Born in Argentina in 1921 to immigrant Italian parents, Piazzolla spent most of his childhood with his family in New York City. While there, he acquired fluency in four languages: Spanish, English, French, and Italian. He also started playing the bandoneon, quickly rising to the status of child prodigy. While still quite young, he met Carlos Gardel, another great figure of Argentine tango. He returned to Argentina in 1937, where strictly traditional tango still reigned, and played in night clubs with a series of groups. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein (then living in Buenos Aires) advised him to study with the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Delving into scores of Stravinsky, Bartók, Ravel, and others, he gave up tango temporarily and worked as a modernist classical composer.
At Ginastera’s urging, in 1953 Piazzolla entered his “Buenos Aires” Symphony in a composition contest, and won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the French composer and conductor Nadia Boulanger. The insightful Boulanger turned his life around in a day, as Piazzolla tells beautifully in his own words:
“When I met her, I showed her ...