The “Cinco Piezas” by Astor Piazzolla: how many versions?

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Angelo Gilardino

In the course of an interview published in the Guitar Review [#103, Fall 1995,] this exchange took place:

Salvatore Cosentino: In the premiere recording of Cinco Piezas, included in your CD Récital de guitare, you used the original score. Why are there are so many discrepancies between the original and the published version of the pieces?

Roberto Aussel: When I made the recording I wasn’t working at Lemoine, so I couldn’t publish the manuscript through them. Then, another guitarist took the music. He thought that the music was too difficult to play, so he edited it and then gave his version to Bèrben. Bèrben published it with all the changes. This is why there are so many differences.

Notably, Mr. Aussel did not reveal in his response the identity of this “another guitarist” who allegedly simplified the music, thereby insinuating, deliberately or otherwise, that these simplifications must have been made by the nominal editor of the piece, the well-known guitarist, composer, editor and scholar Mr. Angelo Gilardino.

In response to this allegation, the owner and managing director of the Bèrben publishing house wrote this letter to the Guitar Review, published in their number 105, Spring 1996:

Dear Sirs,

This letter is a response to statements made regarding our 1981 publication of Astor Piazzolla’s Cinco piezas para guitarra, in an interview released by your magazine in 1995. [GR#103, Fall 1995.]

Our editor—Angelo Gilardino—was approached by Astor Piazzolla, who offered his “five pieces for guitar” to Bèrben for publication. Mr. Piazzolla gave an original manuscript of his to Mr. Gilardino, and we published it exactly as it was received. A few inconsequential corrections regarding the layout of some chords were easily agreed upon by the composer and the editor, without any difficulty. No mention was given by Mr. Piazzolla of any guitarist and no dedication was written on the manuscript. In fact, he declared that he expected his pieces to become famous among all guitarists, which happened very quickly.

Our publication of these pieces is perfectly consistent with Mr. Piazzolla’s intentions, and to suggest that the editor has changed some passages because they were too difficult is unfair and false; original pieces for guitar written by Mr. Gilardino—as serious scholars of the guitar repertoire know or can easily realize—are far more difficult and elaborate than Mr. Piazzolla’s pieces, both musically and technically.

Other manuscripts of these pieces—as of many other pieces—may exist of course, but let us suppose that when Mr. Piazzolla decided to publish them, he was responsible enough to give to editor and publisher the version he believed to be the best one.

We have in the past been obliged to point out what has been, again, explained above. May we kindly stress that this is the last time we will protect our reputation simply by writing a letter to a guitar magazine?

Thank you for the publication of this letter in the next issue of your review.

Sincerely yours,

Fabio Boccosi
BÈRBEN s.r.l.
Ancona, ITALY

One would have thought that this letter would have put the matter to rest. Apprently, it did not. To set the record straight, one more time, hopefully once and for all, here is Mr. Gilardino’s account of the events leading to the publication of the “Cinco Piezas” by Astor Piazzolla.

Sixteen years have passed since the publication by Edizioni Musicali Bèrben of the “Cinco Piezas para guitarra” by Astor Piazzolla, and still one hears unsubstantiated rumors and gossipy nonsense about an alleged “true version” of these compositions, often expressed with no regard to the true facts of the matter. As the editor of “Cinco Piezas,” I have—also very recently—answered a countless number of questions about the “true version” of these pieces, which should be, according to current legends, different from the published one.

I have always been puzzled by a few questions of my own: have pianists created so many problems about the different versions of—let us take an example—Schumann’s “Symphonic Studies” op. 13 for piano? This work is far more important and larger than Piazzolla’s guitar pieces, and the differences existing among the known texts much more relevant, still two different versions like those given in their respective recordings by Maurizio Pollini and by Ivo Pogorelic may exist without any scandal and with no assumption that one must be the true, and the other one false or manipulated. Also, those who really know (and appreciate) the largely improvisatory character of Piazzolla’s performances of his own music—which is improvisatory as well—would pay no attention to some inconsistencies between printed music and some recordings of it, considering that no definite criteria for establishing which is better and which is worse may exist, but only personal preferences. Why, then, a wave of holier-than-thou purism arose around pieces that their author would have never performed twice identically?

Anyway, here once and for all, after some thousands of failed attempts to close the endless discussion, the facts which I know. It was around the middle of 1980 (June, maybe), when I received a phone call from a guitarist friend, the well known Argentinian concert player Ernesto Bitetti. He is presently a guitar professor at the Music Deparment of Indiana University at Bloomington. We knew each other pretty well and we were (and still are) very friendly related: he is an interpreter of my pieces, his family and mine originated from the same Italian region, and I had also dedicated to him one of my pieces (“Araucaria”). He announced to me then that Astor Piazzolla—who was very famous in Europe for at least 15 years—had composed five pieces for solo guitar and he asked me, on behalf of the composer, whether I was interested to publish them in the Bérben’s twentieth century guitar series which I directed. I declared my full availability to read the music and to publish it as soon as possible, provided the text was consistent with the current standards of the series. A few days later, the music arrived: it was a photocopy of a manuscript by the composer, upon which Bitetti had marked his own fingering. The text was clearly readable and the two layers (notes and fingering) were clearly distinguishable, still the music needed some more editing to fit the guitar texture completely. Bitetti would have left very soon for one of his tours, so I was obliged to take direct and personal care of the pieces. May I stress that I would have preferred very much to receive a text ready for publication and with no need of interventions from me? With all my respect, I was never enthusiastic about Piazzolla’s music. I consider it as good and inspired as it is, but I never felt in tune with. Anyway, as a professional editor who works for a major publisher, I cannot allow my personal taste to have a place in this side of my activity. So, I called maestro Piazzolla in Paris and I agreed with him over the phone that I would send him a manuscript of mine, with the text of the pieces completely re-written and re-fingered, so that he could check it and return it to me, either with his approval or with his corrections, ready for print, and SEALED WITH HIS SIGNATURE AND AUTHENTICATION.All of this happened very quickly and with absolutely no problems, while Edizioni Bérben and Piazzolla signed their contract. My edition was returned with full approval and printed a few months later.

Needless to say, when talking with the composer over the phone, I asked him whether the text sent to me by Bitetti was a photocopy of the original manuscript, and he answered that yes, it was a manuscript he had written in Madrid for his countryman the guitarist, who was allowed by him (the author) to perform the pieces before their publication. I had not the slightest reason, then, to question whether that text was reliable or not, and whether it was the only existing manuscript: I had received it from the composer, and I would have received from him also the approved text of my edition, what else should I have asked for? I talked with Piazzolla on the phone a couple of times more on the same subject, and HE NEVER MENTIONED ANOTHER VERSION of the same pieces, nor did he say that they were dedicated to any guitarist. Those who are familiar with “my” Bèrben series of guitar music know that I have gladly given place in its catalogue to pieces written for, dedicated to and edited by other guitarists, from the A of Abreu to the W of Williams. Then, why should I, on that occasion:

  • 1) replaced an “original” text with another one (coming from where? from whom?);
  • 2) rejected an already existing edition of the pieces, approved by the composer, and editing it myself, having yet get another approval from someone else and having yet to learn how to like the music;
  • 3) erased a dedication, when the proofs had yet to be read and approved by the composer who, if seeing that a dedication had been missed, would have of course re-written it and asked for the reason of such a lapse.

These three questions are not a product of a fanciful, bad dream: they are the unvaoidable consequence of resolute statements which have been released for years—and still one hears ugly rumors regarding them proliferating endlessly. According to these rumors, the true manuscript of the “Cinco Piezas” is in the hand on just ONE guitarist, who is the dedicatee of the music, and the current, published edition of the music (my own) is unreliable, having been elaborated with the aim of making the pieces easier, whilst the great player can allow himself to perform them as if in the original form. The latest published issue of this version of the story (this is for sure a version!) has caused Bérben’s owner and managing director a great deal of aggravation about the whole matter, and the guitar magazine which printed it had to publish a letter by him (see above), where it is clearly stated that his tolerance of this story has reached the limit. Since then, lawyers will speak.

From my side, I have been tolerant because, after all, I do not think that we are dealing with the true version of a piece composed by Britten, Henze or Petrassi, and that my reputation as an editor, either from ethical or professional viewpoints, is not under question for such an episode, but I have of course my own questions to formulate:

  • 1) why a dedication written on a manuscript has not been repeated on the text delivered to the publisher for publication?
  • 2) why the dedicatee of the music has not been proposed as its editor, when all the publisher’s doors were opened?
  • 3) why Piazzolla, who was alive and brilliantly active when the story came out, never said a word in public on the subject and, on the contrary, wrote a very flattering statement about the performance of the “Cinco Piezas” recorded by the Italian guitarist Marco de Santi (who used to perform in Italy the double concerto by Piazzola with the author himself) and based on the Bèrben’s text?

One more relevant question: during Piazzolla’s life, his “Cinco Piezas” were reprinted by Bèrben and they also were published by Ricordi Americana in Buenos Aires, under licence to Bèrben. I am the editor of Bèrben, not of Ricordi, still the Argentinian publishing house retained both my edition of the music and my name as the editor. I had neither a contract nor a direct contact with Ricordi, and Piazzolla—if he was at all unsatisfied with the publication of his pieces under my editorship—would have had an excellent chance to introduce all the corrections he might have wanted and might have also initiate a completely new edition, prepared by another editor. Yet, he did not. Why?

I write this, because very recently another American guitarist asked me whether I was informed about the mistakes appearing in the published edition. When I asked him for a list of these “mistakes,” he answered that he was told that the “true” text is in the record of just ONE guitarist. Then, I have a professional obligation to say what I know, and what I know is unquestionably leading to one conclusion: Piazzolla wrote what he wanted and published what he wrote.

Angelo Gilardino
Vercelli, Italy, October 22nd, 1997.

Copyright © 1997 by Angelo Gilardino. All Rights Reserved.


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