Monday, July 30, 2012

Brazil: Three Centuries of Music



Here's a cool mini-concert on video: some highlights of the November 24, 2011 concert from the Brazil: Three Centuries of Music Festival at South Bank Centre in London.
  • Villa Lobos - Festa no Sertao Clelia Iruzun Piano 
  • Mignone - Study for Guitar No 4 - Fabio Zanon 
  • Marlos Nobre - Desafio for Piano and Guitar - Fabio Zanon and Clelia Iruzun 
  • Henrique Oswald - Piano Quintet Op 18 1st Mov - Clelia Iruzun and the Coull Quartet 
  • Pixinguinha / Benedito Lacerda - 1 X 0 - Anselmo Neto Band

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mindinha's Centennial

Villa-Lobos & Mindinha
This coming Thursday, July 26, 2012, is the Centennial of the birth in 1912 of Arminda Neves d'Almeida Villa-Lobos, the composer's companion from 1936 to his death in 1959. In celebration, the Museu Villa-Lobos will be publishing in December of 2012 a 14th volume of their important series Presença de Villa-Lobos.

She was nicknamed Mindinha, and though the two were never able to marry after Villa-Lobos left his first wife Lucilia, since divorce was impossible in Brazil at the time, the two were virtually inseparable in their 23 years together. Mindinha appears very often with Villa in pictures, and the two seem very close in their home movies. This quote from a letter to the French pianist Marguerite Long, written 3 years after Villa's death, shows the depth of her love:
"You can understand how I feel, without the one who represented everything to me: my immense love, my mentor, my friend, and how difficult it is to live."
Villa-Lobos dedicated more than 50 of his works to Mindinha, but her influence did not stop with her husband's death in 1959. In 1960 she helped to create the Museu Villa-Lobos, and helped to run it for 25 years until her death in 1985.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Alvorada na floresta tropical from Minas Gerais


I missed this YouTube video when it was first posted. Fabio Costa conducts the Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais in a concert from May 2008. Alvorada na floresta tropical (Dawn in the Tropical Forest) is an important orchestral work commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra, and released on a 1955 LP, part of the pioneering First Edition records series.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Villa and Mindinha arrive in Los Angeles


Villa-Lobos & Mindinha arrive at Los Angeles Airport. I haven't seen this photo by Otto Rothschild before; it's from the LA Philharmonic Archive, and I found it at University of California's Calisphere.  Though it's undated, I believe it might be from 1958. Compare this picture with one from New York - Villa received an honorary degree from NYU in December. Earlier that year Villa was in Hollywood dealing with MGM about his score for Green Mansions.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Arranging Villa-Lobos


An interesting article (with an amazing, uncredited picture, above) from the Continente Online blog: should arrangements of works by Villa-Lobos be allowed under any circumstances?

The Academia Brasileira de Música, which holds the copyright of Villa's works, is having this debate. Speaking in the negative: Guilherme Bauer, who complains about "...a work tampered with arrangements or versions that disfigure, like the inclusion of drumming."  Speaking for is former ABM President Ricardo Tacuchian, who says "A arte é a arena da liberdade": "Art is the arena of freedom".

I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of subtleties having to rely on Google Translate. But it's clear what side of this argument I'm on. It's been amazing to see the many popular versions of Villa-Lobos works and themes that have come out of Brazil in the past few years.  Highlights include the jazz projects A Viagem de Villa-Lobos by Projeto B, and Villa's Voz with Bruce Henri; and O Papagaio do Moleque by the Choro Novo group Rabo de Lagartixa. One of the reasons Brazil has such a strong musical culture is the incredible interplay between erudite and popular music, going back to Villa's involvement with choro and samba, and continuing through Tom Jobim's hero-worship of Villa-Lobos to Villa's high profile in MPB and other forms of Brazilian popular music.

Villa-Lobos was no stranger to copyright controversy in his own career, when he quoted the song Rasga Coração by Anacleto de Mediros and Catulo da Paixão Cearense in Choros #10.

The music of Villa-Lobos is in the Public Domain here in Canada, where we have a reasonable 50-years-after-death rule. Villa-Lobos royalties are undoubtedly welcome to the ABM, which I'm sure does great work for classical music in Brazil.  But I would hope that the ABM doesn't put too many barriers up for new generations of Brazilian musicians to use Villa's works as a stepping-stone for their own music. After all, Villa-Lobos made use of a certain German composer to create some of his own most important pieces. I'm sure there were academicians who didn't appreciate the transformation of Bach's music into the Bachianas Brasileiras. Music marches on!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Villa-Lobos as Conductor


When Villa-Lobos came to New York after the war, it was primarily to present himself to America as a composer.  He was a very busy conductor as well, though, and not just of his own music.  This list of his conducting repertoire is from his file at the New York Philharmonic Digital Archive.

This is an interesting list, with some names I wouldn't have expected. It was a surprise to see Haydn,  Handel and Brahms.  More congenial composers include Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin, Honegger, Stavinsky, his close friend Florent Schmitt, Bach (of course), Beethoven, Liszt and Wagner.  The only Brazilian composer is Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez. The Italian composers Pizzini, Casella and Petrassi were, I think, more popular then than today; their neo-classical style would have appealed to Villa-Lobos in the 1940s.  I wasn't familiar with the music of Paul Le Flem, but from what I've read in Wikipedia, I can see the appeal for Villa-Lobos. Le Flem is from the same generation as Villa-Lobos, he studied with Vincent d'Indy and Paul Roussel, and he had an interest in folklore (from his native Britanny).

Villa was about to enter a period of major success in America and Western Europe, but by the 1950s it was his pretty much only his own music that he was conducting. It's a shame we haven't any recordings of him conducting other composers. I would love to hear his version of the Bach B minor Mass!

Caixinha de Boas Festas


Here's a Villa-Lobos work that's only had a single recording: a 1954 RCA Victor LP of the 1932 orchestral work Caixinha de Boas Festas (The Surprise Box).  It's now available on CD, thanks to Klassic Haus Restorations. I received a pre-production copy in the mail today, and was very pleased with the quality of the restoration.  I had a banged-up copy of the LP, and even with the nostalgia factored in, the pops & clicks got in the way of my enjoyment of this very fun piece. Now you can buy the CD (which also includes de Falla's Homenajes which was on Side B of the LP, along with Albeniz's Iberia from a 1952 Decca LP) at a very low price, and download 320 kbps MP3s at an even lower price. This is highly recommended.

A significant portion of Villa-Lobos's music concerns the world of children. This is an excellent example, with its quotations of children's songs from the Guia pratico. Like the Saudade da Juventude, this work would fit nicely in a Symphonic Pops program, though there's enough interest in Villa-Lobos nowadays that it would be popular on any symphonic stage.

Here's more about the piece.  Thanks to Harold Lewis for his translation:
In the text of a radio talk given in August 1975, Walter Burle Marx recalled (Presença de Villa Lobos no. 10) that Villa-Lobos had offered to produce a piece for one of the young persons' concerts he (Burle Marx) was organising. Two days before the concert, in November 1932, he visited Villa-Lobos in his little apartment in the centre of Rio. The composer had just finished dinner and was clearing the table.

"Villa-Lobos," he inquired, "how far have you got with the work you've promised?"
"I'll work on it tonight, and should finish it at 4 a.m."
"And the parts?"
"I'll do them myself and some friends are coming to help me later."
"Then I'll let you get on with it and not disturb you."
"You're not disturbing me at all," said Villa-Lobos, insisting that Burle Marx stayed. After sorting the manuscripts on the table, Villa-Lobos went on working on the orchestration while talking to his visitor. At the same time, in another room of the apartment, the pianist Jose Brandão was playing the transcription of the symphonic poem 'Amazonas', and from time to time, Villa-Lobos, hearing something that wasn't right, called out to Brandao, "No, no, it's G flat in the bass," and so forth.

The fact was that next day at 9 a.m., the young musicians received the score of the Caixinha de Boas Festas, with all the parts written out.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Saudade da Juventude


This score is from the New York Philharmonic Digital Archive - it's the marked-up version of Saudade da Juventude (Memories of Youth) that Andre Kostelanetz used in a Carnegie Hall concert on November 2, 1957. Though it's called "1st Suite" in the score, there isn't a 2nd or 3rd. This happens so often with Villa-Lobos!  The piece sounds like a really interesting one: arrangements of children's songs from the Guia pratico.


For some reason there's been very little interest in this piece since the late 1950s. I found a reference to an OSESP performance conducted by Eleazar de Carvalho that was shown on TVCultura in 2011, but no other performances since the 50s. It seems like this would be a popular Pops Concert item, especially with the addition of a Narrator reading the words of the original songs, as happened at Carnegie Hall.  After a while one gets tired of Peter & the Wolf and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. And it should be fairly easy to put on, since the parts are available for hire from Schirmer.



Pops programmers: let's do this!

Internet Bonus: The Little Brown Kitten seems like a great YouTube item: it could go viral!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chef Ivo Faria brings together food and music

Chef Ivo Faria (left) has created a meal inspired by the music of Villa-Lobos at the Vecchio Sogno restaurant in Belo Horizonte. This meal will be presented at two concerts at the Grande Hotel São Pedro on July 7, and the Grande Hotel Campos do Jordão on July 14.

The first course, "Darne de peixe sobre moquequinha de abóbora e molho de cupuaçu", is matched with Uirapuru, the 1917 ballet which is one of Villa's great early orchestral works. Google Translate isn't too much help with this dish, though it involves both a fish sauce and pumpkin.

The main course is "Envelope de galinha caipira à caipora sobre cremoso aipim", a dish of country chicken on a bed of creamy yucca. This is matched with the great piano work Choros #05, "Alma Brasileira". For some reason Google Translate insists on calling it "unlucky country chicken"; I guess the chicken is by definition unlucky.

Next comes "Teclado de costelinha de porco em baixa temperatura à moda sertaneja", slow-cooked pork ribs from the hinterland. To go with this: the "Little Train" movement from Bachianas Brasileiras #2.

For dessert: "Infinita doçura"- "infinite sweetness" to go with Villa's most beautiful work: the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras #5.

All of the dishes in the dinner are matched by Chef Faria with the wines of Concha y Toro.

Villa-Lobos loved the good things in life: music, wine, a good cigar, and good food. It's great to see it all come together in this project.