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Concerto for Bandoneón, String Orchestra and Percussion, “Aconcagua” (1979)

Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai

I. Allegro marcato

II. Moderato

III. Presto


Piazzolla composed the Bandoneón Concerto in 1979, and premiered the work in Buenos Aires at the Auditorio de Belgrano in December. Several years earlier, Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic overthrew President Isabel Perón (the successor, third wife, and widow of former President Juan Domingo Perón) in the March 1976 Argentine coup d’état. They were replacing Perón neutralist government with a military junta and the ultra-violent National Reorganization Process. The new regime launched the Dirty War, a far-right campaign of torture and state-sanctioned terrorism from 1972 to 1983, to hunt down opponents associated with left-wing ideology, Peronism, and socialism; an estimated 30,000 people vanished. 


Under the Ford Administration and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the United States supported the beginning of the Dirty War, assisting the junta with military assistance and a congressionally approved request for 50 million dollars in securities. In the 1976 Presidential Election on November 2, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter won Hawaiʻi's four electoral votes by 2.5 points, marking the 50th state as 0.43 percent more Democratic than the entire nation. With Carter's administration, congress ceased all US arms transfers to Argentina for human rights violations in 1978.



Astor Piazzolla was an Argentine musician and significant Latin American composer of the 20th century. A virtuoso on the bandoneón, Piazzolla left traditional Latin American tango bands in 1955 to create a new tango that blended elements of jazz and classical music. He received his first bandoneón at age eight and learned to play that instrument and the piano as a child. In Mar del Plata in 1936, Piazzolla began playing with a variety of tango orchestras. At age 17, he moved to Buenos Aires and formed his orchestra in 1946, composing new works and experimenting with the sound and structure of the tango. In 1949 he disbanded the orchestra, unsatisfied with his efforts and still interested in classical composition. Having won a composing contest with his symphonic piece Buenos Aires (1951), he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She urged him to remain true to himself and to continue his experiments with the tango. Henceforth he combined his two musical passions, despite much criticism from tango traditionalists. 


Piazzolla returned to Argentina in 1955 but moved again to the United States, where he lived from 1958 to 1960. When he returned to Argentina, he formed the influential Quinteto Nuevo Tango (1960), featuring a violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, and bandoneón. Many of his 750 compositions were written for the quintet, along with pieces for orchestra, big band, bandoneón, and cello. His innovations in counterpoint, rhythm, and harmony, were initially rejected in his country but greatly admired in the United States and Europe. Piazzolla's new tango idiom gradually gained acceptance in Argentina, and his music influenced a new generation of tango composers through his numerous film scores. (Wise Music Classical)



Like Hawaiʻi's popularization of the Portuguese ukulele, the German-invented bandoneón has come to define the Argentine tango culture. Commissioned by the Banco de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, the Concerto for Bandoneón, String Orchestra and Percussion represents the melding of the "small-scale" tango with "large-scale" western concert music, with the instrument as the root binding two worlds.


The 24-minute score calls for strings, piano, harp, timpani, and percussion to accompany the bandoneón over its three movements. Like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, the poetic name "Aconcagua" was a third-party marketing invention. Aldo Pagani, the composer's publisher, tacked on the name of Argentina's frosty and highest mountain after the composer's death, claiming the concerto represented its creator's artistic "peak," a tour de Argentina of the composer's style and voice. 



The first movement unabashedly jumps straight to the propulsive rhythms and nationalistic tendencies of his teacher Ginastera, followed by intimate exchanges between solo, orchestra, and a cadenza. The second movement features the lyrical and expressive possibilities of a slow tango, an air for Buenos Aires. Dance partners emerge in the harp, solo violin, and piano in an intimate affair of shadows dancing to the music of a South American night. The rondo finale bursts into a breathtaking super tango. Midway, the bandoneón weeps in a stretch of sweet melancholy and despair. With his roots and musical voice deeply tied to the bandoneón, Piazzolla uses the instrument to cast himself into his music. If the bandoneón truly personifies its creator, the composer speaks with the swagger of his tango melody Flaco Aroldi in a growing infectious cry for his native Argentina.


Astor Piazzolla was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on March 11, 1921, and died on July 4, 1992, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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