 Piazzolla had composed more than 3,000 works, and his music has been embraced the world over. And as well as his many recordings and film scores, classical musicians such as Martha Argerich have brought his music into the ongoing classical concert repertoire.
And though his music has met with resistance from all quarters – including most vociferously in his own homeland during his lifetime – his individual musical voice has spoken, and has become part of our heritage.
The advice of teacher Nadia Boulanger set Astor Piazzolla on a course that would allow him to be creative by being himself, and developing his unique personal expression.
Here’s one of my favourite recordings that Piazzolla left us:
Piazzolla on the Piano
If you are interested in exploring the music of Astor Piazzolla on the piano, you could do no better than to pick up a copy of a new publication from Hal Leonard / Boosey & Hawkes: 12 Piazzolla Tangos for Easy Piano.
The included titles, carefully and respectfully arranged by Rachel Chapin, are:
- Ausencias (The Absent)
- Chanson de la Naissance (Song of the Birth)
- El Viaje (The Voyage)
- Los Sueños (Dreams)
- Milonga for three
- Sensuel (Sensual) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Sentimental from Famille d’artistes
- Sin Rumbo (Aimless)
- Street Tango
- Vuelvo al Sur (I’m Returning South)
The collection is well presented, and includes a well written composer biography. The music itself is engraved in fairly large print and aimed at intermediate players. Ample and effective fingering is provided, and the whole collection has been carefully thought out.
The more advanced player could also use this collection to provide idiomatic but easy versions of the pieces as a starting point to improvising and arranging more complex versions of their own.
These are really good arrangements which newcomers to the world of tango music are sure to find both accessible and enjoyable.