Astor Piazzolla, from tango killer to Argentina’s undisputed hero

Astor Pantaleon Piazzolla, the great Argentine musician of the twentieth century, had had a difficult relationship as a young man with his fellow citizens who accused him of being the killer of tango. 100 years after his birth, that hatred has turned into love. Buenos Aires, today, on the centenary of his death, pays him every possible tribute to a fellow citizen, raised in New York, who reinvented Argentine popular music.

Astor was a poor, lame Argentine boy from slums in New York. His father, an accordionist, bought him a kind of portable organ, a bandoneon, second-hand from a pawnshop. Those ten kilos of tool hung around his neck for his entire life.

Self-taught at first, then discoverer of Bach, Astor had teachers, explored jazz and became an extraordinary musician. But the fundamental meeting was with Carlos Gardel the absolute king of tango.

To meet him Astor Astor climbed the fire escape to get past security. Gardel after hearing him play said to him “You will be great, but you play tango like a Galician”.

In 43 he married Odette Maria Wolff with whom he had two children, Diana and Daniel. He began as an arranger in the orchestra of Aníbal Troilo, one of the greats of the tango but for a short time. Piazzolla demanded too much, he wanted to change things, he forced musicians to study music and soon earned a reputation as a cursed man. His tangos, they said, were not danceable. They were complicated. In short, Astor Piazzolla killed the tango. And so the old guard of tango has always tried to keep it on the sidelines.

In 1954 he went to Paris to study with the famous composer and pianist Nadia Boulanger, who encouraged him not to stop. In 1959, returning to Buenos Aires, after the death of his father he composed his masterpiece for him: Adiós Nonino.

Piazzolla did not kill the tango but, on the contrary, he made it live at very high levels. In 1969 he created a tango bomb, the wonderful “Balada para un loco”. And in 1975 he put the finishing touches on his work of reinventing “popular music of Buenos Aires” with “Libertango”, a melody that everyone knows. By then he had married, after divorce from his first marriage, Laura Escalada, a young opera singer and radio host. The woman still lives in Buenos Aires today. In the eighties, with over 2,000 songs composed, the recognition in Argentina had finally begun.

On August 4, 1990, in an apartment on the Parisian island of Saint Louis, the end began. Astor Piazzolla suffered a stroke from which he never recovered. “He smoked a lot his whole life, had already had a heart attack and suffered a by-pass.” The Great Astor, reduced to a comatose state, died on July 4, 1992.

Laura Escalada created the Astor Piazzolla Foundation in 1995. For many years she has struggled to keep the memory of the musician alive. What is happening these days is that the Teatro Colón has reopened, despite the pandemic, to pay tribute to Astor Piazzolla. The Kirchner Cultural Center dedicates a special program to the musician. The year 2021 will end in Buenos Aires with the music of Piazzolla: his works will play in a great concert in front of the Obelisk.

Piazzolla is no longer the killer of tango. He is an Argentine hero.


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