Piazzolla, Astor (1921–1992)

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Piazzolla, Astor (1921–1992)

The grandson of Italian immigrants, Astor Piazzola was the outstanding renovator of instrumental tango. He was born March 11, 1921, in Mar del Plata, Argentina. His restless father took him to New York City for much of his early life but gave him a bandoneon to reinforce a sense of Argentine identity. The young man learned to speak English with a New York accent and developed a taste for jazz and classical music, as well. The twelve-year-old New Yorker got to know the Argentine singer Carlos Gardel when he was making movies in the area in 1933 and even seems to have accompanied him in private performances. Back in Argentina once again in the late 1930s, Piazzolla devoted himself more seriously to tango. He began to make a name for himself with the ensemble of Aníbal Troilo, as prominent a tango bandleader as there was in the musically vibrant Buenos Aires of the 1940s. Anxious to experiment and move beyond dance music, he formed his own bands beginning in 1944 after five years with Troilo.

By the middle of 1949, frustrated with the life of a tanguero as well as with Peronist political pressures, Piazzola stopped performing, devoting much of the next decade to composing and arranging, including film scores and classical pieces. In 1954 he won a scholarship to study in Paris with the renowned music teacher Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged him to explore the musical possibilities of the tango. Returning to his native country in 1955, he formed a new octet to perform a more adventurous style of music. His music drew strong reactions, both positive and negative, with many contending that he was betraying the tango. In the following decade a quintet he led became a symbol of the cultural ferment of the age. His music, with its intense emotions, ferocious drive, daring harmonies, and propulsive rhythms, gained him by age sixty an international following among discerning and adventurous listeners. He left behind a rich legacy of recorded work. Since his death on July 4, 1992, his compositions increasingly have gained a new life in the repertoire of classical music performers.

See alsoMusic: Popular Music and Dance; Tango.


Azzi, María Susana, and Simon Collier. Le Grand Tango: The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Collier, Simon, Richard Martin, Artemis Cooper, and Maria S. Azzi. Tango!: The Dance, the Song, the Story. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Piazzola, Diana. Astor. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 1987.

                                Andrew J. Kirkendall