Created in their own image: Arrangements and performances of Piazzolla’s “Verano porteño”

Piazzolla, one of the most original musicians of the twentieth century with his revolutionary Nuevo Tango style, relied heavily on his abilities and as composer and bandoneon virtuoso. Having created his own musical space, his legacy seemed doomed to recede into the background after his death. Yet, in classical circles, Piazzolla’s name has been steadily on the rise over the past twenty years. Dozens of recordings by classical performers speak to Piazzolla’s popularity. Among his works, “Las cuatro estaciones porteñas” stands as one of the most widely recorded, in arrangements for piano(s), guitar(s), string trio, string quartet, piano trio, octet, string orchestra and piano, string orchestra with solo violin, and full orchestra. This paper focuses on a variety of arrangements of “Verano porteño,” Piazzolla’s initial work which precipitated the suite. Since Piazzolla’s oeuvre is as much about composition as it is about performance, a variety of recordings of arrangements will be discussed. My main question is whether performances of arrangements for traditional ensembles have distorted or even lost the essence of Piazzolla’s music. The discussion will show that most arrangements cannot translate the Piazzolla sound in their original ensembles, thereby creating sterile two-dimensional versions. Without the bandoneon and the grittiness of many extended techniques employed, the canyengue character of his tango style is diminished or even lost. Some performers, however, have done an excellent job of compensating by inserting their own personalities and techniques in order to re-capture some of the music’s essence. Of course, most audiences are most likely not aware of what has been lost, allowing arrangers and performers to create Piazzolla’s music in their own image.