Who was Astor Piazzolla? The Argentine tango composer in today’s Google Doodle

11 March 2021, 11:48 | Updated: 11 March 2021, 12:38

Who was Astor Piazzolla? The Argentine tango composer in today’s Google Doodle
Who was Astor Piazzolla? The Argentine tango composer in today’s Google Doodle. Picture: Getty / Google

By Rosie Pentreath

Born 100 years ago today, composer Piazzolla revolutionised the traditional tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music. Here’s why Google is celebrating him today.

Astor Piazzolla, who was born 100 years ago today (11 March 2021), was an Argentine composer and bandoneón player who revolutionised the traditional tango.

Composing so-called ‘nuevo tangos’, Piazzolla’s music incorporated elements from classical music and jazz, and remains a favourite among performers of all instruments and combinations today.

His beloved works include the Libertango, Oblivion and Buenos Aires Symphony, as well as numerous other tangoes and film scores. He was a brilliant player of the bandoneón, a concertina, or ‘squeeze box’ popular in Argentina and Uruguay.

Read more: You have to hear Piazzolla’s Libertango on four harps >

Who was Astor Piazzolla?

Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata in Argentina, in 1921. His parents, Vicente Nonino Piazzolla and Asunta Manetti, were Italian and he spent a big part of his childhood in New York with his family.

He was exposed to music early on, composing the soundtrack for the film Bólidos de Acero in 1950, and three years later enrolling in composition classes at Paris Conservatoire with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger.

Read more: Who was Ignatius Sancho? Google Doodle celebrates British composer on first day of Black History Month >

Piazzolla relocated to Argentina in 1955, where he formed his Buenos Aires octet, playing the bandoneón and composing – joined by violinists Enrico Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis, pianist Atilio Stampone, cellist José Bragato, double-bassist Juan Vasallo, electric guitarist Horacio Malvicino, and a second bandoneón player, Leopoldo Federico.

The tango was the group and Piazzolla’s mainstay, and they consolidated the nuevo tango genre internationally.

Read more: Today’s Google Doodle lets you play theremin with virtuoso Clara Rockmore >

What is a tango?

A tango is a passionate ballroom dance, usually in four-four time, characterised by syncopated rhythms underlying smooth, romantic melodies.

The dance form evolved in the 1880s in dance halls in Buenos Aires, where the Spanish version of the dance – which was a variety of flamenco – merged with the ‘milonga’, which is a fast, sensual, and, pretty disreputable at the time, Argentine dance.

Read more: Watch: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but played tango-style on a concertina >

Distinct tangos started being published as sheet music by the 1910s, and, as well as Piazzolla, names associated with the dance genre include Juan d’Arienzo, Anibal Troilo, Osvaldo Pugliese and Carlos Gardel.