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Take a deeper dive into specific pieces of music and composers with Classical KC and the UMKC Conservatory while learning how they connect to events today.

Now a classical standard, Astor Piazzola's 'Libertango' has rebellious roots

Astor Piazzolla with his bandoneon.
Revista Gente
Wikimedia Commons
Astor Piazzolla with his bandoneon.

With its beginnings in traditional tango, the Argentine composer's work has taken on new life through different instrumentations, adaptations, and genre-bending arrangements.

Author Austin Way is a professor of bassoon at the University of Missouri - Columbia.

On May 6th at the Midwest Trust Center, duo Runge&Ammon will perform Libertango, a revolutionary work by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

As a native of the homeland of tango, Piazzolla was introduced to the musical style from an early age and began his study on the bandoneón (an instrument similar to an accordion) at age eight. He continued his study of tango and began to experiment with the form, even going as far as to form his own orchestra in 1946 which he used as a vehicle for his musical innovation.

Like many Latin American composers, Piazzolla faced backlash for his adaptation of the beloved and deeply traditional form, and ultimately left Argentina for Paris where he studied with Nadia Boulanger who encouraged him to stay true to his unique and personal approach. After his return to South America, he began to compose what is referred to as tango nuevo, a new form of the dance which introduced elements of classical music and jazz into the form. However, he continued to face backlash throughout his career for his seemingly sacrilegious treatment of the tango. Some critics even went as far as to refer to him as an apostate, claiming that his tampering with the traditional Argentine form was an affront to their culture.

Its title itself is a statement of Piazzolla’s liberated compositional style. The word Libertango is a combination of the words “libertad” (which translates to “liberty” from Spanish) and “tango.” Although the work has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and has been recast to fit other musical genres, its original 1974 premiere involved an ensemble of Piazzolla himself conducting while playing bandoneón accompanied by an ensemble of flutes, Hammond organ, piano, percussion, both electric and acoustic guitars, and a small string section.

Since its premiere, the work has been arranged and transformed for instrumentations of all kinds and has even been paired with lyrics, which has allowed the work to travel from its original tango nuevo style into styles that could be more traditionally classical, more strictly jazz, or even into pop or folk genres. You can experience one of the many ways this work has taken on a life of its own through Runge&Ammon’s arrangement for cello and piano.

Event Details

What: ‘Revolutionary Icons’ with Runge&Ammon
Where: Polsky Theater, Midwest Trust Center
When: May 6, 7:00 p.m.
Cost: $20-40