The Four Seasons
- April 23, 2016
The Argentine composer and bandoneón prodigy Astor Piazzolla ranks among his country’s most celebrated composers, and stands without peer in the realm of twentieth-century tango. His early classical training under Alberto Ginastera (which he pursued while also performing with the leading tango bandleader Aníbal Troilo) led him, in 1954, to study in Paris with the eminent pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Weary by this time of the tango he had grown up with, and seeking a career as a composer of “serious” classical music, Piazzolla kept his bandoneón hidden away. But on eventually hearing him play his tango Triunfal, Boulanger admonished her pupil, “This is Piazzolla! You never give it up.”
His true artistic identity validated, Piazzolla returned to Argentina, and to tango, with renewed vigor. Reflecting his extensive musical instruction and far-ranging technical expertise, Piazzolla injected traditional tango music with modern chromaticism, elements of jazz, and even fugal technique. Though at first met with disapprovingly by tango traditionalists at home, Piazzolla’s nuevo tango thrived abroad and, eventually, in Argentina as well. By the 1980s, Piazzolla was regarded as tango’s savior.
Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) exemplify Piazzolla’s brand of nuevo tango. Originally scored for Piazzolla’s Quinteto of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón, the Estaciones Porteñas were conceived as four discreet pieces rather than as a set. Piazzolla composed “Verano Porteño” (Buenos Aires Summer) in 1965 as incidental music for Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’s play Melenita de Oro. “Otoño Porteño” (Autumn) was composed in 1969, with the remaining two Estaciones completed the following year.
The Estaciones Porteñas have become some of Piazzolla’s most popular works; they frequently appear on concert stages as a full suite, and in arrangements for various ensembles, as we encounter them on this program. The Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov was the first to juxtapose them with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as is also now habitually done, arranging Piazzolla’s tangos for solo violin and string orchestra. Certainly, the Estaciones retain their irresistibility in this guise. Delighted listeners are urged to seek out, as further listening, Piazzolla’s own dazzling performances of these pieces with his Quinteto.
Patrick Castillo ©2016
The solo concerto was already a specialty of northern Italy before Vivaldi, but he refined and advanced the art form, and in the process he did more than anyone else to spread it north of the Alps to Germany and beyond. In 1725, his publisher in Amsterdam released a set of twelve concertos under the title The Contest Between Harmony and Invention, starting with four concertos named after the seasons. Vivaldi organized the musical ideas to correspond to descriptive sonnets that he likely wrote himself, allowing for such word painting as the “birds in joyous song” that twitter through the first movement of Spring, represented by trilling violin motives. Summer opens under the scorching “heat of the burning sun,” matched by wilting musical figures, and the soloist elaborates the scene by impersonating a cuckoo, with the distinctive two-note call embedded within constant bow strokes. Peasants dancing and drinking in celebration of the harvest set the scene for Autumn, until they all settle into an inebriated slumber. After a sleepy slow movement, the finale wakes for a hunt, complete with imitations of hunting horns and barking dogs. Winter brings desolate cold and chattering teeth, offset by the indoor warmth of a cozy fire in the slow movement.
Aaron Grad ©2019