'FOUR FOR TANGO' FOR STRING QUARTET
Piazzola revolutionized traditional Argentinean tango by incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. Born in Argentina to Italian parents, he grew up in New York and learned the bandoneon after his father, nostalgic for the motherland, spotted one in the window of a pawn shop. At thirteen he met legendary tango player Carlos Gardel who invited the prodigy to join him on tour but his parents felt him too young. This proved fortuitous when the entire band perished in a plane crash. (Piazzolla later quipped that had his father not been so careful he’d be playing the harp, not bandoneon.) Returning to Argentina he studied under the guidance of composer Alberto Ginastera by day while ruling the clubs after dark with his bandoneon. In 1953, Piazzolla went to study composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He described the encounter:
When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: "It's very well written." And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: "Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what's wrong? I can't find Piazzolla in this." And she began to investigate my private life: what I did and did not play, if I was single, married, or living with someone, she was like an FBI agent! And I was very ashamed to tell her that I was a tango musician. Finally I said, "I play in a night club." I didn't want to say cabaret. And she answered, "Night club, mais oui, but that is a cabaret, isn't it?" "Yes," I answered, and thought, "I'll hit this woman in the head with a radio…." It wasn't easy to lie to her. She kept asking: "You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?" And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, "Then she will throw me from the fourth floor." Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: "You idiot, that's Piazzolla!" And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.
Four for Tango is Piazzola’s only string quartet (there are arrangements of other works). He pushes the instruments to their limits, employing new techniques, sounds, and even parts of the instruments no one ever used before. What do you call this stuff? Classical? Avant garde? Tango? Nuevo Tango? I’m not really sure and I don’t think it matters.
Program notes by David Yang