Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Erico Verissimo's Cronica translated

As promised, here are some excerpts from Lee Boyd's translation of Erico Verissimo's cronica:

'It's evening at our house. Mafalda is seated under the lamp, knitting. Through the big window in the study a light can be seen growing in the December sky, like a pale slice of watermelon.The breeze brings us the fragrance of roses from our little garden. A record is turning on the phonograph, and from its speaker flows the plangent music of violoncellos, in a long, languid, undulating phrase, with the sweetness of a serenade. I recognize the voice of Villa-Lobos, the greatest minstrel of our people. I feel his living, human presence in the room, and I begin to think about our many meetings, their places and times.

'The first time I read that name was in 1923, in the art column of the "Revista do Brasil" [Brazil Review]. I was 18, sitting dreaming in one of the squares in Cruz Alta, on a bench under some bamboos quivering in the breeze of a waning September. It was then that I became aware of a modern Brazilian musician who belonged to the group of rebel artists and writers responsible for the Week of Modern Art in Sao Paulo. Villa-Lobos --- according to the columnist --- had recently gone to Paris and on his arrival, when a reporter asked if he'd come to study composing, he replied, "No. I've come to teach it."'


'There were 30 of us in the audience. Villa-Lobos climbed up on stage and went to the front, follwed by Mr. Foss, a young man with beautiful hair and a sculptured profile, exactly what one expects in an artist and intellectual (and rarely finds...). The Brazilian is holding a burning cigar stub. For the first time in my life, I see a man smoke while giving a public speech. In his fluent and picturesque French, Villa-Lobos, who didn't have a clear theme for his talk, tells stories about music and musicians, not bothering about coherence -- a sort of oral list of "diverse activities." It was as if he were seated at a cafe table in Montparnasse; chatting with friends, having a brandy, legs crossed, relaxed in gesture and speech. On the whole, I can't really recall why the speaker brought up the case of the famous Italian tenor who, shut in the bathroom, managed to break a glass with a high C. The audience laughed and the speaker laughed with them. After that, he seemed somewhat at a loss and tired of all this talk. He glanced behind him, and off to the sides, as if he were looking for something, and cried out, "I want a piano! Bring me a piano!" Lukas Foss got up from his chair and went off to find a grand piano, which eventually was brought onto the stage.

'Still with his cigar between his teeth, our Villa sat down at the noble instrument, played a few chords, looked at the audience, and said, "I'll play Brahms" ... He begins to play a passage from a sonata, and then comments "and the piano won't budge." He addresses himself to the Apassionata and lightly plays the opening phrase.

'Turning to the audience, "I play Beethoven, but the piano doesn't stir." After that comes Schumann, Schubert, Chopin. And, according to the Maestro, the piano continues not to " budge." Finally the speaker cries out, "I'll play Villa-Lobos!" His hands romped over the keys, producing a passage from his "Rudepoema." He got up and pointed to the piano, exclaiming. "It budged! It budged!"'

Great story! Thanks for bringing it to a wider audience, Lee. Here's the moving final portion of Verissimo's memoir:

'During their 1959-60 winter season the National Symphony in Washington played the Villa-Lobos "Choros No. 10" in Constitution Hall with the Howard University Chorus. We were in the audience. Right from the first chord, the presence of the composer filled that great space. And with him came the whole of Brazil, grandiose Brazil, sentimental Brazil, wrongheaded Brazil, rascally Brazil, disorganized Brazil, lyrical Brazil the streetsinger --- our indolence, our sensitivity, our romance, our sensuality, our hopes, yes, and our faults, too, all transformed into music. And when the chorus, at the finale of the Choros, began to sing "Rasga o Coracao," it was as if our own hearts were breaking, and then, deeply moved (nostalgia for Villa-Lobos, for Brazil, nostalgia for the Marching Band of the Cruz Alta 8th Infantry, nostalgia for that plaza of my youth, nostalgia for nostalgia, how do I know! --- ), I stifled a sob, but I couldn't prevent the tears from rolling down my cheeks. I didn't dare look at Mafalda beside me, who was also suffering in that moment of picquant beauty.'

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