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8.223164 - VILLA-LOBOS: Cello Sonata No. 2 / Piano Trio No. 2
Heitor Villa-lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887. His father, an employee of the National Library, was also an amateur musician, enthusiastic enough to teach his son the cello, using to begin with a viola, an instrument more suited to the child's size. The boy went on to further instrumental study with the cellist Benno Niederberger in Rio. Villa-Lobos was later to acquire a knowledge of the guitar and, in adolescence, close acquaintance with the popular music of Rio, where the chôro had become a favourite urban form for street serenaders. After his father's death he soon deserted the medical studies proposed for him by his mother in favour of music, an aim he pursued by travelling throughout Brazil, learning at first hand the various folk traditions of the country and writing music of his own that accorded fully with what he heard. After some years of this irregular existence, attempts at a more consistent form of study were abandoned in favour of greater freedom and the personal development of his own impatient genius, which won more general acceptance with a series of concerts devoted to his works.
It was largely through the advocacy of Artur Rubinstein, who had been impressed by his earlier piano music, that Villa-Lobos won the support of rich sponsors, which enabled him to move in 1925 to Paris, where he spent the next five years. His return to Brazil in 1930 proved permanent, although he had at the time every intention of returning to Paris, a place congenial to his talent. It was during these Paris years, interrupted by occasional voyages home, that he wrote his fourteen Chôros, a series of works for various combinations of voices and instruments derived in inspiration from the popular music of the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
On his return to Brazil, Villa-Lobos brought with him music unknown at home, with the evident intention of inspiring a change in musical taste, introducing works by Milhaud, Florent Schmitt, Alfredo Casella and Debussy. The revolution of October brought a change of government and a change in the destiny of Villa-Lobos, who found himself charged with the task of organizing musical education throughout the country, work that he accepted and continued with enthusiasm. His reputation abroad grew rapidly, while at home he occupied an unassailable position as the first composer of his generation, until his death in 1959.
Villa-Lobos had found money for his earlier travels in Brazil through taking odd jobs in factories and offices, and by selling books from his father's library. Settled once more in Rio, and now concentrating more on composition, he earned a living as a cellist in cafés and cinemas. It was natural that he should write music for an instrument in which he had received professional training, his interest reflected in a number of compositions, including three cello sonatas, the first Pequeña Sonata written in 1914, followed by Sonata No. 1 in 1915 and Sonata No. 2 a year later. Of his four Piano Trios the first was written in 1911 and the second in 1915, followed by a third in 1918 and the fourth in 1945.
The Cello Sonata No. 2 belongs to a period when Villa-Lobos, a composer ever receptive to new ideas, had embraced an international style. This was to be replaced when he discovered in Paris in the 1920s that a more national emphasis was acceptable. It is a work that is romantic in conception and offers formidable difficulties to performers.
The first movement opens with a sweepingly romantic piano melody rising in the bass, leading to the entry of the cello, marked décisif and com veemencia and the re-appearance of the yearning piano melody, now transposed, followed by a second thematic element, with cello triplets. The principal theme, in its original key, is to return again in the cello part, and to bring the movement to an optimistic conclusion.
Memories of Faurè that may have been aroused by the first movement of the sonata are even more evident in the gentle slow movement, with its wistfully nostalgic cello melody that gradually unwinds. There follows a scherzo of contrasted rhythms and relatively simple texture with further references to earlier material from the first movement, echoed again in melodic outline in the exciting finale, which brings the work to an end with some modal ambiguity.
The Piano Trio No. 2 opens gently enough, the cello answering the melody proposed by the violin, and the parts thereafter happily interwoven, but leading to music of greater dramatic intensity in an idiom redolent of Paris rather than of Rio de Janeiro. This is followed by the serenity of a Berceuse, merging with the peaceful motion of the Barcarolle in a movement of great tranquillity, that allows the cello a passing reference to a well known lullaby.
The third movement scherzo presents a starker contour of opening melody, with a suggestion of jazz about it, belied by its use of the whole-tone scale. The cello introduces the finale, with a descending phrase imitated by the violin and going on to music of strongly romantic feeling which, in its eclectic way, owes much to French music of the period in its treatment of the instruments, its texture and its musical content. The work ends somewhat abruptly.
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