About this Recording
8.573115 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Guitar Manuscripts (The) - Masterpieces and Lost Works, Vol. 1 (Bissoli)
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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
The Guitar Manuscripts: Masterpieces and Lost Works • 1

 

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, more suited to the child’s size. Villa-Lobos was later to acquire a knowledge of the guitar and, in adolescence, close acquaintance with the popular music of Rio, where the choro had become a popular 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 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, Villa-Lobos attempted a more formal study of music in Rio, but soon gave this up, preferring freedom and the personal development of his impatient genius, which won more general acceptance with a series of concerts devoted to his works. Largely through the advocacy of Arthur Rubinstein, who had been impressed by the earlier piano music, Villa-Lobos won the support of rich sponsors, which enabled him to move in 1923 to Paris, where he based his activities for the following years. His return to Brazil in 1930 proved permanent, although he had had every intention of returning to Paris, a place congenial to his talent, as soon as he could. It was during these Paris years, interrupted by a trip home from 1925–27, that he wrote his fourteen Choros, 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. The change of government in Brazil in 1930 brought a change in the future of Villa-Lobos, who found himself increasingly responsible for the organization of national musical education, a task that he continued with inspired enthusiasm. His reputation abroad grew rapidly, while at home he occupied an unassailable position as the musical leader of his generation. As a composer Villa-Lobos was thoroughly imbued with the very varied traditions of his country, Amerindian, African and Portuguese. These he was able to translate into terms acceptable in concert halls and theatres. His music before 1930 has strong traces of French influence, or rather of the influences current in Paris in the 1920s, while his later work in Brazil was to include that fascinating synthesis of Brazil and Bach, Bachianas Brasileiras and a series of compositions in which a demand for instrumental virtuosity made itself known.

Keith Anderson

“This is just a study—I by no means consider it to be serious music.” Such was Villa-Lobos’ own view of Simples (Simple), a little mazurka he wrote in 1911. Such pithy self-deprecation might have something to do with the rigorous standards set by the education he had received from his father, Raul, but it is also worth noting that by this point Villa-Lobos had already moved on from the street musicians of his native Rio, the rodas de choro, and was working on broadening his artistic scope. Writing a folk-style mazurka might therefore have seemed to him to be a backward step, which is why he played down its worth when he gave the manuscript to his pupil Eduardo Luiz Gomes.

The original, unpublished version of the Suite popular brasileira dates from the 1920s and included a piece called Valse-Choro. Left out of the final version of the Suite, the Valse lay undiscovered for eighty years, until Frédéric Zigante came across it in the archives of publishing house Max Eschig at the beginning of this century. Its manuscript reveals a piece of bold and innovative writing, featuring wild glissandos and a number of irresistible rallentandos, laden with saudade (melancholic nostalgia). This waltz was probably omitted because of its originality—while the pieces that did make it into the Suite are certainly inspired, they do not share its astonishing flights of fancy.

During the 1920s, Villa-Lobos made two extended visits to Paris. One of the works he wrote in the period between these trips was Cirandas (1926), for solo piano (the ciranda being a traditional children’s round dance). The old folk tune of Terezinha de Jesus (Little Thérèse of Jesus), into which Villa-Lobos infuses a touch of samba, giving it added charm, is introduced by a lively prelude inspired by a “song without words” from Frederico José de Santa-Anna Nery’s book Folk-Lore brésilien (1889). Terezinha de Jesus was transcribed for two guitars by Emilio Pujol, who also arranged A canoa virou (The Canoe Turned Round), this time in collaboration with his first wife, the guitarist Matilde Cuervas.

Modinha (Little Tune), which is part of the Serestas (Serenades) collection, also dates from 1926 in its original version for voice and piano. The transcription for voice and guitar was realized later by Villa-Lobos himself, at the request of Brazilian singer and guitarist Olga Praguer Coelho.

In the early 1930s the composer became head of SEMA, the Superintendency of Musical and Artistic Education for Rio, as part of which rôle he was responsible for writing a large number of choral works. Nonetheless, during the same period he also found time to compose the Bachianas Brasileiras, put together the four suites from his film score to O Descobrimento do Brasil (The Discovery of Brazil), and even returned to a former passion—the guitar. In 1936 he wrote an undedicated Valsa sentimental, a minute long, of which, sadly, all trace has been lost. I like the idea that the sentimental little Valsa on this album, taken from an undated autograph manuscript score found in the mid- 1990s, may be that same piece. The score came from the home of Villa-Lobos’ first wife, Lucília Guimarães, so must have been written in 1936 or earlier, because that was the year they separated.

As part of his work with SEMA, on 15 December 1937 Villa-Lobos conducted a choral concert at Rio de Janeiro’s Theatro Municipal. On the programme was a piece he had written for guitar, flute and female chorus, on that occasion performed with dancers as well: Motivos Gregos (Greek Motifs). The 1937 score has since been lost. A few years earlier, in 1932, Villa-Lobos had composed a duet for guitar and flute entitled Distribuição de flores (Dança de motivos gregos)—Distribution of Flowers (Dance Based on Greek Motifs). It seems unlikely that the similarity between the two titles is coincidental. There is also a brief vocal exercise for female chorus with the title Melodia sobre motivos Gregos, published as part of the second volume of Solfejos. The Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro has a copy which belonged to Arminda Villa-Lobos, the composer’s second wife (and his assistant at SEMA in the early 1930s). Next to the title are the words “Distribuição de Flores”, in Arminda’s handwriting. The flute part, in which the main motif appears three times, clearly echoes the vocal line, which has three entries based on the same melisma, itself an imitation of the flute motif. My hypothesis, therefore, is that Villa-Lobos, as was his wont, went back to an earlier work (Distribuição de flores, for guitar and flute) and developed it into a piece for a specific occasion (Motivos Gregos, for guitar, flute and female chorus), by adding a simple choral part. Based as they are on the same Greek mode, the three flute motifs and the three choral entries are interchangeable. Arminda also added the figure “25” to the score of Melodia sobre motivos Gregos, which might be explained by the fact that the chorus, taking the place of the flute, comes in after a 25-beat introduction from the guitar.

In 1938 Villa-Lobos composed the first movement of his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, Ária: it features a pizzicato introduction from the cellos, a melody steeped in saudade and an old modinha, which is sung in semi-declamatory style (“Tarde, uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente…”—“As night falls, a rose-coloured cloud drifts transparently by.”). Once again, the guitar transcription was realised by the composer at the request of Olga Praguer Coelho.

Canção do poeta do século XVIII (Song of an Eighteenth-Century Poet), another piece originally for voice and piano, was written in 1948. Five years later, in 1953, Villa-Lobos adapted the piano part for the guitar. The work was premiered in 1962, after the composer’s death, by its dedicatee, Cristina Maristany, and guitarist Jodacil Damaceno. The transcription was never published and the score disappeared. My curiosity was aroused when I spotted the title in the tracklists of some old LPs, so I went ahead and ordered them. One of them, from 1967, seemed to be a complete one-off: it included the Canção do poeta do século XVIII performed by none other than Jodacil Damaceno himself! When I got the record, I learned from the notes, written by Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, that the version recorded dated from 1953. I took down the guitar part from the LP, but decided not to record the work until I had some sort of confirmation of its origins. Humberto Amorim, in his authoritative book Heitor Villa-Lobos e o Violão (Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Guitar), reveals a minor transgression on the part of the guitarist: in 1967, when the recording was made, Damaceno confessed that he still had his own copy of the manuscript score, the same one he had used at the première five years earlier.

Segovia had long wanted Villa-Lobos to write a concerto for him, and often asked Arminda to use her influence on the composer. One day, Villa-Lobos asked her to hand him a guitar, saying he had a strange itch in his fingers and wanted to translate it into music. The resulting work was the Fantasia concertante, but it had no cadenza for the soloist. Segovia did not give up, however, and having obtained the desired Cadência, gave the première of what had become the Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra in Houston on 6 February 1956, Villa-Lobos himself conducting the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1958 Villa-Lobos wrote a score for the Mel Ferrer film Green Mansions. In the event, however, the finished soundtrack was a collage of Villa-Lobos’ original music, adapted by Bronislau Kaper, who also supplied the love theme, Song of Green Mansions (sung by Anthony Perkins as Abel to Audrey Hepburn as Rima, to guitar accompaniment). Villa-Lobos recorded his original score for United Artists, renaming it Floresta do Amazonas (Forest of the Amazon). At around the same time he also transcribed two of its numbers for voice/guitar and voice/two guitars respectively: Canção do Amor (Song of Love) and Veleiros (Sailing Ships).

Andrea Bissoli
English translation: Susannah Howe


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