Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Antônio Meneses plays Cello Concertos by Villa-Lobos

Antônio Meneses plays the 2nd Cello Concerto of Heitor Villa-Lobos, with Isaac Karabtchevsky conducting the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), from a 2021 concert.

Villa-Lobos began his musical career as a cellist, and the instrument remained an important part of his music - along with the guitar and piano - throughout his life. This fine piece, written for Aldo Parisot in 1953, deserves a place in the repertoire.

Here's another, even less well-known, work for cello and orchestra by Villa-Lobos: the Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra, written in 1945 and dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky. Once again Antônio Meneses plays the cello, and Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), this time from a 2022 concert.

While this is called a Fantasia, it's in effect a three-movement concerto. Though come to think of it, nearly all of Villa-Lobos's orchestral music - Concertos, Choros, Bachianas Brasileiras, even Symphonies - might have been called Fantasias. He's always ready to add new material into the musical mix, and themes rarely stick around long enough for us to tire of them. This is Villa's true fecundity; the myth of his heroically prolific output has been over-blown. To reach the oft-quoted number of 2,000 works, more than half would be transcriptions and arrangements made as part of his educational output. He's actually in the same ballpark as many other busy composers, including his idol Bach. David Appleby came up with 592 works in his listing of Villa-Lobos's output, while Ludwig Köchel's catalogue of Mozart's works goes up to 626.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 from Slovenia

From Ljubljana, the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra play Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4, in a concert from Gallus Hall conducted by Ricardo Castro.

I believe the Fourth Bachianas Brasileiras has become the second most commonly performed Villa-Lobos work, after the Fifth. Villa wrote it originally for piano, and backwards. The fourth movement is from 1930, the third from 1935, and the first two movements were completed in 1941. The version for orchestra was premiered in Rio on July 15, 1942.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Three-Cushion Billiards Champion of Rio de Janeiro

Heitor Villa-Lobos plays billiards at the Brazilian Press Association, Rio de Janeiro, 1950s. From the Museu Villa-Lobos photo archive.

"Thus far, besides treating several thousand music lovers to samples of his 1,500-odd works, Villa-Lobos has acquired an ecstatic admiration for tall buildings and vanilla ice cream. In the encounter of two such dynamic protagonists as Villa-Lobos and the U.S., onlookers expected even more to happen before he returns to Rio de Janeiro, where he is the city's amateur three-cushion billiards champion as well as musical overlord of Brazil's Ministry of Education."

- from a story in Time magazine, February 19, 1945

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Joyful Innocence

Heitor Villa-Lobos plays Chinese Checkers ("Dama Chinesa" in Brazil) with Mindinha and friends: Arailda Dutra, Roberto Strutt, Sonia Maria Strutt, Cristina Maristany, Iberê Gomes Grosso and Tomás Terán. A shot from Rio in the 1950s, from the Museu Villa-Lobos photo archive.

From Ralph Gustafson's wonderful article "Villa-Lobos and the Man-Eating Flower: A Memoir", The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 1-11:  
"On a rainy afternoon we played Chinese checkers together, at which he cheated with joyful innocence.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Coffee with Villa

 "Villa-Lobos com copinho de café"- Villa has some coffee at the interval of a Philadelphia Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall, January 1955.

Here's a wonderful photo of the composer conducting a rehearsal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I wish I knew who took these great shots; they're from the Museu Villa-Lobos photo archive.

There's a fabulous review of the Carnegie Hall concert, which included the premieres of the 8th Symphony and the Harp Concerto, in the January 31, 1955 issue of Time. The story is entitled "Tropical Thunderstorm".

This photo is also from the interval at Carnegie Hall, on January 15, 1955. Villa with soloist Nicanor Zabaleta & his special friend Andres Segovia. Mindinha has her arms around both Segovia & her husband. Also in the photo are conductor and composer Walter Burle Marx, pianist Bernardo Segall, conductor Arthur Cohn, and two Philadelphia Orchestra harpists, Carlos Salzedo and Edna Phillips.

It's perhaps not surprising that the Harp Concerto, commissioned by Zabaleta in 1953, hasn't stayed in the repertoire. There are many lovely passages in the score, but it doesn't really hold together. As Villa said, though, "Better that people should hear bad Villa-Lobos than good somebody else."

The new motto of The Villa-Lobos Magazine!

Joseph Battista and the Cirandas

From the Museu Villa-Lobos photo archive, Heitor Villa-Lobos in his Rio apartment with American pianist Joseph Battista, July 7, 1952. Battista would have been preparing for his recording of the Cirandas, released in 1953. The Philadelphia-born pianist has a small discography; he was only 50 when he died, in 1968.

Villa-Lobos wrote the Cirandas in 1926, using as his raw material folk melodies, within the form of the ciranda round dance that had become popular with Brazilian children. The cycle is an important sign-post in the composer's lifelong interest in the world of the child. The folkloric stream in his music, always there throughout his life, comes to the surface here. It was to stay there for much of the next decades, as Villa-Lobos worked on his Guia Prâtico anthology of folk-music.

Villa in Buenos Aires, part 2

My last post featured some photos from the Museu Villa-Lobos of Villa-Lobos playing the piano in Buenos Aires. He was in Argentina for the May 25, 1935 premiere of the first staging of his 1917 ballet Uirapuru, at the Teatro Colon. Here's a great shot of the composer on stage following that first performance.

Uirapuru is Villa's first great orchestral work, written under the strong influence of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. It's an early example of his lifelong interest in the music and culture of the indigenous people of Brazil.

And here's Villa-Lobos with baritone Ernesto Dodds once again during his May 1935 visit. Note the poster from LR8, Radio Stentor in Buenos Aires, which began broadcasting from its studio on Hotel Castelar, Avenida de Mayo, in 1933.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Villa-Lobos in Buenos Aires

Heitor Villa-Lobos plays the piano in Ernesto Dodds' Studio de Canto y Arte, Rua Maipu 994, Buenos Aires. This photo, from the great archive of the Museu Villa-Lobos, was taken on May 19, 1935. Villa-Lobos was in Buenos Aires for the first staging of his ballet Uirapuru, at the Teatro Colon. The composer was also in the Argentine capital the previous year, when he conducted three concerts, including Bach's B Minor Mass.

Ernesto Dodds was an operatic baritone; I'm not sure what his connection to Villa-Lobos was. Perhaps Dodds was one of the soloists in that B Minor Mass performance. This photo of the singer is from 1931.

Another shot from Villa's piano recital in Buenos Aires. I love the Beethoven bust, and the rapt audience in the mirror.

Villa looks very much the dashing concert pianist here, but he was hardly a virtuoso at the keyboard. I expect he was playing some of his own works, perhaps including a recent piece like Valsa da Dor, from 1932.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Villa, Ponce & Acario Cotapos

 In 1928 the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce wrote a letter to his wife Clema that gives us a good picture of cultural life in Paris at the time:

Yesterday I was working at the office and Edgard Varèse came looking for me. He invited me to his house; naturally, I accepted. Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt, the pianist Tomás Terán, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Acario Cotapos the Chilean composer were there with writers, painters, sculptors, etc. Among the women there was the Comtesse de Polignac. Villa-Lobos was very amiable towards me, and invited me to visit him.

Ponce, who was seven years older than Villa-Lobos, has much in common with his Brazilian colleague. Both Ponce & Villa became close with Andres Segovia, and both paid close attention to the folkloric music of their native lands. Here is Villa-Lobos commenting on that very subject:

I remember that I asked him at that time if the composers of his country were as yet taking an interest in native music, as I had been doing since 1912, and he answered that he himself had been working in that direction. It gave me great joy to learn that in that distant part of my continent there was another artist who was arming himself with the resources of the folklore of his people in the struggle for the future musical independence of his country.

One of the names that Ponce dropped in his letter was unfamiliar to me, and I've only now begun to follow up. The composer Acario Cotapos was born in Valdivia, Chile, in April 30, 1889, so he was two years younger than Villa-Lobos. Cotapos outlived Villa by a decade, dying in 1969.

A drawing of Acario Cotapos from the Chilean National Library

Again, there are real folkloric elements apparent in Cotapos's orchestral music. His "Sinfonia Preliminar de El Pajaro Burlón" (Preliminary Symphony to the Mockingbird) shares some elements of Villa-Lobos's sound-world, or at least they have some common influences, namely Stravinsky and the French impressionists. I look forward to hearing more of this composer's music.


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Villa-Lobos, Stokowski and "Native Brazilian Music"

In July 1940 Leopold Stokowski sent two letters to Heitor Villa-Lobos proposing what became the Columbia recording project "Native Brazilian Music".

As Daniella Thompson explains, in her wonderful "Stalking Stokowski", 
Villa-Lobos complied with the conductor’s request and turned for help to his friends, the sambistas Donga, Cartola, and Zé Espinguela, who rounded up the cream of Rio’s musicians. Perhaps only a man of Villa-Lobos’ stature and his close connections to the choro and samba worlds could have assembled such a dream team for Stokowski.
It's quite remarkable that everything happened so quickly: from the first letter at the beginning to July to the recording session in early August! Soon after Stokowski arrived in Rio de Janeiro aboard the S. S. Uruguay, the great musicians gathered by Villa-Lobos and his colleagues boarded the ship in the harbour, and recorded this wonderful music.

The Columbia album cover, released in 1942:

and the Thomaz Ambrosio illustration of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Leopold Stokowski & Donga based upon it.

In 2007, the Library of Congress added "Native Brazilian Music" to its 2006 National Recording Registry.

Villa-Lobos made many friends over the years in the world of music, but one of his closest was Leopold Stokowski. Here are the two in New York, in 1945.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4

This is great: Kirill Petrenko conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4, recorded at the Philharmonie Berlin, 2020. Ever since I started writing about Villa-Lobos on the web, nearly 30 years ago, I've been waiting for major orchestras to begin programming works other than BB#5. Maybe number 4 will be a break-through piece for our Villa.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Erico Verissimo & Villa-Lobos

The novelist Erico Verissimo is well-known & well-regarded in Brazil, to judge by his Wikipedia article, though there don't seem to be many of his works available in English translations. I know him as a friend of Heitor Villa-Lobos. He sometimes acted as Villa's translator and was always a strong supporter of the composer, whom he called "the greatest minstrel of our people."

Erico Verissimo by Leonid Streliaev

Erico Verissimo is introduced as Villa's translator early in Zelito Viana's wonderful 2000 film Villa-Lobos: Uma Vida da Paixão:

VILLA LOBOS from Paisagem Filmes on Vimeo.

Here are Villa & Erico together, in a photo from Instituto Moreira Salles's Erico Verissimo archives:

I love this story that Verissimo tells in his Cronica; Villa-Lobos is speaking to an American audience: "He didn't have a clear theme for his talk, telling stories about music and musicians, not bothering about coherence."

After a time, he seemed somewhat at a loss and tired of all this talk. He glanced behind him, and off to the sides, as if he were looking for something, and cried out, "I want a piano! Bring me a piano!" Lukas Foss got up from his chair and went off to find a grand piano, which eventually was brought onto the stage.

'Still with his cigar between his teeth, our Villa sat down at the noble instrument, played a few chords, looked at the audience, and said, "I'll play Brahms" ... He begins to play a passage from a sonata, and then comments "and the piano won't budge." He addresses himself to the Apassionata and lightly plays the opening phrase.

'Turning to the audience, "I play Beethoven, but the piano doesn't stir." After that comes Schumann, Schubert, Chopin. And, according to the Maestro, the piano continues not to "budge." Finally the speaker cries out, "I'll play Villa-Lobos!" His hands romped over the keys, producing a passage from his "Rudepoema." He got up and pointed to the piano, exclaiming. "It budged! It budged!"'