He was never aware of his genius and the way in which he revolutionised tango forever. Astor Piazzolla transcended borders but was also eternally misunderstood in his home country.
He liked to break the rules, he was very demanding and was always in constant creativity, Laura Escalada Piazzolla, his widow, tells us in her porteña house on the iconic Avenida Libertador.
After almost 25 years of running the foundation that she created in her husband’s memory, Laura, a lady full of fortitude and strength, opens up her home accompanied by one of the grandchildren of the creator, Daniel Villaflor Piazzolla, the vice president of this institution who has the task of spreading the legacy of his grandfather throughout the world. To discuss what it was like to live alongside a genius, about his worries, his music but above all about the hard work of the foundation for over more than two decades, and the challenges that lie ahead in an exclusive interview with Prensa Latina.
“Living with Astor was easy and difficult, difficult because you’re living with a genius and the genius that he was, he wasn’t perfect”, Laura explains.
“It was at the same time incredible to witness the creation of a great human being”, she adds with longing and a profound love for a man who she shared 16 years of her life with and continues to do so today, defending come hell or high water, his legacy so that it will be passed from generation to generation.
She was involved in the creation, she saw him sitting at the piano early in the morning, she took care of his silences and saw this work grow and being created.
“He wasn’t a humble man, but was modest in everything that he did”, she explains. “He was only demanding with his music and with the silence that he had that would prevail through the house when he wrote, but at the same time he would release this pressure of pure brilliance and would enjoy the little things in life. We had two little dogs and he made me play the piano with him”.
She tells us that he was relentless in his work, he would get up and at eight in the morning he was at the piano, stopping at midday and would go back to it until closing the piano at five in the evening. He never played the bandoneón (an accordion-like instrument) in the house. He stayed in a dark place and studied mentally”. He had incredibly high standards, not only for himself but also with his music, he wouldn’t accept half measures.
Opera singer at the Teatro Colón and with a distinguished career, Laura and Astor became infatuated with each other in a television studio where they met. “He said that I had married a poor bandoneonista”, she recalls and is proud of the incredible life experience alongside a genius who loved her very much. “It was a constant and eternal love and I took his surname with immense pride”.
After getting through a very difficult time after the death of the artist in July 1992 that would mark her forever, Laura found the strength and pulled herself through. She knew that she had to continue with the legacy that her husband left be
hind and three years later the foundation was born, that is now, she says, in Daniel’s hands.
Daniel is the youngest son of Diana Piazzolla and explains how Laura took on this task with a lot of courage and bravery and did not at any point move an inch in terms of maintaining a criteria of excellence, quality and care of the work that he left.
“Luckily I now have Daniel who is going to take this forward as I no longer can. And when he is no longer on this earth, he will have to deal with everything that awaits him. It is important to focus on the fact that the foundation must live on through centuries and this is an enormous responsibility because this, in turn, will need to be passed on to someone else”, Laura explains.
Conscious of the responsibility, the youngster specifies that when Laura asked him to take on this task, the first thing that he did was read the foundation’s by-laws, focused on promoting the works of Piazzolla from many angles; concert and festival production and musical training.
Daniel, who, from his work as cultural manager, but most importantly from his home, has grown-up living, eating and breathing Piazzolla, brings out the transformational character of his grandfather. When people were getting used to his first change, he was already changing the speed of adaptation, he says.
Laura remembers that Astor was a musician who always thought about young people, he wrote for young people which highlights that in his home country they didn’t understand him, but outside, they understood him immediately, it was surprising. It was like night and day, here in Argentina they insulted him, but abroad he was like honey, the bees would seek him out.
Astor owes a lot to living abroad, even though he loved Buenos Aires. “To revolutionise tango like he did for Argentina was too much, too soon. They weren’t ready” she points out.
His widow reminisces about when he composed and a particular time that she listened to what he had done, and he had written something better than before. Yes, it was changing, but to surprise the Argentinians. He challenged himself to write more important and different things.
For Daniel, Astor Pizzolla was a genius and he considered this to be incredibly ambitious, he was creating a means of permanent creation, he subjected himself to constant change and to change to better himself.
When asked what worried Pizzolla the most with regards music, Laura tells us that unfortunately he could not finish the last thing he was preparing, the Opera for Carlos Gardel with Plácido Domingo in the starring role.
She explains that her husband, with enormous humility, affected her greatly, he came to ask me what the classical voices were like.
She remembers that “that was when he started, day and night, to listen to opera and read opera, amazing. I would bring him books, CDs and he was completely obsessed and learning. Learning until his last days.”
This was one of the other parts of him that I admired, he was never a prima-donna, but the simplest man of the earth. The Laura tells us some stories such as times during World Cup fever when there wasn’t a soul in Buenos Aires. He was invited to perform in a concert in a basement on Avenida Florida but no-one came.
He performed for one person in the same way he did for thousands. In Amsterdam, she says, in the biggest theatre, there wasn’t enough space for everyone, and people sat on the steps just to hear it.
“There were huge screens and I was behind to see what he saw; I remember what I said to him that day; ‘Astor, you can die happy’. The applause was incredible. He could play with the same intensity for two or three people as he could for thousands, he didn’t care”, she says. Another one of his traits was the way in which he made his quintet look; each musician had his place, and they could play the same pieces every day, but differently. He had a great deal of empathy towards the public, she stresses and adds that he also played with his own sheet music in front of him.
“Piazzolla is not easy to play, but it’s not difficult if played with love, scrutiny and profession and above all if it is loved very much”, she says. (PL)
(Translated by Corrine Harries – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)