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About this Piece

Composer Astor Piazzolla spent many of his formative years in the Italian neighborhoods of New York City, where he learned to play the bandoneón (a button accordion of Italian origin, now associated most often with the Argentine tango). After moving to Buenos Aires and receiving a formal music education, the precocious Piazzolla was accepted as a student of the celebrated composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger, mentor to many unique 20th-century composers (Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, just to name a few of the Americans). After studying with her for a time, Piazzolla had composed a number of less-than-inspired works for Boulanger, prompting her to ask him what kind of music he loved to write. After playing one of his tangos for her, she said that this was the music he should be writing—the music from his heart and not from his head; instead of continuing to write more neo-classical chamber works, he devoted himself to the tango, with a vengeance. He formed his own tango orchestra, the Octeto de Buenos Aires and later the Quinteto Nuevo Tango, and began composing music that eventually became known as neuvo tango—the New Tango.

Indeed, this became the legacy of Piazzolla, now known as the most accomplished modern composer of the tango. The dance itself is as popular now as at any time in history, with virtually every city in the world sporting someone who teaches the sultry moves to eager couples. Originally played and danced to in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, the music is heard not only as the accompaniment to the sensuous dance, but, thanks to Piazzolla—and numerous transcriptions and arrangements by aficionados such as John Adams—as serious music for the concert hall. —Dave Kopplin