The Origin of ‘Adios, Nonino’

One of Astor Piazzolla’s most definitive works is ‘Adios Nonino (Farewell, Granddaddy).’ The tango was created by the Argentine composer as a way of saying goodbye to his father, who passed away in 1959. At the time, Piazzolla was on a tour of Central America when he heard news of his father’s death due to a bicycle accident. Dancer Juan Carlos Copes, who was with Piazzolla at the time, said it was the only time he had ever seen the composer cry.

Piazzolla, overcome with depression from the death of his father, his tour’s failure, and financial problems, went to New York, where he put together the piece.

His son, Daniel, spoke of this time, “Dad asked us to leave him alone for a few hours. We went into the kitchen. First there was absolute silence. After a while, we heard dad playing the bandoneon. It was a very sad, terribly sad melody. He was composing ‘Adios, Nonino.’”

The song was based on an earlier tango, ‘Nonino,’ which Piazzolla composed in Paris in 1954. He kept the rhythmic part, but added a long, melodic fragment with touching notes. Twenty years after it was published, Piazzolla said, “Perhaps I was surrounded by angels. I was able to write the finest tune I have written. I don’t know if I shall ever do better. I doubt it.”

Piazzolla’s parents, Vicente and Asunta, were of Italian descent and Astor’s daughter, Diana, called her grandparents by the traditional Italian names for Grandpa and Grandma–Nonino and Nonina. It was his father who pushed Astor towards music. The family had moved to New York and young Astor had been expelled from school for fighting. Vicente gave his son a bandoneon as a gift after seeing it a pawn shop.

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The eight-year-old Astor was not keen on the gift. In one interview, he said, “[My father] brought it covered in a box, and I got very happy because I thought it was the roller skates I had asked for so many times. It was a letdown because instead of a pair of skates, I found an artifact I had never seen before in my life. Dad sat down, set it on my legs, and told me, ‘Astor, this is the instrument of tango. I want you to learn it.’ My first reaction was anger. Tango was that music he listened to almost every night after coming home from work. I didn’t like it.”

The fact that Piazzolla wrote such a melancholic tango so far from his home during hard times, ‘Adios, Nonino’ has become a symbol of the Argentine diaspora. Argentines arrived primarily in the 1960s, searching for better economic opportunities, but it was the 1970s military upheaval that caused many of them to migrate.

Piazzolla refused to have any words set ‘Adios Nonino,’ but he finally conceded in the 1980’s when Argentine singer Eladia Blasquez played him a tape of her singing lyrics she wrote herself.

Below is an English translation of the lyrics:

From a scintillating star

he will signal me to come,

by a light of eternity

when he calls me I will go.

To ask him for that child

that I lost with his death,

that with Nonino he went…

When he tells me come here…

I’ll be reborn … because…

I am…! the root of the country

that modeled with its clay,

I am…! blood and skin,

of that Italian who gave me his seed…

Good-bye Nonino…

how long the road

will be without you

Pain, sadness, the table and the bread…!

and my good-bye…Ay…! my good-bye,

to your love, your tobacco, your wine.

Who, without pity, took half of me,

when taking you Nonino….?

Perhaps one day, I also looking back…

will say as you, good-bye… no more bets…!

And today my old Nonino is a part of nature.

He is the light, the wind, and the river…

this torrent within me replaces him,

extending in me his challenge.

I perpetuate myself in his blood, I know.

And anticipate in my voice, his own echo.

This voice that once sounded hollow to me

when I said good-bye… Good-bye Nonino.

I am…! the root of the country

that modeled with its clay,

I am…! blood and skin,

of that Italian who gave me his seed…

Good-bye Nonino… you left your sun in my destiny.

your fearless ardor, your creed of love.

And that eagerness…Ah..! your eagerness,

for seeding the road with hope.

I am your honeycomb and this drop of sunlight

that today cries for you Nonino

perhaps the day when my string is cut

I will see you and I will know there is no end.