By the way - if you're reading this and you saw me today, let me know! Post a comment or send me an email. And if you took a picture or a video, please share that too - I didn't get to take any of myself...
This week's upload/musical tidbit is "Le Grand Tango" by Astor Piazzolla, also from my final master's recital. Unfortunately, since YouTube changed its upload allowances to only 10 minutes tops, and this (trimmed as short as I could make it) was 10:20, I am uploading it only to my website here. On that note - if anybody knows how to upload longer videos to YouTube still, please let me know the magic!
However, here is the video now!
However, the project gave me a great insight into a culture and a world that I had known almost nothing about. I learned about how Tango came to be part of an Argentinian's blood, and the long road that led it there. Strangely enough, it was Parisians who fell in love with the tango that made it explode in Argentina, in the end. Before that, no upper-class self-respecting Argentinian would touch the stuff - it was a dance created by slaves, after all.
Once the craze caught on, though, there was no stopping it. Argentina fell in love with the tango until that was all they could live and breathe. But as much as they couldn't get enough of it, most Argentinians didn't want the style to change at all. This is where Astor Piazzolla's difficulties with Argentina began - he envisioned a future for tango, where it blended into the modern Western classical music he was so eager to compose.
Piazzolla didn't want to be a tango composer at all, at first. He learned the bandoneon because his father suggested it, but he fell in love with Bach first. He coerced their next door neighbor in New York City, a concert pianist, to teach him how to play, and she taught him Bach and other classical music, since that was all she knew. When Piazzolla went back to Argentina, the world existed only for tango, so he learned enough to get by. But when he got the chance to go study with Nadia Boulanger in France, he was determined to write nothing but Western classical music.
It was Boulanger who burst his bubble there. She was dissatisfied with his classical works and eventually questioned him enough to find out he had been writing some tangos in Argentina. She had him play one and told him, right then and there, that he had to compose tangos, not "classical" music. So, Piazzolla eventually was won over and began to write tangos in earnest. But they were not traditional tangos. There was no way his studies with Nadia Boulanger and his love for classical Bach wouldn't bleed over into his tango compositions.
Because of his new approaches to tango, Piazzolla was generally disliked in Argentina for many years. The so-called "Tango Nuevo" styles that were beginning to pop up, with Piazzolla more or less leading the way, were styles that traditional tango players, listeners, and dancers would not stand for.
Because you couldn't dance to Tango Nuevo. And even if you could, audiences eventually just would stop dancing. The music itself was too distracting. Too good. Piazzolla was fired from a tango group because one of his tango arrangements turned a dance party into a concert hall... more than once.
One of the culminating efforts of Piazzolla includes "Le Grand Tango". It was one of his later works. He wrote it firstly for Mstislav Rostropovich, who was a world star on the cello at the time. It took a decade before Rostropovich actually looked over to the score that Piazzolla had sent him, but when he did, he loved it. They recorded the piece within a year, and since then it has become part of the standard repertoire for all cellists. It also happens to be one of the few works of "classical" music that Piazzolla wrote which became successful in the classical world. He is far better known for his amazing tangos.
There are more details, of course - I really did read this guy's bio, and he was a fascinating man! - but that was probably more than you expected to learn about Astor Piazzolla today anyway, right?