JAZZ FESTIVAL FEATURE
"I‘he bandoneon had such a bad reputation. associated with the bordellos. prostitution. you know. pimps. thieves and gigolos. I didn't want to admit I played it. Sol played. she made me play. my tango on the piano. And when I finished she took my two hands. pressed
them to her chest and said ‘. . . this is
Astor Piazzolla . . . this is your music
. and so I threw ten years of my life
away. I had a tango attack. and I
wrote furiously. She was the inspiration. she made me believe in myself.‘
‘She' was Nadia Boulanger. and Astor. bored with the limitations of the simple tango form. had for years been turning his attention to SCFIUlls music. an interest which had taken him from Argentina to Paris. to
study composition with the famous
French teacher. a remarkable lady whose other pupils include such
noted composers as Leonard v Bernstein. Aaron Copland. Quincy
Jones and Phillip (ilass. ‘Aftcr two weeks.‘ Astor recalls. ‘she said to me 'your work is all very well. Ravel. Bartok and all that. but I want you to express yourself.‘
And so. with his mastery of the bandoneon. learned as a boy living in New York when he was given one by his homesick father. and his love of classical and modern music. the stage was set for the emergence of Ills New Tango. which caused such a stir '.’ — mostly ofdisapproval — in the Argentina ofthe mid-1950s.
A century before. the (ierman inventor Henry Band was one of many who fastened on the idea of producing a musical instrument using the principle of the free reed. Known in the Far East since ancient times. the cherry. a sort of mouth organ gourd with perpendicular tubes uncovered by the fingers. had been brought to one of the great Exhibitions of the early 19th Century. creating much excitement. Soon. all over Europe. musical instrument makers had evolved the flutina. melodeon. concertina. harmonium. harmonica. accordion and other contraptions destined to
Astor Piazzolla once created a sensation by daring to tamper with the Tango. but his /Vl((’t‘() Tango is now one of the most exciting sounds in world music. NORMAN (‘IIALMI‘LRS talks to the man with the most notorious bandoncon it Buenos Aires.
Mr Band‘s instrument. originally called the bandonium. was designed to be used somewhat as a portable organ. for religious music. Smaller than the modern accordion. it is much larger than the concertina. although it shares its double action. a different note dependent on the direction of the bellows. and a complicated fingering system. It doesn‘t have the limiting prescribed basses and chords of the accordion. but has two reeds tuned in octaves for each note. and a range almost equal to the piano. About 1890 it found its way to Argentina. taken there. so the story goes. by an Irish sailor. where it found a suitable home playing the tango in the waterfront whorehouses. To this day. all the bandoneons in Argentina have come from (iermany.
‘You know. Argentina is 1le per cent immigrants. From Italy. Spain. France. England. many other places. They spent months on board ship and never went back. Very sad. melancholic. 'l‘he tango is sadness. . . and drama. When the Italians came in the 1870 and 1880s. they were accordion players. but they heard the bandoneon. and they loved its sad sound. By the 1880s. the tango was violin. flute and guitar. then piano was added. and then the bandoneon. But no drums. No African input. Argentina is more introverted than Brazil.‘
Brooding sonorities. startling changes of tempo. insistent. subversive rhythms. harmonic subtelty and beautiful and reflective melody. played by his group of piano. bass. cello. guitar and two bandoneons; the music is exceedingly well played. and we might now find it hard to imagine the furore it caused in its birthplace.
'I was even prohibited from playing. Argentina is a strange country — they can change every month. a new minister. a bishop. a general. change the president . . . but not the tango.‘
Astor Piazza/la and the New Tango Sexlel. Tramway. Jo’Jtme.
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