The "angel series" of pieces by Astor Piazzolla includes two of his most popular compositions. At about the same time Piazzolla wrote another series concerning a devil, known as the "Diablo series." These much harsher works have not gained popularity.
Piazzolla returned to Argentina in 1955, after some study in Paris, and founded his Octeto Buenos Aires. He was attacked for anything he did that was not traditional, including his preference to play the bandoneón standing rather than sitting. One of the tangos he wrote during this pioneering period was Tango del ángel.
Between 1958 and 1960, he lived in the United States and engaged in an ill-fated effort to found a style called "Jazz-Tango," but then returned home and founded the first of his quintets. He began to find some acceptance -- especially, strangely enough, in the provinces and in Uruguay rather than in Buenos Aires.
At that point, the writer Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz approached Piazzolla about providing music for a stage play, Tango del ángel. This production reached the stage in 1962. For it Piazzolla provided three pieces: "Introducción al ángel," "Milonga del ángel," and "Muerte del ángel"). The play is about an angel who appears in a Buenos Aires apartment block to cleanse the souls of its residents.
"Introduction to the Angel" is an elegant, swaying tango with an appropriately soaring melody. The harmonies are often strange, and even, at times, seem to exist on two planes, with the rhythm and tune of the piece on one, and additional misty chord sequences on the other.
"Milongo of the Angel" is a gentle, sentimental piece. The milonga is a precursor of the tango, with a similar rhythm but is lighter and more gentle. This milonga has one of Piazzolla's prettiest melodies.
"Death of the Angel" (Muerte del ángel) is a startling example of the manner in which Piazzolla was pushing the boundaries of the traditional tango. It is a three-voice fugue with a propulsive bass line. The angel is attacked, and although it defends itself it is killed in a knife-fight. The rhythms and harmonies are harsh and uncompromising; the piece itself is exhilarating.
Even some of the hostile sectors of the Argentine musical public could see the appropriateness of writing this sort of music when it was linked to stage action, and the Milonga" and Muerte pieces in particular gained unexpected popularity. ("Introduction" remained less known.)
Evidently to make a concert suite with a happy ending, Piazzolla in 1965 added to these two pieces a new composition called "Resurrection of the Angel." In this highly attractive work, a very happy, vaulting theme alternates with further treatment of the original milonga theme representing the angel, while the mysterious chromatic chords are even more advanced and striking.
The four pieces involved in the play ("Introducción," "Milonga," "Muerte," and "Resurrección") have been arranged into a major concert work by Rolf Gupta under the title Concierto del Ángel. It is for a traditional tango quartet of violin, bandoneón, double bass, and piano with a string orchestra.