About this Recording
8.570503 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Piano Music, Vol. 7 (Rubinsky) - Amazonas / Historias da Carochinha / Valsa Scherzo
English  German 

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
Piano Music • 7

 

In 1970 the scholar Adhemar Nóbrega, who was a close friend of Heitor Villa-Lobos, presented a lecture entitled The Transfiguration of Popular Expression in the Production of Villa-Lobos, in which he revealed a classification system devised by Villa-Lobos himself, who imparted it to Nóbrega in 1947. In this system the composer divided his works into five groups, based on the relative importance of elements derived from or influenced by folk-music: (1) works with indirect folk influence; (2) works with some direct folk influence; (3) works with transfigured folk material; (4) works with transfigured folk material but permeated by the influence of Bach; and (5) works written in a universal language devoid of folk material. One interesting feature of this classification is that it transcends chronological boundaries, as works from each group can be found throughout Villa-Lobos’s career. This division is also significant in light of the fundamental dialectic between nationalism and universalism in Villa- Lobos’s works, an issue that has been addressed under various perspectives in the previous volumes of this series. This dialectic is only one of the myriad features that define the musical language of Villa-Lobos, whose extensive oeuvre (he was the most prolific of all twentieth-century composers) defies clear-cut classifications. Villa-Lobos’s own classification of his works is especially relevant because, in the years immediately following the composer’s death, the perception of his music as the expression of an exotic culture was coming heavily under fire. It soon became clear that the seamless blend of nationalism and universalism, without any simplistic concession to superficial exoticism, was a highly sophisticated feature of Villa-Lobos’s creative process, as it was for other nationalist composers in the twentieth century, whose works became the cornerstones of their respective national traditions. It is fair to say that this question today no longer occupies musicologists, who have turned their energies toward elucidating the multifarious ways in which the diverse elements of Villa-Lobos’s musical language interact, thus taking for granted that the inherently Brazilian elements will be there, side-by-side with techniques derived from European traditions, and none of these features necessarily takes precedence over the others. Contrary to the nationalism embraced by European composers during the nineteenth century, who essentially incorporated folk materials into long-established European genres, the kind of nationalism practised by Villa-Lobos and other South American composers effectively led to the creation of new musical genres, as a perusal of the repertoire recorded in this series will make clear.

The stylistic classification discussed above provided the framework for planning the repertoire in each volume of this series (except Volume 5, which is dedicated entirely to the collection Guia Prático), and is particularly appropriate for the selections in this volume, which contains pieces that exemplify each of the five groups. In addition, one finds here a balance between individual, self-contained works, and pieces grouped into small collections and linked by an overall concept, an approach that was obviously much valued by Villa-Lobos. Several of the pieces on this recording exist only in manuscript, and receive here their world première recordings.

The ballet/tone-poem Amazonas, composed originally for orchestra and published in 1917, was transcribed for piano by Villa-Lobos himself and published in this new version in 1932. This work occupies an important place in Villa-Lobos’s stylistic development. Among those who understood the magnitude of this piece was Mário de Andrade, the ideological mentor of Brazilian nationalism, who considered Amazonas to be the emblem of a new Brazilian nationalist music, written in the most daring and experimental language that Villa-Lobos had attempted so far. As indicated by the subtitle (‘Brazilian Indian ballet’), Villa-Lobos based the composition on indigenous themes that were embedded in the texture, and innovatively varied and transformed through sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic experiments. The richness of the musical texture and its kaleidoscopic sound effects are reflected in the explanatory note that accompanies the score, and which is reproduced in the official catalogue of Villa-Lobos’s works published by the Museu Villa-Lobos:

“Almost all melodic material of this work was based on indigenous themes of the Amazon collected by the author. The harmonic and rhythmic atmosphere and the atmosphere created by the timbres... imitate the aural effects and suggestions noted by Villa-Lobos as he travelled through the Amazon valley. The forests, rivers, waterfalls, birds, fish and wild animals, the native forest dwellers, the caboclos (mestizos) and the legends of the Amazon basin, all influenced him psychologically in the making of this work. Its principal melodic motives are those that represent the themes of invocation, of the surprise of the mirage, the tracking and gallop of legendary monsters in the Amazon River, of the seduction, the voluptuousness and sensuality of the Indian Priestess, of the heroic songs of Indian warriors and of the rock precipice.” (quoted in Gerard Béhague, Indianism in Latin American Art- Music Composition of the 1920s to 1940s, published in Latin American Music Review 27/1, 2006).

In its stylistic originality, the ballet Amazonas signaled the emancipation of Brazilian art music from European influences, stressing the uniqueness of native Brazilian culture through an idealisation of one of its greatest symbols, the mighty Amazon forest. The adventurousness of its musical language remains startling even today.

Villa-Lobos had an intimate understanding of the technical and expressive resources of the guitar, an instrument that he played as he immersed himself in the life of street musicians (chorões) in Rio de Janeiro. His output for the guitar, however, remained relatively small compared with that for the piano. The five Prelúdios, composed in 1940 and dedicated to his wife, Arminda Villa-Lobos, have long been recognised as essential for the guitar repertoire. Villa-Lobos conceived the group as a collection of vignettes with programmatic overtones, snapshots of different aspects of the Brazilian soul, as expressed in the titles appended to each prelude: 1) Melodia lírica: Homenagem ao sertanejo brasileiro (Lyric melody: Homage to the Brazilian sertanejo); 2) Melodia capadócia—Melodia capoeira: Homenagem ao malandro carioca (Rogue and ruffian melody: Homage to the carioca hustler; 3) Homenagem a Bach (Homage to Bach); 4) Homenagem ao índio brasileiro (Homage to the Brazilian Indian); 5) Homenagem à vida social: Aos rapazinhos e mocinhas fresquinhos que frequentam os concertos e os teatros no Rio (Homage to social life: To the young teenagers who frequent Rio’s concerts and theatres). Together, the five Prelúdios cover the entire gamut of the guitar’s sound qualities, and display several harmonic and melodic features that seem to blend urban and rural techniques for the instrument. The transcription for piano, by José Vieira Brandão, preserves much of the typical texture of the guitar, while taking advantage of the possibilities of resonance and harmonic prolongation offered by the piano pedal. In their technical virtuosity Brandão’s transcriptions achieve the stature of true transcendental etudes for the piano.

The two collections of short pieces included in the recording (Histórias da Carochinha and Canções de Cordialidade) are made up of very individualised miniatures, each one pervaded by a single mood, character, or technique. The first collection creates a mini-cycle, in which a little prince and a little princess create an enchanted world of their own, expressed in a pianistic style of consummate grace and delicacy. Canções de Cordialidade, based on poems by Manuel Bandeira in which the poet reinterprets some of the most traditional holidays and commemorative occasions, can be seen as musical frameworks for the words of the poet, and could conceivably be used as accompaniments to the poems. The single piece Cortejo Nupcial would fall under the same category, as it refers to the very specific wedding procession. The Valsa Lenta and the Valsa Scherzo can be seen as two reinterpretations of a rather traditional genre. The first emulates much of the languorous and contemplative aspect of the Brazilian soul, while the second is an extended musical form infused with highly virtuosic and pianistically demanding writing. In its technical difficulty, the Valsa Scherzo harks back to the most brilliant types of dance music from the Romantic period. Lembranças do Sertão, a piano transcription by the composer of one of the movements from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3, transports the listener to the heartlands of Brazil, an emotional journey that has many similarities with the Impressões Seresteiras from the Ciclo Brasileiro, recorded in Volume 3 of this series. The Bailado Infernal, an excerpt from the second act of the opera Zoé, is a daredevil type of piece, fiercely virtuosic and frenetic in its relentless drive forward. Finally, the extremely condensed gem Feijoada Sem Perigo seems to capture Villa-Lobos in the very moment of creation. In its brevity it manages to express the very essence of a musical thought, primeval and unaltered by further elaboration. The piece was dedicated to Dora Vasconcellos, the Brazilian consul in New York at the time, and the author of a few poems that Villa-Lobos set to music. Villa-Lobos dedicated the piece to Dora Vasconcellos to thank her for an invitation to partake of the quintessential Brazilian dish at her home in New York.

Together, the pieces on this recording show the multilayered nature of Villa-Lobos’s musical language, which is as exuberant as the Brazilian landscape that inspired him so often.

James Melo
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, City University of New York


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