About this Recording
FECD-0016 - VILLA-LOBOS: Erosao / Danses Africaines / Bachianas Brasileiras

Heitor Villa-Lobos

Heitor Villa-Lobos


“Yes, I’m Brazilian - very Brazilian. In my music, I let the rivers and seas of this great Brazil sing. I don’t put a gag on the tropical exuberance of our forests and our skies, which I intuitively transpose to everything I write.”


- Heitor Villa-Lobos



Heitor Villa-Lobos has long been categorized within the so-called “nationalist” composers of the 20th Century, as the “Brazilian art-music” composer. As much as this identity may have been in part of his own doing, today this assessment is both incomplete and unfair. Villa-Lobos was a modernist using the techniques and means of European music, yet whose musical vocabulary was augmented by the richness of Brazilian music and culture - his culture. “Nationalism”, and its connotations of pastiche, is inadequate to describe cross-cultural music that arose through cultural assimilation and growth. It implies that non-European music belongs to a subcategory of the repertoire. To Villa-Lobos and other composers of the Americas, their work was a natural, vital, and progressive expression of their world and time.


Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887 to middle-class parents very interested in classical music and the arts. His father Raul was an amateur musician and saw that Heitor learned the cello, though Heitor was deeply captivated by Brazilian popular music, and taught himself to play the guitar as well. By his late teenage years, Villa-Lobos was earning his living as a cellist in theaters and cinemas.


In his quest to forge his musical identity, Villa-Lobos made a number of extended trips around Brazil and into the Amazonian interior from 1905 to 1913. His approach in these trips was not as formal ethno-musicological research, but as free and personal exploration. Certainly, the influence of these experiences with music of tremendous variety and complexity, deeply informed the work of a composer who was essentially self-taught.


His early compositions earned him a government-sponsored trip to Paris in 1923, where his music met with much success and his reputation grew. Upon his return to Brazil in 1930 as a triumphant celebrity, Villa-Lobos became the musical pedagogue of his country, designing a complete system of music instruction for Brazil’s schools, the Guia Prático (Practical Guide), rooted in Brazilian music. He once stated, “I consider music, in principle, as a vital supply for human soul. Therefore it is an indispensable element and factor for young people’s education.” This method had tremendous influence in Brazil for many years. The activities of his office, the Superintendency of Artistic and Musical Education, included organizing huge orpheonic choirs called “civic exhortations”, on occasion with as many as 40,000 children. These events were in some respects ideological tools of the dictatorship of President Gétulio Vargas, and Villa-Lobos’ association with this regime complicated his reputation.


Villa-Lobos toured extensively but kept his home in Brazil until his death in 1959. His extraordinary output of compositions was in part fueled by the truly fecund musical atmosphere in Brazil. With his series of compositions known as “choros” (a term derived from the name for Brazilian street music), Villa-Lobos was infusing urban music into modern composition. In fact, his synthesis of modernist music with folkloric Brazilian music was quite natural, in as much as Brazilian music had long traditions of some signature elements of musical modernism, such as polyrhythmic complexity with rhythmic layering and accentuation, and harmonic vocabulary freely blending chromaticism, consonance and dissonance. In Villa-Lobos’ life and work, there is a pulsing ostinato of energy and musical joy, a lyricism of pan-cultural fusion.


- John Kennedy



Erosion (Erosão) The Origin of the Amazon River (Sorimáo u Ipirungáua)


The following is reprinted from the original Columbia Masterworks LP release.


Villa-Lobos has prefaced his score with this descriptive legend, collected by Barbosa Rodrigues:


“A long time ago the moon was engaged to the sun who wanted to marry her but if that would happen, if they got married, the earth would be destroyed, the blasting love of the sun would burn the world and the moon with its tears would flood the earth. For that reason they did not get married. The moon would extinguish the fire and the fire would evaporate the water. They parted. The moon cried all day and all night long.


“It was then that the tears ran over the earth until reaching the ocean. The sea became tempestuous and for that reason the moon was unable to mix its tears with the sea. During half the year they go up; during the other half they go down. The tears of the moon gave the origin of the Amazon River. (This story concerns the cataclysm of the Amazonas valley and the uprising of the Andes.)”



Dawn in a Tropical Forest (Alvorada Na Floresta Tropical)


The following commentary is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


A Dawn, in any tropical forest of Brazil, is for me an overture of colors accompanied by the magical singing and chirping of the tropical birds, and also by howls, squeals, evocations and the exotic and barbaric dances of the native Indians.


The Dawn in a Tropical Forest is written based in the same musical form used in Beethoven’s overtures, but with less thematic and developmental material. The themes of this work are original and they are treated in the scales of certain Brazilian Indians.


- Heitor Villa-Lobos



Danses Africaines


The following commentary is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


The Danses Africaines begins with a rumba which is itself a musical hybrid. The “Dance of the Mestizo Indians of Brazil” touches upon the florid coloring of the Mato Grosso jungle (piano, harps, winds) while the basic texture follows upon the most traditional counterpoint of the European composer. The syncopated line of the cello and clarinet is set off by a broader melody in the high strings; the greatest care is taken to maintain a limited amount of outward decorum.


Syncopated rhythm is continued at even greater length in the second dance. When a rattling percussive middle section takes over, the strings are sounded with the wooden part of the bow. As in most of the composer’s music, the native instruments play an important role. (It was once the practice of certain music publishers to include a barrel of exotic percussion instruments with each rental of a Villa-Lobos score, as many local orchestras were not always able to lay their hands easily upon a caxambu, a reco-reco, or a xucalho de metal).


The last movement is more varied than the others, especially the colorful middle section that unfolds against a florid background of celesta and harp. A broader tune takes us back almost to the threshold of the first movement’s material; then the bright and busy dance resumes once more, gathering momentum till the end.


- Robert McMahan



Bachianas Brasileiras


The following commentary is reprinted from the original First Edition Records LP release.


In 1930, the forty-three-year-old Heitor Villa-Lobos returned to his native Brazil after several years in Paris. Immediately he began two important projects. The first was the development of a long range plan for music education in Brazil’s schools. Villa-Lobos’ interest in music for the young was intense; as the government’s Superintendent of Music Education, he eventually revolutionized the musical training of Brazil’s youth. He published an important manual on Brazilian folk music still used in the schools, and organized mammoth concerts with choruses as large as 30,000 and orchestras of 1,000 performers.


The second most important project of those years was Bachianas Brasileiras, nine unmistakable Brazilian distillations of thee musical heritage bequeathed to the world by Johann Sebastian Bach. That Bach and Brazil could be joined so felicitously is perhaps surprising, but Villa-Lobos effects the union with vivid conviction. Each section of the Bachianas has both a “Bachian” and a “Brazilian” title. The fourth in the series was originally begun in 1930 as a piano solo, but after its completion in 1936, Villa Lobos set it for full orchestra. In this version, the work had its premiere in 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, the composer conducting the Orquestra de Teatro Municipal.


The Bachian titles - Prelude, Chorale, Aria, and Dance - are magically transformed into the Brazilian idiom with humor and assurance. The music evokes the country that Villa-Lobos explored so widely as a youth, wandering from corner to corner of Brazil and absorbing its rich rural folk traditions.


The chorale movement is subtitled “Canto de Sertao” (“Song of the Bush”) and is at once reverent and nostalgic in its peaceful calm. An insistently repeated high note suggests the clear, powerful bell-like call of the araponga, a bird of the Brazilian forests, and this alternates with a troubadourlike melody. The aria, renamed “Cantiga,” resembles the popular march-like songs of northeastern Brazil. Finally, the Dance brings the work to a whirling delightful conclusion. It is a “Miudinho,” a rapid dance executed with incredibly light, almost imperceptible steps.

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