Octeto Buenos Aires

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Octeto Buenos Aires was a tango octet formed in 1955 by the Argentine bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla. The ensemble pioneered nuevo tango, a new approach to tango which, until then, had been dominated by the traditional orquesta típicas of the 1930s and 1940s. This would mark a watershed in the history of tango and set Piazzolla on a collision course with the tango establishment.

Piazzolla had served his musical apprenticeship as a tango bandonoenist in a number of orquesta típicas, including those of Aníbal Troilo and Francisco Fiorentino. In his search for new ways of expressing himself musically Piazzolla formed his own orchestra of this type in 1946. Unsure of which way to turn he disbanded his orchestra in 1950 and began to study classical music which took him to Paris in 1954, where he studied classical composition and counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger. During his time in Paris, he had the opportunity of listening to many jazz groups, including the tentet of the saxophonist, Gerry Mulligan. Impressed by the enthusiasm of the musicians and the obvious pleasure they derived from improvising together, something he had not observed in the world of tango, he decided to form Octeto de Buenos Aires on his return to Buenos Aires in 1955.

He chose the best musicians of the day: Roberto Pansera (later replaced by Leopoldo Federico) joined him on bandoneon with Atilio Stampone (piano), Enrique Mario Francini and Hugo Baralis (violins), José Bragato (cello), Aldo Nicolini (later replaced by Juan Vasallo) (double bass) and Horacio Malvicino (electric guitar). Piazzolla’s first arrangement for the Octeto was the tango Arrabal by José Pascual, which he had dreamed of playing since he first heard Elvino Vardaro’s version of it as a child. The Octeto created a new sound akin to chamber music and without a singer, normally part of an orquesta típica. Neither the jazz-like improvisations of Malvicino on electric guitar, for example in Piazzolla's 1955 composition Marrón y Azul, nor the cello solos of the classically trained Bragato had ever been heard before in tango.

Initially he had difficulties balancing the sound of the Octeto due to the lack of strings, which meant that those he did have were required to play in an unusual way to compensate. The strings were also called upon to imitate percussion instruments and the two bandoneons had to play up to six-part harmonies. The piano and double bass provided the rhythmical force. Soon after the formation of the Octeto, Piazzolla began to wonder whether he had taken tango too far away from its roots, and called upon the highly respected Osvaldo Pugliese to adjudicate. Everyone was greatly relieved when, after listening to them perform, he reassured them that they were indeed still playing music within the genre.

Piazzolla was tired of the constraints imposed by traditional tango and aimed to use his Octeto to introduce new rhythms, harmonies, melodies, timbres and forms, whilst maintaining the essence of tango. His inclusion of counterpoint, fugues and new harmonic forms was to stir up the first controversies among traditional tangueros which would later come to haunt him. His music was beginning to appeal less to dancers and more to people who would go to listen to his music. Nuevo tango had arrived and Piazzolla was in the vanguard.

The performances of the Octeto were sporadic and its members were obliged to join other ensembles to make ends meet. They would, however, never derive the same satisfaction from these other engagements as from the Octeto. Musically successful but financially a disaster, the Octeto made only a few recordings after Piazzolla had agreed to sign away rights to the royalties. In 1958 the Octeto was disbanded and Piazzolla returned to New York City with his family where he struggled to make a living as a musician and arranger in the next stage of his career that would prove to be so ground-breaking in the history of tango.


Octeto Buenos Aires, 1957

Tango progresivo, 1957

  • Sinfonía Buenos Aires: Concerto for Bandoneon, String Orchestra and Percussion, 'Aconcagua' (1979).

Las Cuatro Estanciones Porteñas ((1964-70) arr. Leonid Desyatnikov for violin and strings).( ( Naxos 8.572271 ) 2010). Daniel Binelli, Bandoneon - Tinwa Yang, Violin Nashville Symphony, cond. Giancarlo Guerrero.


  • Piazzolla, Ástor. A Memoir, Natalio Gorin, Amadaeus, 2001
  • Azzi and Collier, Le Grand Tango: The Life and Music of Ástor Piazzolla, Oxford University Press, 2000.