Monday, April 6, 2009

Marian Anderson & Villa-Lobos

In this week's issue of The New Yorker, Alex Ross writes about Marian Anderson's Easter Sunday 1939 concert on The Mall in Washington DC, on the 70th Anniversary of this important event.

The year before, Anderson met Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro. The two hit it off, and Villa gave the great singer the above arrangement of 'Cantilena', which is in the Penn Library (the second page of the song is also included on the fascinating Penn Library site). The composer later wrote one of his great songs, Poema de Itabira, for Marian Anderson, and dedicated it to her.

Allan Keiler, in Marian Anderson: a singer's journey (University of Illinois Press, 2002), continues the story:
"She was struggling to learn the Poema do Itabira, a difficult work both rhythmically and melodically, for solo voice and orchestra by Villa-Lobos, which she was scheduled to perform at a pair of concerts with Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony in December [1954]. Set to a Portuguese text by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the Poema protrays the emotionally desperate feelings of de Andrade's characters, orchestrated so as to conjure up the starkness of the desert of Itabira. Anderson had met Villa-Lobos during the war while on a tour of South America. It was with Anderson's voice in mind that Villa-Lobos had composed the Poema several years later, dedicateing the work to Anderson. Never having sung it before, she wanted badly to satisfy the composer." (p. 268)
There doesn't seem to be a surviving recording of Marian Anderson signging this work. Indeed, I've never come across it on CD. Baritone Renato Mismetti gives an impressive performance of the work (in the voice & piano version, with Maximiliano de Brito providing the accompaniment) on this video.

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