Today is the 100th anniversary of Astor Piazzola’s birth, father of the “New Tango”.
Like Vivaldi, he musically recalled the aromas of each of the seasons of the year.
Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzola were born on a Friday in March. One, 243 years before the other. The first, on the fourth day of the month; the second, on the eleventh, but in 1921, that is, one hundred years ago today.
Both composers portrayed with music the four seasons of the year, one from the high baroque 18th century Venice, the other from the bustle of the streets of Buenos Aires in the second half of the 20th century. Both were sons of musician parents, they were in their forties when they composed their respective works dedicated to the different features that nature shows throughout the year. The then republic of Venice, La Serenissima, and the modern capital of Buenos Aires, have in common historical ports, a diversity of natural and urban landscapes, and paths that lead to the mystery of the waters, sources of irrevocable inspiration.
Vivaldi gave birth to his Four Seasons as a tetralogy of Violin Concertos, one of his favorite forms. Piazzolla created each season little by little, in a period of six years, between 1964 and 1970. He firstly composed Verano Porteño, the following year the Otoño Porteño; and later on the Primavera and Invierno Porteños. Before becoming a collection, they were performed autonomously. After some time they were conceived as an inseparable combo. The original instrumentation of most of them corresponds to that of the “New Tango” or “Tango Nuevo” – quintet founded by Piazzolla in the 60’s, that is to say: bandoneon, violin, piano, electric guitar and double bass.
In 1998, composer Leonid Desyatnikov (Ukraine, 1955) managed to do an arrangement in which he linked Vivaldi’s music with that of Piazzolla. He standardized the instrumentation of the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, transferring it to a string orchestra with a solo part for violin. This arrangement was requested by the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, and premiered together with his Kremerata Baltica. While Desyatnikov changed the instrumentation of the tango quintet for a string ensemble, he inserted small excerpts from Vivaldi’s music. In the Verano Porteño, he included motifs from Vivaldi’s Winter, such as those of the “severe blowing of the horrendous wind”, or the “gnashing of teeth”, typical of the coldest of seasons. Correspondingly, he added into the Porteño Winter the music of the impetuous winds of the Venetian Summer. The reason why Desyatnikov made his arrangement in this way refers to the way in which the hemispheres of the planet “alternate”; while in the northern hemisphere is summer, in the southern hemisphere is winter, and vice versa.
Later, Maestro César Olguín (Argentina, 1954), conductor of Orquesta Mexicana de Tango and based in Mexico City, would make a different arrangement, where the soloist part was distributed among two violins, a viola and a cello, as a result of a commission made by the Modesto Symphony to the Cuarteto Latinoamericano. In this version, unlike Desyatnikov’s, the composer inserts Vivaldi’s music into Piazzolla’s only between seasons of the same name:Vivaldi’s Summer begins the Verano porteño, and the Venetian winter introduces the Invierno porteño. The premiere took place on January 11th, 2008, at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, California, under the baton of Edward Polochick. Nine years later, the same quartet recorded this adaptation in Boston, conducted by Lina Gonzalez-Granados and the Unitas Ensemble. This recording is available on digital platforms. I first heard Maestro César Olguín’s arrangement in 2014, when I conducted it at the Convention Center in the city of Morelia, before the Michoacan Symphony Orchestra, and, precisely, with the Cuarteto Latinoamericano as soloists.
Astor Piazzolla said “Music is the most direct art. It enters through the ear and goes straight to the heart.” His wish is also well known: “that my work be heard in 2020, and in 3000 as well.” Last night, right on the centenary of his birth, I had the honor of premiering in Culiacan maestro Olguín’s proposal of the Estaciones Porteñas, with the Sinaloa Symphony for the Arts and the Marketo String Quartet, and to celebrate doubly, the female figure, her historical struggle and her merits, with three virtuoso violinists, alternating the soloist part in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the work that opened the concert.
This concert represented part of a transition in which several theaters around the world received for the first time in more than a year, audiences with limited seating capacity.
Piazzolla and his work represent a peculiar case in the history of music. He is a prolific melodist, who consciously places his work between an eclectic urban folklore and a Europeanizing tradition, materialized by a relentless impulse, typical of a renovator. Nadia Boulanger, the renowned French pedagogue, had advised the young Astor, during his formation in Paris, not to move away from the spirit of the great popular music that was inherent to him, where his contributions would undoubtedly reach a transcendent dimension.