About this Recording
8.570504 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Piano Music, Vol. 8 (Rubinsky) - Guia pratico, Books 10, 11 / Suites infantil Nos. 1, 2 / Guia pratico, Vol. 1 (excerpts)
English  German 

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
Piano Music • 8

 

In a document dating from the 1930s, Heitor Villa-Lobos offered an illuminating summary of his outlook as a composer:

A truly original composer is one who, while in command of all the stylistic diversity of music, is able to deploy the folklore of his native land—which shapes his artistic sensibility—in a heightened and sophisticated manner in his compositions. In this way, he embodies in his works not only the ethnic makeup of his being, but also the natural inclinations of his creative personality and of the country that nurtured him, so that his country will acquire, through him, a distinct place among the nations of the world.

Villa-Lobos’s artistic journey was, in its fundamental principles, an uncompromising demonstration of this creed. By the time he penned these words he was internationally recognized as the foremost Brazilian composer, and had attracted a great deal of attention abroad owing to the novelty and originality of his works and, not least, his exuberant and flamboyant personality. Villa-Lobos was the composer who put Brazilian art music definitively on the map of the international music scene, and his oeuvre stands on a par with that of Stravinsky, Bartók, and Copland as the expression of a distinctive culture and as the embodiment of a mature national tradition. It was Mário de Andrade, in his essay A evolução social da música no Brasil (The Social Evolution of Music in Brazil, 1939), who most clearly outlined the process by which a composer gives voice to his native culture. Andrade distinguished three phases in the formation of a national music: (1) internationalism, during which composers absorb foreign genres, styles, and forms that have been handed down as canonical through generations; (2) incipient nationalism, during which composers begin to introduce elements of popular and folk-music into their works, which are nevertheless still heavily indebted to imported genres; and (3) nationalism, when the composer achieves the perfect expression of the musical soul of his country, and as a consequence becomes thoroughly individualized in his artistic makeup. Andrade considered Villa-Lobos to be the highest exponent of this third phase in the history of Brazilian music, and by implication Villa-Lobos became for him the quintessential Brazilian composer.

In this series of eight volumes that comprise the complete piano works of Villa-Lobos there is plenty of evidence to substantiate Andrade’s assessment. In a little more than two hundred pieces, Villa-Lobos created a kaleidoscopic inventory of all the musical traditions of Brazil, including children’s round songs, Indian ritual songs, African rhythms, dramatic dances, and an enormous variety of urban and rural idioms. It is fair to say that, in his piano works, there was no stone left unturned by Villa-Lobos in his encyclopedic project of giving voice to the melodies and rhythms of his beloved country. Even when there is no overt quotation of folk material, the character and substance of the work show an unmistakable reliance on Brazil’s musical traditions. Because he was essentially an autodidact who never underwent any formal training, Villa-Lobos retained throughout his creative life a spontaneity in the treatment of musical form that allowed him to give unbridled expression to his personality. Listening to the piano works, one cannot help but notice how Villa-Lobos was able to find a distinctive mood for each piece, enlisting his considerable knowledge of the technical and expressive resources of the piano in order to crystallize a particular image, character, or psychological tableau. This is true whether he was transferring to the piano the emotional underpinnings of a children’s game, or creating an entirely abstract musical form.

The world of childhood was an inexhaustible source of inspiration to Villa-Lobos, as can be seen by the high percentage of works inspired by (or written for) children in his piano output. In this he was partaking of a venerable tradition in the history of Western music, which contains several examples of composers who created veritable musical jewels inspired by children. Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Debussy’s Children’s Corner, Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants, Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye, and Bartók’s For Children, among others, come to mind. What sets Villa-Lobos apart from these precedents, however, is the sheer number, variety, and originality of works that are related to so many aspects of the world of children. Probably the central collection in this regard is the Guia Prático, a wide-ranging compilation of children’s melodies that fulfilled several purposes in Villa-Lobos’s creative life.

The first nine albums of the Guia Prático are recorded on volume 5 of this series (Naxos 8.570008—see the notes in that volume for a more detailed discussion of the collection). This CD contains all the remaining pieces of the Guia Prático (albums 10 and 11), as well as selections from a related collection Guia Prático—Volume I, entitled 137 Traditional Children’s Songs as Sung by Brazilian Children, as well as Miscellaneous Songs and Melodies. The pieces in this collection were at some point harmonized or arranged by Villa-Lobos for several combinations of voice and instruments. The arrangements of the individual pieces fall into one of the following categories: for one, two, and three voices a cappella; for piano solo; for voice with piano or for orchestral ensemble; and for voice with piano, or for orchestral ensemble, or for piano solo. Villa-Lobos devoted great care to the compilation of the Guia Prático, not only in the selection of melodies but also in the unique musical framework he devised for each of them.

The appropriateness of Villa-Lobos’s solutions in the highly nuanced piano textures that he created for the pieces can be further appreciated by perusing the texts of the original children’s songs, which are posted with translation on the Naxos website (www.naxos.com/libretti/570504.htm). Knowing the original meaning of the songs will undoubtedly make more comprehensible the uniqueness and individuality of each piece. In addition to its didactic purposes, the material collected in the Guia Prático provided Villa-Lobos with the elements for several of his other compositions. Some of the melodies appear in several works, rearranged and refurbished according to the dimensions of the piece, the context of which the piece is part, and the degree of virtuosity that is called for. To give a couple of examples among many, the melody for Nesta rua, nesta rua appears in the Guia Prático and in one of the Cirandas, in a far more complex and elaborate version, and the melody for Terezinha de Jesus is transfigured through highly complex and sophisticated treatment in the Rudepoema. The pieces included in albums 10 and 11 of the Guia Prático are extremely complex and elaborate, and certainly were not intended to be played by children. A measure of the virtuosity that is called for in performing these pieces can be inferred by the fact that album 11 was dedicated to the great Polish virtuoso Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

The universe of children is also the motivation behind the two other collections in this volume: Suite Infantil, Nos. 1 and 2. As seen in several examples in the previous volumes, Villa-Lobos’s favourite device for his piano pieces was to gather them into collections, some of them unified by a particular topic, others gaining organic coherence by emulating the pattern of traditional European genres. The suite is a case in point. Here, the two collections refer at once to the more descriptive type of Baroque suite, represented by the ordres of Couperin for harpsichord, and the more abstract type related to the Baroque sonata. The Suite Infantil No. 1 is made-up of pieces whose programmatic titles leave no doubt about their intended character, vignettes that convey to perfection a moment in a child’s life. The Suite Infantil No. 2, in four parts, resembles a purely abstract composition, similar to the Baroque sonata in its layout, or to the original skeleton of four obligatory parts that constituted the kernel of the suite. In spite of their abstract titles, each piece of the Suite Infantil No. 2 still betrays a vaguely programmatic element, as they combine to evoke some very distinct moods. In spite of their inspiration in the world of children, the pieces in these two Suites are meant for mature pianists, owing to their musical and technical complexity. The last piece of Suite Infantil No. 1, for example, could have been an étude by Scriabin.

The remaining pieces on this recording, Ibericarabe, Gavota-Chôro, and Valsinha Brasileira, are clear examples of salon music. Ibericarabe, a transcription of the second part of the Suite Oriental for orchestra, is a piece of great pianistic brilliance and virtuosity, full of striking sound effects of the kind that was favoured in salon gatherings and domestic music-making. In this sense, it harks back to the popular opera and orchestra transcriptions, as well as the paraphrases de concert that constituted such an important part of the piano literature in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This piano transcription, made by Lucília Guimarães Villa-Lobos (the composer’s first wife) is all the more important since the original Suite Oriental is lost. The piano transcription of Ibericarabe, therefore, is the only surviving record from that work. The two other pieces, Gavota-Chôro and Valsinha Brasileira, are excerpts from the incidental music that Villa-Lobos wrote for Viriato Correia’s play Marqueza de Santos, which also includes a third piece—the Lundú da Marqueza de Santos—a setting of a text by Correia himself, originally written for voice and orchestra and later arranged for voice and piano. Both pieces are perfect examples of the type of dance music that would be performed at the bourgeois salon, and in this case they are even more pertinent because the Marchioness of Santos (the protagonist of Correia’s play) was credited with having introduced several types of dance music, including the notorious lundú, into the courtly salons of nineteenth-century Brazil.

It has often been remarked that Villa-Lobos was the main creator of his own myth. Endowed with an affecting personality, prone to inventing fables and perpetuating anecdotes, and blessed with an infectious sense of humour, Villa-Lobos unquestionably devoted the same care to the furbishing of his persona as he did to the crafting of his works. For him, the most prolific composer of the twentieth century, music was first and foremost the highest form of natural speech, a vehicle that should be entirely free from unnecessary academic constraints. Throughout his life he was unable to (in fact, he chose not to) separate his personal and creative lives. In his view the character of his music was irrevocably linked to the fact that he was Brazilian, and could only express himself with a Brazilian voice. Sampling the enormous diversity of the piano works recorded in the eight CDs, several of them for the first time, that stand now as a vivid testimony of Villa-Lobos’s piano output, one can perhaps better understand the wit and veracity behind his famous answer to a curious journalist who asked him about the influence of Brazilian folklore on his music. Without any vacillation, Villa-Lobos retorted, as if the obviousness of the answer precluded any further debate: “I am Brazilian folklore”.

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


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