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Transcribing Astor Piazzolla's Works to Maximize Stylistic Fidelity: An Examination of Three Saxophone Quartets with a New Transcription

Sarah L Cosano, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Astor Piazzolla is recognized as a pivotal figure who drew tango music onto an international stage. His output of written compositions and recordings provide a reference for studying tango. Though Piazzolla adapted a collection of flute etudes in 1988, he did not write specifically for saxophone during his lifetime. Saxophonists must instead rely on transcriptions of his music. Today, tango is a widely performed idiom for saxophone quartet. Because of its tessitura, timbral variety, and flexibility, the saxophone is uniquely suited to perform tango music. This instrument has an expansive range when altissimo is included. Its written range spans from the B-flat below middle C, to F above the staff. Adding altissimo extends this an octave higher, for a total of three and a half octaves. The saxophone can mimic aspects of the voice, percussion, brass, and strings. Because of this, it can replicate key elements from the bandoneon, which is an important instrument in tango. Though saxophone can be warm and expressive, it is capable of creating percussive effects, virtuosic lines, and glissandi. All of these techniques are prevalent in the music of Piazzolla and the style he created, nuevo tango. In the academic setting, music majors are taught history, theory, and common practices of the Western classical tradition. Similarly, studying the traditions of tango will lead to stylistically accurate performances of Piazzolla’s music on the saxophone. This dissertation explores three works that have been arranged and published for the saxophone quartet: Libertango, Four for Tango, and Histoire du Tango. Each chapter provides historical background, structural and harmonic analysis, and performance suggestions based upon the original recordings or scores. The final chapter demonstrates how the bandoneon lends itself to the saxophone, with a quartet arrangement of Piazzolla’s composition, Lo Que Vendrá, created by the author. By studying Piazzolla’s music in this context, saxophonists can apply the tango style when performing his works. They also will gain an awareness of the resources currently available, which will help in the process of creating new arrangements.

Subject Area

Music history|Musical composition|Music

Recommended Citation

Cosano, Sarah L, "Transcribing Astor Piazzolla's Works to Maximize Stylistic Fidelity: An Examination of Three Saxophone Quartets with a New Transcription" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13813164.