Piazzolla’s Four Seasons

Astor Piazzolla was fabulously talented, and that wealth of talent caused him some confusion as he tried to decide on a career path. Very early, he learned to play the bandoneón, the accordion-like instrument that uses buttons rather than a keyboard, and he became a virtuoso on it. He gave concerts, wrote film scores, and formed his own bands before a desire for wider expression drove him to the study of classical music. In 1954, he received a grant to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and it was that great teacher who advised him to follow his passion for the tango as the source for his own music.

Piazzolla returned to Argentina and gradually evolved his own style, one that combines the tango, jazz, and classical music. In his hands, the tango, which had deteriorated into a soft, popular form, was revitalized. Piazzolla transformed this folk dance into music capable of a variety of expression and sharply contrasted moods; his tangos are by turn fiery, melancholy, passionate, tense, violent, lyric, and always driven by an endless supply of rhythmic energy.

The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires is an unusual collection of individual tangos that form a remarkable whole. Its title (in Spanish, Las cuatro estaciones porteñas) needs to be understood carefully: cuatro estaciones is clear enough; it evokes The Four Seasons of Vivaldi. But the meaning of porteña (or porteño) is more elusive: it means “port” area, and it specifically has come to refer to the port area of Buenos Aires, where the tango was born. By extension, porteñas has come to mean anyone or anything native to Buenos Aires. And so a general translation of the title might be The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Las cuatro estaciones porteñas consists of four tangos that Piazzolla originally wrote for the small ensemble he led in Buenos Aires: violin, piano, electric guitar, bass, and bandoneón. Each tango depicts a different season in Buenos Aires, and Piazzolla wrote them over a period of time. The first, Summer (in Spanish, Verano porteño), dates from 1964, and the others followed over the next few years: Autumn (Otoño porteño) in 1969, and Spring (Primavera porteña) and Winter (Invierno porteño) in 1970. Piazzolla sometimes performed them as a group, and The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

— by turns slinky, seductive, powerful, and haunting —

has become immensely popular. This music has been arranged for a variety of instruments, and it has become particularly famous in an arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov for solo violin and string orchestra.

In this version, it becomes a sort of twentieth century Argentinian counterpart to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and those two works are sometimes performed together — like we will doing! 

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