Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Villa-Lobos the precursor
In Kafka and His Precursors, Jorge Luis Borges traces the lineage of The Castle back in time to Zeno, Han Yu, Kierkegaard, Léon Bloy and Lord Dunsany. I thought of this essay during my review of Aleyson Scopel's new CD of Almeida Prado's Cartas Celestes. That work was groundbreaking in Brazil in 1974 (and 1982-83 when the work was continued). The obvious precursors are Almeida Prado's teachers, and in terms of the piano the most important would be Oliver Messiaen and György Kurtág.
Here is a very short movement from Kurtág's 8 Piano Pieces, written in 1960:
This is the kind of music that set the stage for Almeida Prado's work. Another Kurtág work that's relevant is his Játékok (Games), which has the same large scope and multi-year plan. He began this project in 1973.
But it was back in Brazil that Almeida Prado wrote Cartas Celestes, and in spite of a significant backlash after Villa's death in 1959, he was still the Elephant in the Room. There are two obvious links to Villa-Lobos. The first is a 1939 work I mention in my review: As três Marias. This has the same celestial/cosmological focus, with a modernist style that looks backwards to the 1920s and ahead to the 1970s. It's significant that one of the proponents of this work was Villa's close friend Edgard Varese.
Going back to the first flowering of Villa-Lobos's modernist period is the greatest piano piece written in Brazil (and perhaps in America?), Rudepoema. Here is Sonia Rubinsky playing that seminal piece, from the same album:
Another work I mention in my review as a precursor is Marlos Nobre's Concerto Breve, from 1969. Nobre feels that the "abundant and violent clusters" in this work had a significant influence on Almeida Prado, and the other Brazilian composers of his generation. It's significant, in Nobre's telling, that he played this work for the younger composer just before he left for his studies in Paris and Darmstadt.
Two things to look forward to: the release of Aleyson Scopel's Grand Piano CD on April 8, 2016, and further releases in the same series. Once the project is complete we'll have a better idea of the place of Cartas Celestes in the music of Brazil.