About this Recording
8.557735 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Piano Music, Vol. 6 (Rubinsky) - Rudepoema / As tres Marias / Saudades das selvas brasileiras
English  German 

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Piano Music • 6

 

Of all the volumes in this series, the current one presents arguably the most diverse sample of Villa-Lobos's musical language and techniques. The pieces take their inspiration from a wide variety of influences, including children's games, Brazilian traditional music, avant-garde techniques, and extra-musical elements. Villa-Lobos was endowed with an exuberant personality, which allowed him easily to befriend the most diverse people, and much of this exuberance is reflected in his music. Perhaps no other Villa-Lobos composition for piano solo embodies his rich, turbulent, and overflowing creative personality as much as the Rudepoêma (1921-1926), his longest and most complex work for the instrument, and undoubtedly one of the seminal piano pieces of the twentieth century. The work was dedicated to the pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1886-1982), who met Villa-Lobos in 1918 and became a lifelong friend of the composer. Villa-Lobos's dedication suggests how extensively the personality of Arthur Rubinstein influenced the composition of the work:

My sincere friend, I do not know if I have been able to put all of your spirit into the Rudepoêma, but I am honestly able to say that, as far as I can tell, I have caught your true temperament on paper as I might have done with an intimate snapshot. Hence, if I have succeeded, it will be you in fact who will have been the real composer of this work.

There is reason to believe that Rubinstein did not see as much of himself reflected in the work as Villa-Lobos believed to be the case. The title of the work derived from Villa-Lobos's affectionate nickname for Rubinstein ("Rubi"), to which the pianist objected, prompting Villa-Lobos to call him "Rudi" instead, according to a statement by their common friend, the composer Francisco Mignone, on a phone interview to Sonia Rubinsky in 1985. The title, then, may be a play of words on the nickname "Rudi" and the Portuguese adjective "Rude" ("savage" or "rough"). Thus, Rudepoêma could conceivably mean both "Rubinstein's Poem" and "Savage Poem". Villa-Lobos himself described the work as "rude, brutal, and barbaric, full of the music of free sounds, like the exuberance of storms in the virgin forests of Brazil". The bewildering variety of textures, rhythmic structures, melodic motives, and sound effects that characterizes the Rudepoêma is unparalleled in Villa-Lobos's piano music. The piece is conceived as a loosely structured sonata form with a double exposition, rhapsodic development, and a recapitulation followed by a slow section that leads directly into the coda. The diversity of motives is held together by the recurrence of the opening figure in the bass, which reappears in several guises throughout the piece. Villa-Lobos explores the entire spectrum of keyboard techniques, blending traditional keyboard writing with some rather unorthodox sonorities. In its scope and variety, the Rudepoêma can be legitimately considered a summation of Villa-Lobos's pianistic style, as well as a panorama of the rhythmic and melodic elements that give Brazil's traditional music its particular colour.

This volume includes a number of pieces inspired by the world of children, which was always an important creative source for Villa-Lobos, as can be seen in many of the works included in the previous volumes. The Petizada (The Little Brats: 1912) is a small collection of six pieces inspired by children's games, A mão direita tem uma roseira (The right hand holds a rosebush), Assim ninava mamã (Mummy's Lullaby), A pobrezinha sertaneja (The Poor Girl from the Hinterlands), Vestidinho branco (Little White Dress), Saci, and A História da caipirinha (The Story of the Little Peasant Girl). The collection stems from the same creative approach that led Villa-Lobos to compile the Guia Prático (recorded in volumes 5 and 8 of this series). Here, as in that more comprehensive collection, one sees how ingeniously Villa-Lobos appropriated traditional children's melodies and completely transformed them through the formal and harmonic context in which they are presented. As was often the case when he based a composition on direct quotations from traditional melodies, Villa-Lobos managed to capture the emotional and expressive quality of the melody and infuse the entire piece with its character. As a case in point, one needs only to hear the lopsided rhythm of Sací (a one-legged black child who is one of the most important legends in Brazilian folk-lore) to see how Villa-Lobos embodied in the rhythm the hopping movement through which the Sací moves around. Each of the other pieces in the Petizada is as distinctive as a carefully burnished jewel, sparkling with its own colour. O Gato e o rato (The Cat and the Mouse) and Caixinha de música quebrada (The Broken Musical Box) are wonderfully descriptive in the way that the piano texture and sonorities are explored to convey the chasing and fleetness implied in the first piece, and the brilliant, albeit distorted, sonority of the musical box represented in the second piece. Villa-Lobos's use of the highest register in the piano is exquisitely handled. The pieces that comprise As Três Marias (The Three Marys) are based on a poem by Villa-Lobos himself, describing three little girls (all of them named "Mary") who were inseparable while living on earth; in order to keep them together as a perpetual symbol of unity among humankind, Destiny preserved them as stars in the sky, from where they illuminate the lives of other children. The scintillating sounds appropriately represent the flickering of the three stars, as all three pieces unfold from the middle to the upper register of the piano, creating a delicately transparent and almost disembodied texture. Furthermore, each of the stars has its own personality conveyed through the character of the music.

New York Skyline Melody (1939) and Melodia da montanha (Mountain Melody; date of composition uncertain, but published in 1942) originated from the same principle: in both cases, Villa-Lobos used a diagram of the contour of a particular horizon (New York's buildings and the peaks of the Serra da Piedade in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, respectively) as a source of inspiration. The contour of the horizon served as a guide for deciding on the pitches out of which the melodies were built. This approach was unique in Villa-Lobos's creative process, and in following this course he emulated techniques employed by Edgard Varèse in some of his avant-garde experiments. In the case of New York Skyline Melody, Villa-Lobos created a work of haunting and stark beauty, reminiscent of the majestic grandeur of the city. It is very likely that the Melodia da montanha (which receives here its world première recording) was composed before, and its accompaniment figure later used in the more elaborate, structurally more mature New York Skyline Melody.

Saudades das Selvas Brasileiras (Longing for the Brazilian Forests; 1927) is a nostalgic diptych that encapsulates Villa-Lobos's feelings for his homeland, embodying the contrast between extroversion and introversion, exhilaration and melancholy, which is such a distinctive feature of the Brazilian soul. The piece was composed while Villa-Lobos was in Paris, and thus represents his longing to return to Brazil. Similarly, Sul América (1925) represents Villa-Lobos's views on the musical identity of Latin America, a musical portrait built as a kaleidoscope of rhythmic and melodic motives that refer to the traditional music of several countries.

The three remaining pieces in the programme have interesting compositional histories. The waltz from the opera A menina das nuvens (The Girl of the Clouds) was discovered by the curators of the Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro in 1989, and was subsequently recorded by the pianist and Villa-Lobos scholar Alfred Heller. The piece is dated 1952 on the manuscript, five years before the completion of the opera in 1957. Carnaval de Pierrot (Pierrot's Carnival), which also receives its world première recording, was discovered in a second-hand bookshop in São Paulo by the pianist and composer Amaral Vieira (b.1954). The piece, an A-B-A form, was preserved in a two-page manuscript from which the repetition of section A was missing. Amaral Vieira completed the piece, providing six measures for the repetition of the A section and one extra measure to round off the form. Although it is not included in the catalogue of Villa-Lobos's works, all the evidence points to his authorship. This piece may be the same that is listed in the catalogue of the Museu Villa-Lobos as História de Pierrot, a two-minute piece dating from 1909, the manuscript of which has been lost and which was never published. As for Bailado infantil (Children's Ballet), it is preserved in an undated autograph manuscript of three pages, containing two different titles: Collecção infantil, written on the title page in the hand of Adalgisa Barbosa Ebert, who also copied the Valsa da Dor, and Bailado infantil, which appears at the top of the second page (the first page of music) in the hand of Arminda Villa-Lobos, the composer's second wife. The manuscript contains several performance directions and corrections, some of which are in Villa-Lobos's own hand and others in the hand of Adalgisa Barbosa Ebert. The composition of this piece points once again to Villa-Lobos's perennial interest in the world of children, which was for him a constant source of inspiration throughout his career.

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

 


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