Thursday, April 21, 2016

Orchestra Villa-Lobos

I recently came across the 2012 dissertation by Gabriel Augusto Ferraz entitled Heitor Villa-Lobos and Getulio Vargas: Constructing the "New Brazilian Nation" through a nationalistic system of music education.  This thesis is available in full text at the University of Florida's institutional repository here. This is a marvellous work which contains a huge amount of information about Villa's professional life and its intersection with national politics in the 1930s. Much of this is new to me. It's been hard to get a handle on a period which has been documented on the whole only in Portuguese. I look forward to a close reading, and then I'll post some thoughts about Villa's relationship with Vargas, which is fraught with many vexing political and personal issues.

Much of Ferraz's research took place at the Museu Villa-Lobos, a treasure trove of unpublished material. I was surprised to learn of the existence of the Orchestra Villa-Lobos in 1933. This short-lived project only produced five concerts, from April 12 to June 5 of that year.

Orchestra Villa-Lobos cover from Museu Villa-Lobos via Ferraz thesis

This has been quite a surprising discovery for me, and quite a coincidence, since I've been preparing a post here about Villa-Lobos as a conductor of works by other composers. Villa's choice of repertoire included his own works - how could it not! - but there were lots of European and Brazilian pieces in these five concerts. Many of them are Brazilian premieres, and all of this music is conducted by Villa-Lobos.

There's a major surprise for me in this list: it was Villa-Lobos who conducted the Brazilian premiere of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I've always wondered if Villa and Gershwin might have met in Paris in the 1920s. They have so much in common, musically, and they also both loved billiards and cigars. Otherwise it's natural to see Villa's choice of Bach and Stravinsky and Ravel. Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner likewise seem a natural fit for Villa-Lobos. Don't forget that the 1930s was a period when Villa-Lobos wrote some of his greatest orchestral works, including much of the Bachianas Brasileiras series. 

More on this to come!

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