In The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, Alex Ross uses the word virtuoso ten times. Twice it refers to Liszt and never does it refer to a twentieth century composer. If Mr. Ross had the insight to include Astor Piazzolla in his book, he might have been able to use the word virtuoso one more time and link it to a twentieth century composer. I have more to say about this book but will reserve it for a later blog - the real topic is Piazzolla as a bandoneónist as illustrated in today's video of a performance of Bandoneón from the Suite Troileana.
Piazzolla was a child prodigy on the bandoneón and as an adult is recognized by most as one of the most technically skilled performers ever to play the instrument - the definition of a virtuoso. Surprisingly, there are few media available which showcase Piazzolla playing solo. There are four classic tango solos on the 1970 LP, Concierto Para Quinteto, three pieces that he wrote on the soundtrack of Sur, and three television appearances where he played solo - including today's video which initially appeared on Channel 11 in Argentina in 1975. I suspect there are others which I have missed but the point is that we have relatively few opportunities to observe Piazzolla alone with his instrument.
The piece, Bandoneón, is one of four sections in a a suite written to honor Anibal Troilo at the time of his death. Troilo was in some ways the musical godfather to Piazzolla. He gave him his first role in a major tango orquesta and promoted him to be the primary arranger for that orchesta. Much of the classic tango language which provides a foundation for Piazzolla's work was learned at the elbow of Troilo. The suite honors four things that were important to Troilo: Bandoneón, Zita (his wife), Whisky, and Escolaso (gambling).
Bandoneón opens with a lengthy solo by Piazzolla. If the video does not appear below, click here.
Note: this entry was edited on December 29, 2009 to include the video of the full performance of Bandoneón as posted by Benjamin Szvalb. The original posting contained only a fragment of the performance.
To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.