About this Recording
8.573923 - Violin and Piano Recital: Anderegg, Francesca / Ribeiro, Erika - AGUIAR, E. / FREIRE, L. / GNATTALI, R. / GUARNIERI, C. (Images of Brazil)

Images of Brazil
Aguiar • Freire • Gnattali • Guarnieri • Guerra-Peixe • Villa-Lobos • Villani-Côrtes


In 2015, I spent two weeks in Brazil, touring, teaching, and meeting local musicians. During this trip, I had the great fortune to perform with pianist Erika Ribeiro. The highlight of our collaboration was a concert at the bicultural centre Casa Tomás Jefferson in Brasília, with the US Ambassador to Brazil in attendance and the flags of our two countries on stage. Over the next three years, we continued working together, and we decided to record music by Brazilian composers, especially those inspired by folk and traditional styles. We developed the project through concerts in New York City and Rio de Janeiro, and recorded it at St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 2017.

With the goal of showcasing the incredible breadth and variety of Brazilian classical music, we chose to record works by composers who had an interest in traditional styles: bossa nova, frevo, chôro, samba, and maracatu. Taken as a group, these composers’ varied careers as performers, conductors, and arrangers led to inventive ways of combining traditional Brazilian music with neo-Romanticism, Modernism and jazz.

Erika and I also wanted to move beyond stereotypes about Brazilian music and culture. Many foreigners’ unfamiliarity with Brazil produces an impression of its music that is limited to the traditions of samba and Carnival. In fact, the cultural melting pot of Brazil in the modern era has produced an incredible variety of musical styles and genres. We present this stylistic variety as a kind of collection of Brazilian ‘Rarities and B-sides’: works that reach beyond obvious popular stereotypes, and whose rhythmic vitality, harmonic sophistication, and multi-faceted influences lead us to consider them undiscovered gems.

Our collaboration, then, is an extension of Brazil’s long history of crossover music. It contains our personal, subjective responses to these works, mixing our contrasting experiences as a native Brazilian (Erika) and a foreigner (myself). Through our choice of composers, we present snapshots of a musical culture: our album of remembrances of travelling through this multifaceted country. The musical images rendered here were inspired by the work of photographer Aline Müller, whose evocative portraits inspired us to create our own Images of Brazil.

César Guerra-Peixe (1914–1993): Três peças para violino e piano (‘Three Pieces for Violin and Piano’) (1957)

César Guerra-Peixe was an ethnomusicologist, violinist, composer and conductor from Pétropolis, a city in the mountainous state of Rio de Janeiro. His study of frevo, maracatu, caboclinho and carimbós (Afro-Brazilian performance genres practised at Carnival, involving dance, music and ritual re-enactments) influenced his compositional style, particularly in the usage of dance rhythms based on percussion patterns, melodic scales and intervals derived from this music. In Três peças para violino e piano (‘Three Pieces for Violin and Piano’), each movement represents a different style of traditional music. The first movement is titled Baiao: it contains a lilting pattern in both violin and piano parts, which is traditionally used by singers to lead instrumental musicians through the form of a song. The second movement, Reza de defunto (‘Prayer for the Dead’), alludes to a kind of responsorial singing which is done between prayers at local funerals. The mournful tune in the violin would traditionally be accompanied by a slower percussive beat, but here, this rhythm is only implied by the grand and solemn chords in the piano. The third movement, Toque je-je, refers to a lively drum pattern associated with candomblé performances: this pattern produces the intense repetition of rhythmic motifs heard in the work.

Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907–1993): Violin Sonata No. 4 (1956)

Mozart Camargo Guarnieri was a mid-century composer and conductor: he is considered by many to be the second-most influential and internationally recognised Brazilian composer (after Villa-Lobos). Born and based in São Paulo, he pursued a varied career: he was the chief conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and director of the São Paulo Conservatory, while writing many symphonies, piano and violin concertos, and chôros (Brazilian traditional songs) for orchestra. His Violin Sonata No. 4 is a grand, Romantic-style work, large and ambitious in scope. The first movement, Energico ma espressivo, blends driving rhythms with the sound of open fourths and fifths. The second movement, Intimo, features a lullaby in the violin with subtle commentary in the piano: in the middle section, dissonant harmonies and violin tremolo create an atmosphere of tension, before returning to the tender music of the opening section. The last movement, Allegro appassionato, is by turns stormy and lyrical, but once again, the melodies have a rhythmic underpinning that is strongly influenced by Brazilian traditional music—in this case, the chôro. This underlying metric pattern provides a kind of rhythmic ostinato, while the melodic figure of a descending fourth followed by a descending second provides a kind of idée fixe and generates much of the melodic material.

Léa Freire (b. 1957): Três canções (‘Three Songs’) (2005–07)

Léa Freire is a well-known contemporary composer, flautist and bandleader of the group Vento em Madeira (‘Wind the Woods’), for whom she has composed many pieces. We chose three works from her songbook and arranged them for violin and piano. The first, Brincando com Theo (‘Playing with Theo’) is inspired by interactions with a friend’s baby. The 7/8 metre and the burbling rhythms create an atmosphere of laughter and playfulness. Copenhague (‘Copenhagen’) is about the idea of a cold, foreign place: it uses dissonant notes and strange harmonies to suggest the disorientation and longing of being far away from home. The last movement, Mamulengo, refers to big, floating puppets used in festival parades. Their arms wave languorously back and forth in the wind, and their jerky movements are an important part of the joy and spectacle of Carnival.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959): O Martírio dos Insetos (‘The Martyrdom of Insects’) (1925)

Heitor Villa-Lobos was the most well-known Brazilian composer of the 20th century and possibly the most influential Latin American composer to this day. He had an unconventional musical background, playing popular music with many bands in Rio de Janeiro and working as a cellist in orchestras and movie theatres. He was born into a transitional time in Brazil’s history, when a new interest in Brazilian nationalist music was emerging. Consequently, although his music was influenced by European styles, he primarily drew upon Brazilian forms. His piece O Martírio dos Insetos (‘The Martyrdom of Insects’) is a suite of character pieces for violin and orchestra (here, in an arrangement for violin and piano by Ricardo Averbach) that reveals Villa-Lobos’s interest in natural subjects and also a dark humour. The first movement, A cigarra no Inverno (The Cicada in Winter’), features a mournful melody in half steps, representing the dying cicada, punctuated by wild, florid passages in the violin. Dissonant and strident trills erupt from the violin, followed by a reprise of the cicada’s lament. The second movement, O Vagalume na Claridade (‘The Firefly in the Light’), depicts the darting movements of the firefly with tremolos and accents in the violin. Finally, in the last movement, Mariposa na luz (‘The Moth around the Flame’), the fluttering wings of the moth are represented by perpetually flowing sextuplets in the violin, in a Brazilian noir version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee.

Ernani Aguiar (b. 1950): Meloritmias No. 4 (1987)

Ernani Aguiar is another composer with a connection to Brazil’s northeastern region and a varied resumé; he was born in Pétropolis, and is currently a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janiero, as well as a choral conductor and musicologist. In the late 1970s and 1980s he wrote a series of works for solo instruments called Meloritmias (for flute, cello, bassoon, violin and viola). His Meloritmias No. 4 for violin, written in 1987, is suffused with folk idioms. These are evident in the dance-like rhythm of the Allegro first movement. The drone of open strings accompanying the melody in the Lento second movement recalls a rebec (fiddle). Finally, the last movement, titled Tempo de Frevo, is influenced by the frevo tradition in northeastern Brazil where dancers perform at Carnival with small, brightly coloured umbrellas. The fast-flowing, jazzy brass band music that traditionally accompanies frevo performance is recalled here by the offbeat accent patterns and short phrase lengths in the solo violin.

Edmundo Villani-Côrtes (b. 1930): Águas Claras (‘Clear Waters’) (1991)

Edmundo Villani-Côrtes is a composer from Minas Gerais, primarily self-taught as a child on piano and guitar. He has won many awards in Brazil for his catalogue of over 200 works, and he has worked both as a popular musician (pianist and arranger) and also a classical musician (as a composer and professor at the University of the State of São Paulo). His passion for Brazilian traditional music is evident in Águas Claras (‘Clear Waters’) which, like much of his music, is inspired by natural subjects. The swirling patterns in the violin and piano are meant to represent the movement of water, while the harmonies borrow heavily from bossa nova.

Radamés Gnattali (1906–1988): Flor da Noite (‘Night Flower’) (1938)

Radamés Gnattali was originally from Porto Alegre, a city in the south of Brazil, where he studied to be a concert pianist. He became instead a successful commercial musician in Rio: beginning in the 1930s, he conducted, played the piano, worked for radio stations, and wrote arrangements of popular music (all the while pursuing a side career as a classical composer). He composed in a style which blended neo-Romanticism, jazz and traditional Brazilian popular music. His piece Flor da Noite (‘Night Flower’) is based on a traditional song from Bahia, which Gnattali reharmonised and arranged for violin and piano. With its jazz-like harmonies and unexpected gestures, it evokes the heady perfume of a mysterious flower. This album would not have been made without Erika Ribeiro’s deep knowledge of Brazilian composers and styles, her love of adventure, and excellent musicianship. Thanks are also due to Jefferey O’Donnell, our very patient engineer, and Anna Clift, who advised our recording sessions, as well as to Steven Swartz, for his wisdom and advice. Finally, to photographer Aline Müller, whose imagery sparked our imagination.

Francesca Anderegg

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