Wednesday, July 9, 2014


DON’T EVER LEAVE IT       0311

Like many a great musician before him, Argentine composer Astor Piazolla went to Paris to take lessons from the celebrated Nadia Boulanger. Although his lessons with her went on for less than four months, long after they were over he would declare that he owed her “absolutely everything”.

He was born on March 11, 1921, and so was already thirty-three years old when he came to take his first lesson from Boulanger. She had tutored some of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, and she spoke of them without awe. She dismissed a package in the mail as the latest work by Stravinsky, who sent her a copy of every new work he wrote, and added, “I don’t have time to look at them all!”

Piazolla showed her a hefty stack of his own manuscripts, and as she sifted through them she concluded, “This music is well-written. Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartok, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can’t find Piazolla in this.”

She asked him what sort of music he played in Argentina.

Reluctantly, he admitted that he played tangos in nightclubs.

“I love that music!” she exclaimed. She asked him what instrument he played.

He confessed that he played a concertina-like instrument called the bandoneon. He had images of her throwing him out of her fourth floor window.

She had heard of the bandoneon. She convinced Piazolla to play one of his tangos on the piano.

He chose one called “Triumfal”. At the eighth bar she stopped him, took him by the hands, and told him in no uncertain terms, “That is Piazolla. Don’t ever leave it!”

It was a formative moment. “I took all of the music I had composed,” Piazolla said later, “ten years in my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.”

*    *   *

This story reminds me of a friend of mine who decided to go to the University of the Philippines College of Music, to pursue a degree of Masters in Music Composition.

At the first day of class, he and his classmates were excited to meet their composition professor, eagerly armed with each of their own stack of musical compositions. But, after asking the class to put out their compositions, the next thing the professor said was throw them all out. The stunned class waited for the explanation which was just that they should then simply forget about all they ever learned about composing music.

This composer-professor is well-known for his avant-garde compositions and bold dissonances – we had the “privilege’ of studying one of his choir composition, “Alamat”, and that was really nose bleed for me and my choir at that time.  He probably was thinking along the same lines as Nadia Boulanger on this and I’m not sure what sort of products has come out of his classes but it’s just good to know that if his premise is true, there is yet a composer in all of us after all.

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