About this Recording
8.555717 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Piano Music, Vol. 4 (Rubinsky) - Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 / Children's Carnival
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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Piano Music • 4

Villa-Lobos's international reputation as one of the most influential Brazilian artists of all times was thoroughly established in the late 1940s and continued to strengthen throughout the 1950s until his death. His role as an ambassador of Brazilian and Latin American culture was recognised by critics and fellow composers both in Europe and the United States, a perception that was further consolidated by the array of international prizes, honorary titles, and tributes that began to accumulate. Indeed no other Brazilian composer has achieved a comparable degree of universal recognition. The works recorded in this volume again offer a comprehensive sample of the genres and styles found in Villa-Lobos's piano music, principally character pieces, single or organized into suites or collections. They reveal a bewildering variety of formal procedures, but pieces belonging to the same genre often share some structural framework that influences not only the nature of the musical material but also the dimensions of the work. This volume contains three single works and four cycles or suites.

The Poema Singelo is a strikingly beautiful work, which unfortunately is not as well known as it deserves. It is cast in the form and style of a waltz, and was composed sometime between 1938 (the date given in the catalogue of Villa-Lobos's works) and 1942 (the date written on the final score). It is possible that, as has happened with other Villa-Lobos's works, he estimated the date of completion while still working on the piece, or even without having begun composing it. The structure includes elements of rondo which are subsumed into a larger ABACA pattern, but there is enough variation within the several sections to give it a more rhapsodic and improvisational character. The simple melody on which the three outer sections are based is the primary musical element that accounts for the title of the composition; in the C section, touches of humor and playfulness enliven the musical texture, while the brilliance of the piano figurations eventually obliterates the waltz character established at the beginning. The B section is particularly noteworthy due to its lavish romanticism, an outpouring of emotion that is like a declaration of love to the composer's companion, Arminda, who was the dedicatee of the work. In scope and depth of expression, the Poema Singelo is comparable to Impressoes Seresteiras from the Ciclo Brasileiro (Naxos 8.555286).

A Fiandeira, composed in 1921, was among the works by Villa-Lobos presented during the Week of Modern Art in 1922. The work is a tour-de-force of pianistic writing, with the section describing the spinning-wheel based on an ingenious chromatic figuration that is strikingly effective in its suggestive power. From the fleeting texture created by the continuous motion of this figure, there emerges a melody of great lyricism and simplicity, undoubtedly meant to correspond to the idle singing of the woman as she operates the wheel.

The Valsa Romantica (1907) belongs to the type of salon music that flourished in Brazil in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is an absolutely transparent composition, both in the general outlines of its form and in its character. The work proceeds with unwavering metrical regularity and transparency of texture, and the simplicity of its compositional technique stands in sharp contrast to the variegated sound landscapes of the other works in this recording.

In overall character, the Simples Coletanea resembles the Suite Floral recorded in Volume 3. Both works are triptychs consisting of independent character pieces, essentially unrelated to each other, and probably grouped together for publication purposes. In this respect, they differ from collections such as the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, held together by a unifying conception, either in character, extra-musical references, or compositional technique. The three pieces of the Simples Coletanea (Valsa Mistica, Num Berco Encantado, and Rhodante) were composed respectively in 1917, 1918, and 1919. They offer a comprehensive glimpse of Villa-Lobos's musical language before his departure to Europe, and in all of them it is possible to detect elements of the European avant-garde of the first decade of the twentieth century, filtered through the aesthetics of impressionism. The acknowledged modernity of these works was further substantiated by the inclusion of Valsa Mistica and Rhodante among the works by Villa-Lobos performed during the Week of Modern Art. The Valsa Mistica is based on a fragmentary and elusive melody. Num Berco Encantado displays a rhythmic texture of great inventiveness and complexity, based on alternating meters, an asymmetrical rhythmic process, although one section suggests the swinging of the cradle through a more regular rhythmic pattern. The prevailing rhythmic asymmetry of the piece is reinforced by the lack of a tonal centre. Rhodante unusually has a melody built on a single note, as well as motives derived from the whole-tone scale. It was inspired by the poetry of the French Symbolist poet Albert Samain (1858-1900).

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 belongs to a group of nine works for various instrumental and vocal media, written between 1930 and 1945 with the purpose of melding the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach with elements derived from the musical traditions of Brazil. Together with the Choros, the Bachianas Brasileiras are unquestionably the most significant and better-known works by Villa-Lobos, and altogether crucial for the establishment of his international reputation, with Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, for soprano and eight cellos, internationally the most popular work by any Latin American composer. Villa- Lobos's fascination with the music of Bach, whom he considered the source of all folk material in every culture, dates back to his childhood. His aunt Zizinha often played for him The Well-Tempered Clavier, and later in his career Villa-Lobos even transcribed some of the pieces for various media. One of the most pervasive techniques employed by Villa-Lobos throughout the series of Bachianas is based on circle-of-fifths progressions in which the seventh of one chord resolves into the third of the next chord and so on, thus creating a series of links that hold the structure of the work together, a technique identified as a regular compositional procedure not only in the works of Bach but also those of other Baroque composers such as Vivaldi and Rameau. Its role in creating harmonic coherence parallels that of the sequence in achieving melodic unity, another feature of Baroque music that is employed by Villa-Lobos. Imitative procedures, also a distinctively Baroque technique, can be found in several Brazilian genres as well, a circumstance that undoubtedly offered Villa-Lobos greater flexibility in bringing together the two musical idioms. Other common features include the use of ostinato figures, pedal tones, and moto perpetuo. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, composed between 1930 and 1941, includes four pieces: Preludio (1941), Coral: Canto to Sertao (1941), Aria: Cantiga (1935), and Dansa: Miudinho (1930). The work was originally written for piano solo, but an orchestral version was prepared by Villa-Lobos himself in 1941. The Preludio is the most abstract of the four pieces, and its sober and meditative character recalls the sustained majesty of the Baroque sarabande. In the three subsequent pieces, Villa-Lobos makes direct references to aspects of traditional Brazilian music, including the folk melody that constitutes the basis for all the thematic material in the Aria, as it is restated in several guises and rhythmic structures throughout the work. In the Coral, Villa-Lobos makes reference to the monotonous song, like a hammer striking an anvil, of the araponga bird found in several Brazilian forests. Villa-Lobos recalls it in the sharply delineated notes that appear at regular intervals as the piece unfolds. The monotony of the araponga's song is conveyed through the persistence of a B flat, which changes only in the coda. Villa-Lobos's indication ("like an organ") for the chords in the last section of the piece is meant to suggest the reverberation of a cathedral, reinforced by holding down the keys without letting the hammers strike the strings, so that the low notes will cause the tones of the chord to sound by sympathetic vibration. The subtitle Miudinho attached to the Dansa refers to the small steps characteristic of one of the forms of the rural samba in southeastern Brazil. The piece is written as a lively moto perpetuo in which irregular accents create a rhythmic texture of great dynamism and kinetic energy, reinforced by the brilliance of the piano writing.

Villa-Lobos's insight into the world of children has been often pointed out. His works for piano include several collections inspired by or intended for children. Included here are reflections of this from Brazil and from France, Carnaval das Criancas, written in 1919- 1920, and Francette et Pia, written in 1928. Although the two collections share some compositional techniques, the first, with its self-contained vignettes, is noticeably more complex and technically demanding than the second with its unifying narrative describing the relationship between a Brazilian boy, Pia, and a French girl, Francette. The Carnaval das Criancas was dedicated by Villa-Lobos to his nephews, while Francette et Pia was commissioned by the publisher Max Eschig for the children in Marguerite Long's piano class. Interestingly, the regional and universal dimensions of his aesthetic outlook emerge in a tender manner in the subtitle of the suite Francette et Pia: "The story of a little Indian boy from Brazil who went to France and met a French girl". The last piece in each is for piano duet, in Carnaval to highlight the sense of community and group implicit in the title A Folia de um Bloco Infantil (The gaiety of a children's band), and in Francette to express the reunion of the two main characters and their subsequent happiness. In 1929, Villa-Lobos composed an orchestral part for the pieces of Carnaval das Criancas, unaltered from their original piano versions, and linked through orchestral interludes, under the title Momoprecoce.

James Melo


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