The Double A and the Double Z – Piazzolla and the Bandoneon

The Alfred Arnold 142-tone Doble A will always be the Bandoneon I associate with Astor Piazzolla. It is a Doble A that he is holding in his Mar del Plata statue. An austere, plain-cased, Doble A in those 70’s moody black and white photos. It is a Doble A that sits on display in the Centro Cultural Néstor Kirchner, labelled “a Bandoneon used by Astor Piazzolla”.

The Doble A was just settling as a design at the beginning of Piazzolla’s Career and by the end was a wholly new idiom, completely separated from its roots. The Doble A had to find an audience abroad before it was celebrated at home. The Doble A is hailed by many as a peerless standard, never to be repeated.

The Poet Homero Manzi once wrote “My whole life, brother bandoneon, is concealed within your keyboard” – Manzi wrote many Tangos, before dying tragically young in his 40’s. Piazzolla However, lived for 71 years. A span of creative vigour that sits in perfect symmetry with the keys of the 142-tone Doble A. 38 keys on the right keyboard, 33 keys on the left. 71 Summers when the bellows draw out. 71 Winters as they draw in.

The Right keyboard (Treble)

Though Piazzolla’s story began in Mar del Plata, by the time he was 5 he was in New York. Sandwiched between the immigrants and the mobsters of Little Italy, he learnt his English from hoodlums and his Bach from a student of Rachmaninoff. 8 keys into the treble keyboard marks the point when Piazzolla received his first Bandoneon, a gift from his father. The 13th key represents the year of 1934 When, after a chance meeting, a teenaged Piazzolla was invited to tour with the legendary Tango singer Carlos Gardel, Piazzolla’s father put paid to the idea, Decreeing that Astor was too young. This decision was serendipitous as Gardel and his whole orchestra died in a plane crash on that tour.

Below the right keyboard of the doble As there is a sounding hole shaped like a stylised harp. This feature is common to all pre-war Doble As. Piazzolla is said to have been fond of remarking that, had he joined Gardel on the fateful tour, then “Piazzolla would have played the Harp instead of the bandoneon!” Fortunately there are another 58 keys to consider before we actually mark his passing.

The harp sounding hole on the right keyboard.

Piazzolla would have played the Harp instead of the bandoneon!

Astor Piazzolla

If we follow the keys from number 15 to 21 we find Piazzolla’s family returned to Argentina and his career begun in earnest. He finds a place in Troilo’s orchestra, and even begins his own, but traditional tango holds less and less appeal for him.

The 22nd key represents 1954, Piazzolla fought his way to Paris, desperate to find validation from the famous teacher of classical composers, Nadia Boulanger. She listened to him play each of his compositions without comment until he eventually began to play one of his own Tangos. Suddenly Mademoiselle Boulanger opened her eyes and seized his hands. “This, you idiot!” she said, beaming “this is Piazzolla!”.

This you idiot! This, is Piazzolla!”

Mademoiselle Nadia Boulanger

Piazzolla’s new style, a fusion of Jazz and Tango, met with significant opposition and controversy in his native Argentina. This “Tango Neuvo” found a much more enthusiastic audience in Europe and North America however and Piazzolla became a touring artist of International renown. This period will take us to key 38. The final key of the treble keyboard and the year 1959 in the life of Astor Piazzolla.

As the keyboards of the double A are divided, so can our lives be divided by shifts so profound that we may later seek to characterise our time as the days before and the days after them. On tour in New York, news reaches Piazzolla of his Father’s death. In a stroke Piazzolla lost his most important relationship, the man in the world who he most admired. The man who he looked to for guidance and quiet appreciation. But gone also was the child who received a Bandoneon on that birthday three decades ago.

Piazzolla writes “Adios Noniño” in half an hour. He is 38 years old. The foundation years of the Treble keyboard are gone. We must look now to the left, where the sonorous tone of the Bass lies.

[ continued in Pt 2 ]