About this Recording
8.574018 - VILLA-LOBOS, H.: Guitar Concerto / Harmonica Concerto / Sexteto místico (Barrueco, Staneck, São Paulo Symphony, Guerrero)
English  Portuguese 

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959)

Concertos and Chamber Works

Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra

The Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra was written in 1951 by an experienced, mature composer, a Villa- Lobos who, in social circles, had by now experienced the assertion of Brazilian cultural identity in 1920s Paris and the alliance with the Vargas government in the 1930s. He had become an internationally recognised artist, who for a decade had been reaping the fruits of his creative labours.

The Concerto was the last work that Villa-Lobos wrote for the guitar, and was composed at the request of the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893–1987). The two first met in Paris in 1924 at the home of the Portuguese writer Olga Moraes Sarmento, an encounter that became widely recounted in books about Brazilian music. Segovia’s version of events is told in a leading publication, Guitar Review (No. 22, 1958), and the Brazilian composer’s account was pieced together from the notes taken by Hermínio Bello de Carvalho during the lecture that Villa-Lobos gave at the National Conservatory of Choral Singing (Rio de Janeiro, 1956).

Putting to one side the anecdotal aspect of this encounter, the importance of the partnership for guitar scholarship must be emphasised. In the late 1920s Villa- Lobos completed the series of 12 Studies, a work also dedicated to Segovia. This represents a landmark composition, in Brazil and at an international level, both thanks to its innovative approach to the techniques of guitar playing and to its musical content, which involves a rich landscape of melodic-harmonic features, and sonic images.

The composer’s different experiments with the guitar, an instrument that he considered his ‘repository of ideas’, were brought together in this Concerto, initially entitled Fantasia Concertante for Guitar and Orchestra. The change of title occurred after Villa-Lobos, responding once again to a request from Segovia, added a cadenza between the second and third movements.

A few years passed before Segovia premiered the Concerto by Villa-Lobos in the US in February 1956 with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. The three movements that make up the work were created with the aim of achieving a balanced orchestral score, which would give the guitar freedom of expression despite the instrument’s characteristic difficulties in terms of sound projection. Even so, there are still moments when the presence of the orchestra hinders our appreciation of the solo performance.

In the first movement, Allegro preciso, two main contrasting themes stand out. The one that opens the work, essentially a rhythmic theme, permeates the construction of the entire first part, performed by the orchestra’s component sections. During this section, the guitar part features technical aspects that include arpeggios, percussive phrases and scales. A new theme, subtly enunciated by the orchestra, is then performed by the soloist. This is a beautiful melody, suggestive of a popular ballad, and is introduced at the different points on the scale, in progressions typical of the work of Villa- Lobos. The movement concludes abruptly with a rather unexpected return of the initial rhythmic theme.

The Andantino e andante presents a delicate balance in which the guitar, repeating arpeggios, leads a melodic line that emerges from the chords, until the arrival of the andante, when the principal voice is articulated on the instrument’s bass notes. The orchestra then leads the melody in a dramatically expressive mood, which gives way to the re-introduction of the theme by the soloist. This is followed by the ‘cadenza’, which reprises and reworks previously featured thematic material. The virtuoso aspects of the solo part take the form of descending scales and percussive phrases resulting from the combination of slurs joining open notes together, until the final point when heavily accented chords predominate.

The last movement, Allegretto non troppo, is essentially rhapsodic, and begins with rhythmic material performed by the orchestra, to which the continually arpeggiating guitar responds, going on to reprise the initial rhythm in blocs of chords. A new theme appears, introduced by the orchestra at a lively pace, which leads on to a section in which the guitar’s chords dialogue with the melody played by the bassoon. A new motif, announced by the instrument’s low strings, gives way to technically very challenging material for the soloist, until the final reprise of the melodic line that stands out from the percussive chords.

This is a fundamental work within the guitar repertoire, one that is widely known and performed in all four corners of the globe by the world’s leading guitarists.

Márcia Taborda

Márcia Taborda teaches guitar at the School of Music of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro State (UFRJ) and is the author of Violão e Identidade Nacional {The Guitar and National Identity}: Rio de Janeiro, 1830–1930 (Civilização Brasileira, 2011).

Sexteto Místico • Quinteto Instrumental

During the decades of 1900 to 1920 one can identify in many composers, especially those within the French gravitational field, a search for new sonorities in chamber music which could not be achieved by the commonly used string or woodwind combinations. The harp seems to have become a favourite instrument for the composition of delicate, mystical or sensual ambiences. As early as 1905 Ravel wrote for a mixed group with harp, and Caplet inserted it in an unusual ensemble including the saxophone in his Impressions d’automne. Villa-Lobos, who had already produced a considerable number of string quartets and piano trios, programmed, for the Week of Modern Art in São Paulo in 1922, his Quatuor Symbolique for flute, saxophone, celeste and harp with a female choir, a considerably more daring combination than those of his French colleagues.

The Sexteto Místico is related to that Quartet and had a tortuous course. It is dated 1917 and it seems Villa- Lobos also wanted it performed at the São Paulo Week, but it was only published in 1957 and premiered after the composer’s death. There is an early 1920’s manuscript of a single page, already bearing the strangely balanced combination of flute, oboe, alto saxophone, guitar, celesta and harp. They form two clearly profiled groups, where the winds have a melodic function and the strings and keyboard generate harmony and a characteristic plucked colour. Nevertheless, the musical material is completely different to the one later published. Musicologist Lisa Peppercorn, in her article Villa-Lobos ‘ben trovato’ credits this discrepancy to the imaginative system of Villa-Lobos dating his works, often taking the date of intellectual conception, before writing a single note, as the actual date of composition; it is acceptable to think the Sexteto was conceived in 1917, but, according to Peppercorn, the actual composition date should be replaced to around 1955.

It is written in four sections: the first is a delicate polyphonic fantasy, whose harmonies owe much to the guitar open strings; there is a second, more lively section, whose melody floats over repeated chords; an Adagio introduces a new melody, wide and intriguing, first sung by the oboe, later joined by the flute and saxophone over the sombre colours of the string group; and finally a syncopated Allegro leads it to an end with an atmosphere similar to the finale of his piano work Children’s Carnival. The light and placid aspect amply justifies this work’s title. On the other hand, the Quinteto Instrumental, in structure as well as external aspect, is firmly placed on the typical procedures of late Villa-Lobos. This work was commissioned by the Quintette Instrumental de l’Orchestre de la Radiodiffusion Française, written in 1957 and posthumously premiered in Rio de Janeiro. The rather more conventional combination of flute, strings and harp seems to suggests it was commissioned to take advantage of a combination often used in French music of the 1920s, found in works by Roussel, Jean Cras and in Vincent d’Indy’s Suite. Villa-Lobos had studied d’Indy’s works in his formative years, but these works are very different from each other. While d’Indy’s has a pastoral outlook, Villa-Lobos creates a robust structure, where he induces the listener to look out for a sonata form-related method as a reference.

In practice, the composer distributes the first movement material in a number of inter-related motifs, where the interval of a third creates an impression of continuity; extended melodies emerge out of a texture saturated with secondary ideas until one reaches a sharper and more rhythmic theme in the strings in unison. Villa-Lobos, in his later years, created an astonishing variety of slow movements. Here he creates a seductive atmosphere of communion with nature, through the short flute notes, harp ostinatos and long string melodies; a second section culminates in a long melody in parallel chords, complemented by a return to a varied version of the initial material.

The third movement has a tightly knitted structure, with recurring motives and a generally more assertive aspect. It is an example of Villa-Lobos’s childlike euphoria and extraordinary fecundity, which often allows simple ideas, like a diatonic scale, to be energised by an uncommon harmonisation.

Fábio Zanon

Concerto for Harmonica

Villa-Lobos’s concertos were, in general, written as commissions for famous performers, especially following his great success in the US from 1945 onwards, as the Brazilian musicologist and historian Vasco Mariz has noted. Such is the case of Concerto No. 1, for piano, written that year for the Canadian pianist Ellen Ballon, or the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, composed for Andrés Segovia in 1951. They are therefore works inspired by external influences, unlike his Choros and Bachianas, which represent Villa-Lobos’s most personal contribution to world music.

His Concerto for Harmonica of 1955 was commissioned by the famous North American harmonica player John Sebastian and premiered by him in Jerusalem with the Kol Israel Orchestra (currently the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra) directed by Georg Singer. Sebastian, to whom the Concerto was dedicated, is one of those responsible for introducing the harmonica into concert halls. He enjoyed a long career as a soloist, which began in Philadelphia in the early 1940s and continued until the 1970s. In 1967 he recorded Villa-Lobos’s Concerto, together with that of Alexander Tcherepnin, two of the several concertos dedicated to him, which he often performed when touring different countries.

Regarding the harmonica, it is interesting to note that this instrument was developed in the first half of the 19th century and was perfected by clock makers, when business was slow. These included Matthias Hohner, who began producing harmonicas on a large scale in 1857. In around 1920 the invention of the chromatic harmonica created new possibilities for the instrument, which can take the form of a three- or four-octave version.

More frequently used in popular music, particularly in the US, where as far back as around 1870 most of Hohner’s products ended up, the harmonica or mouth organ (known in Brazil as a gaita) attracted the attention of European and North American classical composers, such as Darius Milhaud, Vaughan Williams, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovhaness, Malcolm Arnold, Norman Dello Joio and many others, inspired by virtuosos like Larry Adler, Tommy Reilly and Sebastian himself.

The first major work for harmonica and orchestra seems to have been the Concerto by Michael Spivakovsky, an English composer of Russian origin, which was written in 1951 for the Anglo-Canadian Reilly. In Brazil, in addition to Villa-Lobos, Radamés Gnattali wrote two concertos and one concertino for harmonica and orchestra.

The Concerto for Harmonica by Villa-Lobos, in three movements, is characterised by discreet orchestration and explores at great length the instrument’s harmonic potential, as well as the effects of octaves, double notes and chords. The Allegro moderato, which alternates between 7/4 and 4/4, has two main themes, one at the entrance of the orchestra, the other at that of the soloist, both modal in character, but without folk references. In the central section of the movement, the soloist reprises, in thirds, the theme of the orchestral introduction, and from there explores the instrument’s chromatic possibilities, providing a backdrop for woodwind solos. In the final section, it is the orchestra that begins with the soloist’s theme, which makes its entrance in arpeggios, and continues in flourishes above the melody of the violins, until the brief final section.

The Andante, also in A minor, features an eloquent theme, in octaves, performed by the strings and woodwind instruments, which is then taken up extensively by the soloist, discreetly accompanied by the strings. The central più mosso part, initiated by the orchestra, is followed by the repeating of the initial theme by the soloist.

The final Allegro, rhythmic and dynamic, with its sequential theme, typical of Villa-Lobos, introduces a novel cadence, written by the composer, which reintroduces the initial material from the first movement, after which the return of the theme of the Allegro brings the Concerto to a close in C major.

Roberto Dante Cavalheiro

Roberto Dante Cavalheiro teaches at the Municipal School of Music and the Faculdade Santa Marcelina university.

English translations: Lisa Shaw


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