Piazzolla’s name is synonymous with the tango – the composer dedicated his entire life to its promotion and artistic development. Ástor Pantaleón Piazzolla, a child of Italian emigrants, was born in the Argentine town Mar del Plata. His family, which moved to New York four years later, loved and listened to jazz and classical music as well as the traditional Argentine tango. At the age of eight, Piazzolla began playing the bandoneon, a type of accordion, and at age twelve he composed his first tango. Thanks to his piano teacher, he fell in love with Bach’s music, and he later played it on the bandoneon. At the age of fifteen, he returned with his family to Mar del Plata, and at seventeen he went to Buenos Aires, where he joined Anibal Troilo first-rate tango orchestra. In 1946 he formed an orchestra of his own. Because of his ambitions as an arranger, he began studying with the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and he continued to learn to play the works of the classical composers – Bartók and Stravinsky. He even tried his hand at composing classical music. In the 1950s he sent to Paris to study on a scholarship with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger. He played her his tango Triunfal, and Boulanger is said to have declared: “Astor, your classical compositions are very well written, but this is where the real Piazzolla is; never leave him behind.” For Piazzolla, this was a clear impulse to return to the tango and the bandoneon, so he decided to merge classical music and the tango into sophisticated music with the tango’s passion. This is where the history of the “new tango” (“tango nuevo”) begins. After returning to Argentina, in Buenos Aires he founded an octet with two bandoneons, two violins, contrabass, cello, piano, and electric guitar, and he began composing innovative works for the group in the style of chamber music with the feel of the tango. His brand new style attracted admirers as well as some aggressive detractors among the fans of the traditional tango. In 1959, after a short “jazz” visit to New York, he founded a quintet in Buenos Aires (bandoneon, violin, contrabass, piano, and electric guitar), and this became Piazzolla’s favourite combination. He also worked on big orchestral projects and recordings. He composed the chamber tango-opera María de Buenos Aires with songs in the tango rhythm, and in Paris he composed the oratorio El Pueblo Joven. Later he composed in Italy, to which he fled from Argentina’s military dictatorship. He created fusion with rock music, adding percussion, a synthesizer, a guitar, or a saxophone to his quintet. He collaborated with Chick Corea and Gerry Mulligan, as well as with the Russian cellistlistou Mstislav Rostropovich.
His collection Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Porteñas means Buenos Aires in the local dialect, so the title means The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) is written in the tango style that was typical of his quintet. Because Piazzolla loved European Baroque music from his childhood, he knew Vivaldi’s Four Seasons well. He took loose inspiration from the concertos’ content, but not from their musical style. In addition, he wrote his “season” as separate pieces and presented them that way, although he did play them all together occasionally. The oldest, Summer (1965), was originally composed as music for Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz’s play Melenita de oro, and thereafter as an independent piece. Four years later, Piazzolla wrote Winter, then Spring and Autumn in 1970.
From 1996 to 1998 the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (*1955) took the four original compositions and created new arrangements for solo violin and string orchestra and a new breakdown of each composition into three tempos (fast-slow-fast, but without a break). This was done with the intention of creating clear ties to Vivaldi’s concertos. He also added to each part a direct quote from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but taking into account the different hemispheres where the two sets of four compositions were written. For example, Piazzolla’s Summer has elements of Vivaldi’s Winter.