Piazzolla and the history of tango.
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The bandonion appeared in the tango around year 1900. It played initially in unison with the flute, accompanied first with a guitar, then with a piano and a double bass. The flute is replaced little by little by the violin which takes care of the melody lines leaving to the bandonion the rhythmic and polyphonic parts. Stimulated by the competition and popularity of their instrument, the bandoneonists developed in twenty years a virtuoso technique comparable with that of the jazz piano of the same period. The playing is "staccato" on a fast tempo and the tangos generally end in a variation which enables the player to show his dexterity.
In the Forties Animal Truly opens a new way, he replaces the jerky virtuoso playing by simple and expressive phrasing. He binds the notes and breathes like a singer. The young Astor Piazzolla enters his orchestra in the Forties. He will carry out the synthesis between the virtuosity of his predecessors and the melody expression of Truly, reserved until then to singers and violinists.
Astor Piazzolla spent his childhood in New York where his father was a hairdresser, he studied music with a Hungarian composer who lived in the same building and exchanged music lessons against Mrs. Piazzolla's Italian dishes. Thus young Astor learned music far from tango. His parents pushed him to play bandonion against his will. he preferred harmonica. He often declared to newspapers, with his immoderate taste for provocation, that he hated tango.
Anyway, he will get the revelation of tango on its return to Argentina when listening to of Animal Troilo's orchestra in Mar del Plata. It was the time of big orchestras which functioned "by sections " a little like the jazz big bands. A string section (4 violins, viola, cello) a "rhythm section" (piano, double bass), a section of 4 or 5 bandonions and a singer.
Piazzolla started there as an arranger, already showing the characteristics of its personal style, but Troilo controlled the style and scratched out authoritatively what went to far from the swing of the dance.
At the end of the Forties he set up his own orchestra. There are some recordings of this orchestra on a CD called De Mi Bandonion where the bandonion section plays the wildest variations.
At the beginning of the Fifties Piazzolla broke with the dance tango and went to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger. There he listened in 1954 to saxophonist Gerry Mulligan's octet. It was for him a second revelation. Under this influence he set up his Octeto Buenos Aires in 1955 (2 violins, violoncello, Piano, double bass, electric guitar, and 2 bandonions). The idea is to make a band of soloists, therefore Piazzolla gave up section arrangements, each instrument of the octeto developed its own voice and the electric guitar improvised above the whole thing. In the only long play recorded by this group one discovers Piazzolla as tremendous soloist. Freed from the bandoneon section and backed by Leopoldo Federico, one of the greatest bandoneonists, Piazzolla alternates strict and firm staccato playing and free rubato, floating unceasingly on the tempo. He had found his own way.
The next step consists in removing the second bandonion and occupying the central place of his various groups, of which the most long lasting has been the quintet (violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, bandonion).
Breaking definitively with the dance and the "Guardia Vieja " Piazzolla has been the subject of vivid polemics throughout his career. He enjoyed to poke them up with spectacular declarations to the press. It was said and written that his music is not tango anymore. He himself described it as "contemporary popular music of Buenos Aires" but the titles of his tunes betray him: Tangata, Four for tango, Tanguedia, Libertango, Meditango, Violentango, Novitango, Amelitango, Tristango etc... Today he is considered by the public as the most important character of the history of tango after Carlos Gardel.
This kind of classification is always unfair to other important artists. Nevertheless, Piazzolla has given a new breath to a declining music by integrating elements of modernity that made it acceptable by the young Argentinean public which could no longer identify with the outdated values carried by traditional tango. Piazzolla conquered the European public at the end of the Seventies in spite of its reluctance to his political neutrality regarding the Argentinean dictatorship. He became in the whole world the symbol of the modern tango. Astor Piazzolla is associated with the bandonion like Ravi Shankar with the sitar or Toots Thielmans with the harmonica. He is also the most played Argentinean composer.
Astor Piazzolla renewed the Tango from a stylistic and musical point of view, he also revolutionised the bandonion playing technique. But he did it in such a a personal way that it is difficult to say that he "founded a school". Unlike the majority of Argentinean bandoneonists, who learned how to play using exercises, in a very developed written tradition adapted from piano tutors (Hannon) aiming at the equality of the fingers, the logic of the fingering and where one endeavours to play as much pushing than pulling the bellows, Astor Piazzolla developed a personal technique which neglects the use of the little figer and the closing of the bellows.
Histechnique is different of usual Argentinean bandonion playing in the same way as jazz piano differs from classical piano. It is not universal in the sense that it does not enable to play all kinds of music and cannot be transmitted to pupils. It is individual in the sense that it is at the service of Piazzolla's style and repertory, and is adapted to his own hands. Piazzolla was left-handed - which explains the ease and the speed of his left hand - and he had long and extremely flexible fingers permitting enormous splits and difficult combinations of chords.
The small finger the small finger poses a problem with all the musicians. It is shorter, weaker and from an anatomical point of view, it does not have same independence as the index and [Image] the major one because it shares certain tendons[Image] with the annular one. It thus should either be worked especially to blur as much as possible these differences or to make use of it the least possible. It is clearly it second solution which at summer chosen by Astor Piazzolla (like besides by the majority of the autodidacts), which with the Bi-sound bandonion poses an additional problem because of distance on the keyboard of certain notes musicalement close. One always saw dancing the small finger of his right hand, which it however had strong length, randomly movements of the other fingersOne always saw dancing the small finger of his right hand, which it however had strong length, randomly movements of the other fingers and to be posed only exceptionally on the keys located to the bottom of the keyboard, generally to compose of the agreements of four notes. Three others often carrying out the great variation to allow the so difficult legato the bandonion, even by employing the four fingers. With the listening of the result it is clear that this technique does not have only disadvantages! The [Image] three active fingers gain there of as much in[Image] energy and flexibility. The ideal technique is that which is adapted to a hand and a particular style. Another aspect marking of the technique of Astor Piazzolla is its position upright, a foot on a stool. The scenic interest is not foreign there. It adopted this position when it started to be made known as soloist. The play feels some: handling of the bellows which do not rest that on only one knee is malcommode with full opening, and themthe buttons located to the bottom of the keyboard are difficult to reach. On the other hand the bandonion " falls " more freely than if it rested on the two knees and allows a play " while drawing " very accentuated (even when one plays sitted one uses only one knee to play " marcado " i.e. by combining the staccato passage (with the keyboard) and the stressing (with the knee). The play " while pushing ", always ungrateful, is frankly handicapped by the position upright. Once again Astor chose the [Image] extreme solution: to accentuate of advantage and [Image] to avoid playing " while pushing ", it closed again its bellows using the valve with least silence. Its play was connected with that of " blowing " which must take again its breathing between the sentences. The infernal virtuosity of Astor Piazzolla and the incredible conviction of its play show that there are no absolute technical criteria. The characteristics of a technique influence the sound and phrased, the limits that they cause must be compensated musicalement what gives to the play bus what gives to the play character. Its instruments Astor Piazzolla played only on Alfred Arnold of before war. One of its preferred bandonions had been offered to him by Anibal Troilo, the Louis Armstrong of the bandonion. This instrument " had been electrified " towards the end of the Sixties by microcomputers placed inside the instrument. One sees on certain photographs the two potentiometers assembled on the top of the case, one still sees the mark of it on the photographs [Image] of the Libertango disc which approximately [Image] represent plane the hands of Astor on the keyboards, the right hand with the recto, the left with the back. The electrification gave a rather particular sound result which enlarged the low registers enormously. It was especially practical for the sound recording on scene, the microcomputers being locked up in the bandonion had less tendency to " larsenner " and the problem of the distance from the microcomputers was solved. Dino Salluzzi and some others had adopted this system of amplification which passed today from mode.Thereafter Astor Piazzolla returned to micro outsides. It seldom played without amplification. I repaired in 1989 the bandonion that Astor Piazzolla played the last years of its life. It was a Alfred Arnold of 1937 linked black, not [Image] very worn. The keyboards were regulated rather [Image] hard and the depression was lower than what is usually done. It was granted a little below the 442 (contrary to the Argentinian practice to grant to the 444). At the interior, Piazzolla had signed its hand the sounding boards and the diagrids.
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