Composers Datebook®

Piazzolla passes


On today's date in 1992, lovers of the tango had good reason to be sad. The great Argentinean composer and bandoneón virtuoso Astor Piazolla had died in Buenos Aires at the age of 71.

Now, the bandoneón is a close relation of the accordion, and for his instrument Piazolla composed original music inspired by the tango, a dance form that originated in the working-class dancehalls and bordellos of Buenos Aires. While still a teen-ager, Piazolla had played bandoneón in the orchestra of Carlos Gardél, the most famous tango singer of the 1930s. Eventually, Piazolla formed his own band, which became famous throughout South America.

But Piazzola had a burning desire to write concert music, and won a scholarship to study composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. She encouraged him to explore the possibilities inherent in the music he knew best, and so Piazzola set about "reinventing" the tango. The result was dubbed "nuevo tango." These "new" tangos were as vital as the old ones, but often dark and brooding.

Shortly before his death, someone asked Piazolla why his music was so melancholy. "Not because I'm sad," Piazolla replied. "Not at all. I'm a happy guy. I like to taste a good wine. I like to eat well. I like to live. No, my music is sad because the tango is sad—sad and dramatic, but not pessimistic."

Music Played in Today's Program

Astor Piazzolla (1921 - 1992) Tres minutos con la realidad Nestor Marconi, bandoneon; Yo Yo Ma, cello; ensemble Sony Classical 63122

On This Day


  • 1878 - English composer and pianist Josef Holbrooke, in Croydon

  • 1895 - English composer Gordon Jacob, in London

  • 1897 - German-born Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (originally Frankenburger), in Munich

  • 1918 - American composer George Rochberg, in Paterson, N.J.

  • 1926 - American composer and teacher Kenneth Gaburo, in Somerville, N.J.


  • 1992 - Argentinian composer and bandonion virtuoso Astor Piazolla, age 71, in Buenos Aires


  • 1931 - R. Vaughan Williams: ballet, "Job (A Masque for Dancing)," in London

  • 1990 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Clarinet Quintet, at a Chamber Music Northwest concert in Portland, Ore. featuring clarinetist David Shifrin

  • 1996 - Stephen Paulus: "Partita Appassionata," for violin and piano, by William Preucil and Arthur Rowe, at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival

  • 2000 - Leslie Bassett: Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra, during a World Saxophone Congress at Pierre Mercure Hall, Montreal, with soloist Clifford Leaman, and the Orchestre Symphonique de Laval, Louis Lavigueur, conducting;


  • 1877 - Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska is born in Warsaw

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®