About this Recording
8.570008 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Piano Music, Vol. 5 (Rubinsky) - Guia pratico I-IX
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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Piano Music, Volume 5


In 1905-1913, driven by his innate curiosity, Heitor Villa-Lobos embarked on a long voyage through the several regions of Brazil, during which he was exposed to a variety of traditional melodies, rhythms, and genres. At that time Villa-Lobos had already developed a deep identification with all things Brazilian, and increasingly began to project his works as a record of Brazil's musical identity. The trips Villa-Lobos took over this eight-year period became an important factor in his musical discovery of Brazil, but he was also motivated by his desire for freedom, his insatiable search for new materials and techniques, and his determination to uncover his own musical personality. In order to finance the first trip he did not hesitate to sell a number of rare books he had inherited from his father.

Villa-Lobos's earlier biographers often remarked that, during these trips, he collected more than a thousand themes and melodies, most of them of great musical interest by virtue of their unique and even exotic character. The accuracy of such statements, however, remains debatable, since it is uncertain how much material Villa-Lobos actually compiled from these trips. If a document survives of Villa-Lobos's ethnographic forays, it is the Guia Prático, a collection of 137 traditional songs, most of them children's rounds that would be instantly recognizable in several regions of Brazil. The collection was assembled for specific didactic purposes and was approved by the National Commission for Didactic Texts of the National Conservatory of Choral Singing. Villa-Lobos had planned five volumes, which would contain pieces for several media: solo piano, two-voice songs, choral songs, and songs with piano accompaniment. A few melodies had been collected by Villa-Lobos himself, but the project depended on the participation of several people connected with SEMA (Superintendency of Artistic and Musical Education), of which Villa-Lobos was the director. Each of the melodies was arranged or contextualized by Villa-Lobos, while the texts of the songs were revised and adapted by the poet Afranio Peixoto. Only the volume mentioned above, however, was published. Later, Villa-Lobos compiled small albums for piano solo, each containing five or six pieces extracted from the original Guia Prático. He published a total of eleven of these albums, also called Guia Prático. Ten were published in 1932, and the eleventh in 1949. Nine of these albums are recorded here, and the remaining two will appear in a later recording. The Guia Prático is one of the most important collections that Villa-Lobos ever produced. First and foremost, it is an extremely rich inventory of Brazil's traditional songs, arranged or adapted by Villa-Lobos in infinitely inventive ways to create a string of highly individual and intensely characterized musical jewels. Villa- Lobos's ability to unveil the hidden meanings of children's round songs, or to reveal the psychological underpinnings of seemingly innocent texts, shines throughout the collection. Furthermore, the Guia Prático became a reservoir for the composer's own creative process: its melodies and rhythms provided Villa-Lobos with the raw material for many of his most memorable compositions.

In spite of its ostensibly didactic character, many of the pieces in the Guia Prático could never be performed by children or by beginners on the piano. Even a cursory listening would reveal the astonishing technical and musical complexity of many of the pieces, some of which would be perfectly at home in anthologies of toccatas or etudes for the piano. It should not be forgotten, however, that Villa-Lobos's primary motivation for compiling the Guia Prático was a pedagogical one, which becomes clearer in light of the cultural and political context that surrounded the collection.

Villa-Lobos arrived in Brazil, fresh from his visit to Paris and his exposure to the European avant-garde, in the spring of 1930. A series of political events, including the 1930 Revolution that installed Getúlio Vargas as president of Brazil on 3 November of that year, prevented Villa-Lobos from returning to Paris, as was his intention. In a visit to São Paulo, Villa-Lobos became dismayed at the state of music education in the public schools, and was inflamed with a desire to remedy the appalling situation he detected. He approached the political authorities with a massive project for institutionalizing music education in Brazil's public schools, and for raising choral singing to the level of a civic duty. He devoted many years to the consolidation of these projects, and his zeal in pursuing his goals has been seen both as a commendable effort on behalf of music education and as a subservient support of the dictatorship that ensued from Vargas's political power. It is undeniable that, in carrying out his educational projects in the years from 1931 to 1945, Villa-Lobos embraced a brand of nationalism that verged on fanaticism. The chronicle of his activities during this period abounds with accounts of massive choral singing in football stadiums that drew up to 40,000 singers and 1,000 instrumentalists, of Villa- Lobos's use of a Brazilian flag in lieu of a baton when conducting one of these mammoth gatherings in São Paulo, and of his almost blind enthusiasm for the patriotic cause and the rôle of music and collective singing in supporting it. All this is true, but it is also true that Villa-Lobos's unshakeable belief in the power of music as a collective activity stimulated him in his broad project of revolutionizing music education in Brazil. The assemblage of the Guia Prático was a direct product of this outlook. In this magnificent collection Villa-Lobos created a timeless document of the musical traditions of Brazil, comparable in scale and importance to the ethnographic collections of Bartók, Kodály, and Alan Lomax. Villa-Lobos's exuberant personality and many-faceted musical invention transpire from the wealth of musical details, techniques, textures, characters, and imagery that one encounters throughout the collection.

This is the first time that all the pieces of the Guia Prático for piano solo have been recorded. The pieces are also recorded for the first time in their original order and with complete translations of all the song texts. On the occasion of the publication of the Guia Prático Villa-Lobos himself provided a detailed preface outlining his goals, methods, and purposes in assembling the collection. What emerges from a study of this document is the confirmation that, in carrying out this project, Villa-Lobos was guided first and foremost by a desire to express, in music and through the sensibility of children, the multifarious cultural landscape that forms the very essence of the Brazilian soul.

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

Accompanying song texts are available online at http://www.naxos.com/libretti/guiapratico.htm

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