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8.223720 - VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 6 / Ruda
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)
The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887. By the time of his death in 1959 he had long been established as the leading composer of his native country, the varied traditions of which had become the source of his musical inspiration. In childhood Villa-Lobos learned the cello, taught by his father, who worked at the National Library. He was later to learn to play the guitar, and these two instruments assumed considerable importance in his later work as a composer. It had been intended that he should become a doctor, but the early death of his father, and his own interest in the popular music of the streets, drew him into the world of the chôro, a form of music current in the popular culture of Rio de Janeiro.
As a young man Villa-Lobos spent a number of years travelling in Brazil, engrossed in the study of the various forms of indigenous and imported music flourishing in its many different regions. At the same time, although lacking technical training, he wrote music, although his intermittent serious attempts at formal musical study proved fruitless. As a composer he was, in fact, largely self-taught. Nevertheless a concert of his works in Rio in 1915, with a programme that included his First Piano Trio and Second Violin Sonata, attracted some local interest, which grew during the following years, in spite of opposition in some quarters, into a measure of official recognition.
In 1923, in good part through the influence of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who had been impressed by his work, Villa-Lobos received financial support for a visit to Paris, where he established himself for the most part until 1930, although the period brought visits to Africa and concerts of his music in Argentina and at home in Brazil. Paris, however, allowed direct contact with the mainstream of contemporary music and association with leading musicians that was of great importance to him. Here he was much influenced by Ravel and established a friendship with Varèse, a musician with whom he would seem to have had little in common. His music, meanwhile, proved very successful, appealing, no doubt, in its originality and exotic vigour.
With the new decade Villa-Lobos returned to Brazil, where he struggled, against considerable difficulties, to introduce contemporary music from Europe. In 1932, however, in the aftermath of the national revolution under Vargas, he assumed responsibility for national music education, occupying a position specially created for him and busying himself to a considerable extent with music for massed choirs and bands. In 1942 he established a National Conservatory in Rio and in 1945 set up the Brazilian Academy of Music, an association of the most distinguished musicians of the country. By the time of his death he had won honours at home and abroad and a general reputation as the most important Brazilian composer of his generation.
Villa-Lobos wrote his Symphony No. 6, ‘Sobre a linha das montanhas do Brasilo’, in 1944. The work has a different structure from the earlier symphonies, exuberant works in broadly classical form. The Sixth Symphony is in a more purified form, the result of forty years research into essentially Brazilian art. This new musical language, attempted in the Sixth Quartet and confirmed in subsequent chamber music, is a concentrated musical idiom, synthetic, less directly nationalistic, representing the tensions of the middle of the century, of industralised Brazil, so different from the Brazil of his youth. The symphony is based on the melodic line of the mountains of Brazil, that is, taken from their contours in a process invented by Villa-Lobos by means of a graphic chart. From this chart he derived the design of the melody, using a photograph of a mountain or landscape, the outline of which was reproduced on squared paper and, by means of a pantograph with a scale of 1:1000. He wrote at the side, vertically, from bottom to top, a succession of 85 chromatic notes. He then marked the principal points, angles or curves of the contour needed for the melody. These points corresponded horizontally to the notes of the scale, major or minor, in relation to sea level or the base of the mountain. The sounds were notated on the ordinary staff, determining their duration and compass. Vertically each line corresponds to the value represented by a unit and that could be varied between a semiquaver and a longer note. The rhythm was determined by the grouping of note values. This process was put into practice in some schools with the object of giving the pupils a way of writing unexpected melodies, stimulating their creative faculty and in general for the understanding of musical theory. With the result of such work, deriving a melody from a drawing or photograph, a clever and competent teacher could harmonise it and have it played by his pupils, in order to arouse their interest in such work. In the symphony Villa-Lobos uses melodies taken from mountains of Brazil such as Pão de Açúcar, Corcovado and others.
The symphony, as might be expected, has thematic material that is at times angular in outline, although, once the derivation of the thematic material is known, it is tempting to imagine something of the Brazilian landscape. The second movement, a gentler Lento of misty tranquillity through which solo instruments are heard, is marked by evocative string glissandi. The music grows in intensity, as a stronger mood momentarily prevails, with a forceful descending motif for the brass, emphasised by the intervention of percussion. The third movement, a Scherzo, is energetic in its opening rhythms, although there is contrast in more lyrical material, before a return to a more strident idiom and a dynamic climax. The final Allegro starts with drum-beats and an urgent drum-roll, over which the strings mount in excitement. This introduces a movement of characteristic strength and energy. The insistent repetition of a single note ushers in the dramatic conclusion, with its momentary relaxation into a woodwind mountain-song, before the emphatic final chords.
The ballet Rudri ‘Dia d’amore’ was completed in 1951 and intended for performance in the same year at La Scala, Milan. Various obstacles prevented this staging and the music was first performed on 30th August 1954 by the French National Radio Orchestra under the direction of Villa-Lobos himself. The composer noted that the Bible teaches love, symbolised in the creation by God of Adam and Eve: in all manifestations of life love predominates. Rudá, god of love in the mythology of the Marajoaras, may similarly be considered a symbol of this among all the pre-Colombian civilisations of the New Continent. In the ballet the historical representation of the races of the New World sought to symbolise love in the coupling of two beings. Among the Marajoaras comes the culminating episode of the victory of love in the tropics, through the seductive mystery of the Valley of the Amazon. In the first act, the Mayas, the women love the prisoners of their people. The dancers represent nobles and soldiers, prisoners from various tribes, Mayan noblemen and warriors, a princess and a captive tribal chief and attractive Amerindian women. The next scene, the Aztecs, is with Spanish and Aztec nobles and soldiers, aboriginal female warriors and an Amerindian and a Spanish commander. Here the women worship wars and conquests. In the second act, the Incas, with a tribal chief, a priest, Amerindians, warriors, the King, the Queen and a noble Quechuan couple, men yield to conquest and the kings become tyrants. In the second scene, the Marajoaras (Nheengatu—the language and culture of the Tupi peoples), the dancers represent the Amazon porpoise, the Currupira, a bogy-man with feet facing backwards, the kinkajou, the one-legged black Saci, the Brazilian horned frog, a headless mule, a werewolf, a great cobra, with Amerindians and people of the Amazon, together with a noble couple from the island of Marajó. The women dominate the men of neighbouring races and this leads to the victory of love in the tropics. This triumph is celebrated in the following scene in which plants, flowers and creatures rejoice together with the nature of the forests. An Amerindian man and woman dance naked, symbolising Adam and Eve. In the final epilogue there is erosion of the Amazon region and the beginning of a new continent, but this scene was withdrawn from the work and later included in the ballet Emperor Jones.
This Amerindian ballet is based on the power of the God of Love, in whatever mythological form he may appear. Rudá, as his name suggests, may be far removed from the Eros or Cupid of the Greco-Roman world, the latter leading to a certain sentimentality. The mysterious force of love is found in the primitive, exemplified in Rudá, a power of untamed violence in the struggle between life and death.
The ballet opens with suggestions of the primitive in the music, which then moves into something of a much gentler mood, with a short motif that has continued importance. The second scene, the Aztecs, with the women’s worship of war and conquest, calls for harsher music of continuing vigour and energy, with the thunder of percussion, although the mood again changes, with the introduction of sinuous and exotic strands of melody. The second act, celebrating in its first scene the Incas, has music of generally serener cast. The Marajoaras offer a scene of lively variety, with its introduction of creatures of legend and symbolism in character dances. The women dominate men of neighbouring peoples, leading to the triumph of love, further celebrated in the following scene of primitive ardour. The last scene, the Epilogue, returns to fiercer dissonance, in recalling earlier motivic elements, although the rise of a new continent suggests a more optimistic and triumphant final mood.
The careful revision of the works here recorded by the conductor Roberto Duarte seeks to eliminate obvious errors in the scores of Villa-Lobos. The speed with which he wrote occasionally led to omissions or obvious mistakes. There has been no attempt, however, to rewrite or to iron out passages that seem inconvenient or doubtful in effect, in a systematic revision based on a close knowledge of the work of Villa-Lobos and of the music of Brazil.
Keith Anderson (with information supplied by Roberto Duarte)
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