Finding your unique voice

A Short Pause for Reflection

The French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) notably taught several of the most distinguished musicians of the 20th century, including Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass and Astor Piazzolla.


Recalling the first introduction to Boulanger, the Argentine musician 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 a certain resistance from all quarters, including most vociferously in his own homeland during his lifetime, Piazzolla’s 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.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.