About this Recording
8.223357 - VILLA-LOBOS: Genesis / Erosao / Amazonas

Heltor Villa Lobos (1887

Heitor Villa Lobos (1887-1959)

Gênesis, Ballet

Erosão (Origin of the Amazon)

Amazonas, Symphonic Poem

Dawn in a Tropical Forest, Overture


The large musical output of Heitor Villa-Lobos, essentially linked to his native Brazil, represents an important element in the history of music. His ear and his gifts of observation were acute and in his travels from East to West and North to South in Brazil he heard the voices of nature and of the peoples of the region. In about 1910 he visited Amazonia and met Indians, collecting themes and impressions that would later prove formative in his work as a composer. This helps us to understand better this self-taught musician's claim that his first harmony book was the map of Brazil. He had, however, assimilated the classical masters and his art was a melting-pot of countless elements, the influence of Wagner, Puccini, Debussy, d'Indy and Stravinsky. He retumed to the distant sources of music, to Gregorian chant, and among his spiritual ancestors were Vittoria and Palestrina, and Bach, the musician who meant the most of all to him. Intuitively Villa-Lobos transmitted his message like a medium, moved by some secret power. All his life he distanced himself from reality, reaching at his best moments an ideal form of beauty. The words transfiguration and elevation came often to his lips when he tried to explain his music. Apart from some harmonisations (Cancões tipicas brasileiras, Guia prático...) he transformed folk material into Villa-Lobos and one remembers his identification of himself with the folk-lore of Brazil. Whether notated by Jean de Léry in the 16th century , collected by Roquette Pinto or by the composer himself, the indigenous music of Brazil was based on the pentatonic scale, with melodies constructed from a repetition of the same note. Wind instruments, made of bone or of bamboo, played a secondary rôle, while the maracas or the reco-reco came to occupy an important position among Brazilian percussion instruments. If Villa-Lobos assimilated the Indian heritage, as well as the European and Black additions to that culture, his creative thought remained always obsessed by the primitive. "That is my picture!", he declared, referring to the Dance of the White Indian that ends his Ciclo brasileiro for piano. It was suggested that he had inherited Indian blood through his mother Noemia. Whatever the truth of this, the distant memory of the continent is everywhere present in his music, and, like Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov or Sibelius, he turned to myth to establish an epic of which the strongest manifestations can be found in the symphonic poems, Amazonas, Uirapuru, Erosão (Origem do rio Amazonas), Gênesis, the Nonet and the series of Chôros, as well as the choral and orchestral frescoes Mandu-çarará, Descobrimento do Brasil, the Tenth Symphony and Dawn in a Tropical Forest.


The appearance of the music of Brazil on the worfd stage can be dated to 1917, when the Ballets russes of Sergey Dyagilev were in Rio de Janeiro. As a response to the cultural ferment of Europe a new form of "savage" art was born in the tropics with two scores by Villa-Lobos, Amazonas and Uirapuru, intended for dance. For the first time the vast horizons of America, the turbulent rivers, magic and terrifying forests, were to claim a place in international concert-halls. Yet these two scores were not quickly recognised. Amazonas had to wait until 1929 for its first performance at the Salle Gaveau in Paris: Uirapuru was first staged as a ballet in the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires in 1935. Subsequently the two works led an independent existence in concert repertoire. The argument of Amazonas is due to Raul Villa-Lobos, the composer's father, an erudite man, employed at the National Library in Rio and the author of several books on history and mythology:


"A young Indian virgin, consecrated by the gods of the magic forests, had the custom of greeting the dawn and bathing in the waters of the Amazon. There she sported, calling on the sun and admiring her reflexion in the waters of the river, proud in her primitive sensuality. Meanwhile the gods of the tropical winds breathed around her a gentle, perfumed breeze. Oblivious, she danced, surrendering herself to her pleasure like a simple child. Jealous and angered at this insult, the god of the winds carried the chaste perfume of the young girl to the profane region of the monsters. One of thern picks up her scent from afar and, anxious to possess her, destroys everything before him, as he advances, unheard, towards her, gazing at her in ecstasy and desire. His image, however, is reflected by the sun-light on the grey shadow of the girl. Seeing her own shadow transformed, she rushes away, horrified, pursued by the monster "into the abyss of her own desire." Amazonas is an example of the type of concentrated work in which Villa-Lobos achieved his greatest success, a kaleidoscope in sound, overflowing with rhythmic life and instrumental virtuosity, the orchestra augmented with Brazilian percussion instruments. A great part of his thematic material is drawn from indigenous melodies from Amazonia. The forests, rivers, waterfalls, birds, fish, wild animals, as well as the half-breed Indians (caboclos) and the legends of the Marajo have their influence on the work. The rich orchestration includes instruments that provide unusual sonorities, such as the violinophone, an invention of the composer (a horn attached to a violin) and the viola d'amore. All these elements contribute to a welter of sound, employing great harmonic freedom. The orchestra, as Mario de Andrade suggested, crawls painfully forward, breaking branches and felling trees, tonalities and the traditional rules of composition.


Considering Villa-Lobos as musician, poet and pantheist, we notice a scheme that he has applied to several of his orchestral compositions, such as Amazonas, Uirapuru, Chôros No. 10, Erosão and Gênesis. Each work shows the chaos of the world, or, more simply, evokes the tropics. Man appears here with the rhythrn of a dancer. This is an anthropocentric vision. Villa-Lobos had faith in man, not as a civiliser but in the savage, the Indian expressing his natural joy or his war-like ardour without any kind of concealment. As for primitive sound, a number of techniques of writing for strings, woodwind and brass bring him near Wagner and Sibelius. Erosão (Origem do rio Amazonas), written in 1950, was performed the following year by the Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney. Collected by Barbosa Rodrigues, the Indian legend of the sun and the moon that is its source evokes the geological period of the cataclysm that formed the Amazon valley and the Andes. The narrative programme is not exact, since anecdotal detail has been abandoned in favour of a broader picture. The score is filled with a feeling of primitive mystery , with melodies of exceptional delicacy, as if Villa-Lobos wanted us to share his tenderness and nostalgia for virgin nature. Mythological beings join in an infernal dance; a clarinet solo of astonishing virtuosity gives the signal for the emergence of the whole orchestra. A majestic song, inspired, emerges from the river as it is born, leading to a tranquil conclusion.


A commission from Louisville, like Erosão, Dawn in a Tropical Forest was first performed there in 1953. The composer classed the work as lyrical, descriptive and classical in form. There is a tranquil theme, like the first ray of sunlight over the landscape. The themes are original, making use of certain Amerindian scales. An ardent song is taken up by all the sections of the orchestra, alternating with the sound of tropical birds, cries and exotic dances. In this brief evocation, leading to a masterly climax, Villa-Lobos expresses once more the joy he takes in a pantheistic view of nature.


The symphonic poem and ballet Gênesis, written in 1954, was commissioned by the North American dancer Janet Collins. Instead of a classical and relatively economical composition like Erosão, this work is one of the most luxuriant by Villa-Lobos, justifying Olivier Messiaen¡¦s expressed opinion of him as the greatest orchestrator of the 2Oth century. Even without turning to the programme of the work, we feel ourselves again face to face with the laws of the humid Amazonian forest, a world in itself, the monumental universe described by Claude Lévi-Strauss. The first page of the score raises the curtain on the spectacular formation of the earth. Elemental sounds come from various instruments, in the presence of a myriad of crawling creatures. Man makes his due appearance in these hostile surroundings, at first timidly, then in a decisive episode, dancing wildly to music that has its roots in this primitive land. A calm transition leads to the appearance of lyrical themes that develop, interwoven, like intoxicating flowers blossoming on a warm rainy day. A new episode in lively rhythm proclaims the dominance of man in this creation. There follows a complex sequence, a groaning symphony of sounds in which the composer uses all the secrets of orchestral colour at his command. The woods resound with the calls of magic birds and the strings cascade in scales in the upper registers. Villa-Lobos reached the full intensity of his vision by combining natural sounds and sounds that seem to suggest the presence of man. Some moments of languor and the heavy scent of poisonous vegetation confirms, if it were necessary, the impression of being transported to the antipodes from the fresh and well marked paths of the temperate regions. The sun at last manages to cast its rays over the thick barrier of vegetation and the score ends with a brief crescendo, a sudden illumination. Free in conception but well constructed, the music of Gênesis is not doctrinaire, in spite of its rejection of tonality and its use of new sounds. It is a work of rare distinction in an age of experiment, modern, but natural and timeless in its sincerity.


Roberto Duarte


The Brazilian conductor Roberto Duarte has had a distinguished career in his native country. In 1983 he studied in Cologne with a West German Government scholarship and since 1985 has been concerned with the Teatro Municipal opera in Rio de Janeiro, where he conducted the opera II Guarany in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carlos Gomes, the most important Brazilian opera composer, the Second Rio International Ballet Festival and the opening concert of the week of celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Villa-Lobos, a composer in whose work Roberto Duarte is an established expert. He has done much to further the cause of Brazilian music, and enjoyed particular success with a recent concert by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under his direction.

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