Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Instruments of Amazonas

Amazonas is one of the great orchestral works of Villa-Lobos's early period - it was written in 1917, the same year as Uirapuru and the Second Symphony. The orchestra used by Villa-Lobos (under the obvious influence of Stravinsky) was a large one; according to the publisher Max Eschig:
4(2flpic).3(1cor ang).4(1clpic, 1clB).3(1cbn) - 1 sarrusophone - 4(ou 8).4.3.1 - 3perc, 1timb, 1cel, 1pno, 2hp - 1 cythara do arco (ou 1 violinophone), 1viole d'amour - crd
Besides the orchestra taking up the full stage, there are a few interesting items here.

The Sarrusophone is a band instrument with the range similar to a saxophone.

The violinophone is also called the Stroh violin (referred to by Eschig as a cythara do arco). The Wikipedia article doesn't mention any use by classical composers, though the instrument was apparently in vogue in Buenos Aires in the 1920s. This is another example (along with the use of a prepared piano in Choros #08) of Villa-Lobos being ahead of the curve technology-wise.

Just to make it difficult for orchestras to revive this piece, Villa-Lobos added a viole d'amour to the score. It all wasn't enough to keep it off the stage in Albuquerque and Brussels, and there are two three excellent recordings, from Apex, Dorian, and Marco Polo.


  1. Hi,
    The sarrusophone is actually a lot of fun to play. The interesting thing is that he scored for both sarrusophone and contrabassoon. They both play in the same register, and the sarrusophone was usually a substitute for the contrabassoon.
    The Strohviol is an interesting instrument too. There are Stroh violas, cellos, and basses too. These date back to the days when recording was done by playing into a horn, directly and acoustically wiggling the needle that made the wax master. Very hard to get 30 violins close enough to the horn, but 1 or 2 Strohviols would suffice to replace them. They do sound a bit different, but you probably couldn't tell on those old vinyl 78s.

  2. Wikipedia article doesn't mention any use by classical composers, but wikipedia is wrong ! Hungarian contemporary composer Peter Eötvös used it as a solo instrment in his opera Le Balcon after Jean Genet's play.