Thursday, December 8, 2016

Merry Christmas from The Villa-Lobos Magazine

Here's a Christmas staple for the Villa-Lobos lover: the beautiful Praesepe, a choral work written in 1952 for alto soloist and mixed chorus, #21 in the collection Musica Sacra, vol. 1.

Villa-Lobos set the words of Padre Jose de Anchieta, a Portuguese missionary to Brazil, written in 1563.

Text and translation are from the liner notes to the Corydon Singers/Matthew Best Villa Lobos sacred music CD on the Hyperion label (CDA6638, 1992/93.) Used with permission of Hyperion Records.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Messiaen on Villa-Lobos

In this short audio clip from the Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie, Olivier Messiaen talks about the influence of Villa-Lobos on his own music.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The great beasts of Villa-Lobos

In his liner essay for the third volume of The Guitar Manuscripts on Naxos, guitarist Andrea Bissoli quotes from the memoirs of the Spanish pianist Tomás Terán:
That year [1928] we spent the summer together in Lussac-les-Châteaux. We found a place to stay above a kind of pâtisserie that only opened on high days and holidays. Our rooms looked out over the garden at the back and were divided by a wooden panel that was so insubstantial we could chat to one another through the wall till the early hours. Villa planned to amuse himself by constructing a fleet of kites, so we’d arrived laden down with enormous lengths of bamboo, rope and sheets of paper: the lady who owned the shop below thought we must have been members of a circus ... The day he flew the first kite (designed in the shape of a huge fish), it was caught by a sudden gust of wind just as he was launching it, and went up like a rocket; it dragged Villa along for several metres before I managed to cut its ropes. The kite came down three or four kilometres away: after that experience his “great beasts” frightened me. I suggested to him that in future he should tie them to a tree, for safety’s sake, and he agreed. Those kites were great fun for the people of Lussac. Some days, Villa would play the guitar late into the night (I should point out we were the only people staying at the pâtisserie); that was when he had the idea of composing his studies for the instrument.
This is how Villa-Lobos came to write one of his most important creations: the 12 Etudes for guitar.

Naxos has just released a box set of the three volumes of The Guitar Manuscripts. I'll be writing a review Real Soon Now. In the meantime, here's a picture (from the Museu Villa-Lobos) of Villa-Lobos and Terán with one of Villa's Great Beasts; and via Spotify, the  “symphonic episode” O papagaio do moleque (The little boy’s kite), from the same disc. It's played by the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Mechetti.

I think that's Villa on the left, Terán in the middle, and I assume Lucilla on the right. [nope: see Comments]

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Festival Música Nova 'Gilberto Mendes'

The 50th annual Festival Música Nova 'Gilberto Mendes' takes place in Ribeirão Preto during November 2016. This year's festival is in memory of Mendes, who died January 1, 2016, and Pierre Boulez, who died four days later.

There's more information on the Festival concerts here. And here's the superb OSESP Choir conducted by Naomi Munakata, singing one of Mendes' great avant garde works, Beba Coca-Cola. This clip is from the documentary film A Odisseia Musical de Gilberto Mendes, directed by Carlos de Moura Ribeiro Mendes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

RIP Roland Dyens

It was a sad day last Saturday when I heard of the death at the age of 61 of the great Tunisien/French guitarist and composer Roland Dyens. The main Villa-Lobos/Dyens connection is one of the best known of his compositionsHommage à Villa-Lobos. Here it is, played by Elena Papandreou (tracks 6-9).

There are a few Villa-Lobos pieces included amongst Dyens' large discography. I haven't heard this 1987 Valois CD; unfortunately it seems to be quite rare and expensive. Besides the Villa-Lobos Concerto it includes Dyens' own Hommage recording as well as the Choros no. 1 and the Suite populaire bresilienne. And I've never seen even a cover picture of the 1990 Arc en Ciel CD that includes the 5 Preludes.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Old favourites at Christmas

[This is embarrassing: I posted this review here at the Villa-Lobos Magazine instead of at my review site, Music for Several Instruments. Rather than breaking links on Twitter, I'll leave this here though. By the way, you should definitely buy this disc!]

If there's one classical CD I've listened to more than any other in the past decade, it's this one with Les Violons du Roy under their founder, Bernard Labadie. Or rather, it's the original of this new reissue by ATMA Classique, first released by Dorian Sono Luminus in 1993. The reissue is due out on November 4, 2016. In some ways it's easier to review a brand new disc I've never heard before than a cherished one that has its MP3 files worn down by constant listening. It's hard to be objective about something I know so well. Perhaps a new version, even by the same group, might be more stylish. After all, the art and science of Historically Information Performance moves ahead every year. But surely there's something to be said, especially at Christmas time, for dearly loved tradition. This is simply the best selection of Baroque pastoral music, which goes best with snow falling on Christmas Eve.

This tweet is six years old!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hommage à Heitor Villa-Lobos

Here is a concert, from August 30, 1954, with the Orchestre National de la Radio-Television Francaise conducted by Villa-Lobos. The first work is Dawn in a Tropical Rain Forest (Alvorada Na Floresta Tropical). You can listen to the first bit for free, but it will cost 4 Euros to download the whole concert. That includes a second half, featuring Magda Tagliaferro playing the piano, I believe in Bachianas Brasileiras no. 3, though it might be Momoprecoce. Enjoy!

Uirapuru in Buenos Aires

Villa-Lobos wrote his great orchestral work Uirapuru in 1917*, and it was adapted by Serge Lifar as a ballet in 1935. The premiere of the ballet was at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires on May 25, 1935, on the occasion of a state visit by President Vargas. The picture above, from the Museu Villa-Lobos, is from the new 1940 version of the ballet, choreographed by Vaslav Veltchek.

* Or did he? Villa often revised his early works, and in the case of the Sexteto mistico, lost the score and re-composed it from memory many years later. If the Uirapuru score indeed comes from 1917, it's Villa's earliest orchestral masterpiece, but Mario de Andrade believed it was substantially re-written for the 1935 performance.

Here is an excellent version of Uirapuru: the Orquesta Sinfonica de RTVE is conducted by Carlos Kalmar.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


There are many stories of Villa-Lobos's multi-tasking, and his phenomenal ability to focus on his music in spite of many distractions. Here's a typical one, from the Presenca Villa-Lobos no. 10, in the Museu Villa-Lobos. The translation is by Harold Lewis.
In the text of a radio talk given in August 1975, Walter Burle Marx recalled 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.
"I'll work on it tonight, and should finish it at 4 a.m."
 "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.
Here's another: Lisa Peppercorn reminisces about her visit with Villa-Lobos while he and John Sebastian worked on the Harmonica Concerto.
It was one of my joys to work with John and Villa-Lobos during the writing of the Concerto. The composer sat at the huge semi-circular desk with a pot of black thick coffee, several cigars and ashtrays all around working on several compositions at once, while watching a TV at intervals. All the time wearing a hat...
These are examples of Digression or Divigation (Divagação in Portuguese), and I expect this is a common enough trait of great artists. The big, the very big, picture emerges in the mind of the genius, and he or she pokes around it, taking different paths, sometimes at once, to bring it to the rest of us. In the words of Italo Calvino, "Divagation or digression is a way to postpone the ending," and it's in story-telling that we see it most often. According to Lawrence Sterne, "Digression is the sunshine of narrative".  It reminds me of the tall tales Villa told during his first trip to Paris, most notably the one about the man-eating plant in the Brazilian jungle that swallowed a companion whole, but that spit him out unharmed when Villa played a tune on a flute. And this in answer to the banal question "where do you get your ideas?" The music itself is often full of musical digressions, with development sloughed off in favour of another theme, or two or three. Symphonies become suites, and suites are hidden as "Choros" with touches of samba or other urban serenades. In a way these stories and his huge body of work (which he turned into another tall tale, since it's nowhere near as large as he made out) are digressions, to postpone the ending.

Paul Holdengraber from the New York Public Library has been talking for a while about Digression. He quotes the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips: “Digression is secular revelation,” and explains more fully:
When we talk about digression, we’re talking about getting lost, about taking the side roads, or the road just behind the road we thought we were taking. What doesn’t quite fit, what might be dismissed, but isn’t, becomes the road to revelation.
Just a personal aside (ha!), my whole Villa-Lobos life on the web, which is coming up to 25 years pretty soon, is a series of hyper-text digressions to reveal some of the facets of the amazing person who was Heitor Villa-Lobos.

All this complex narrative, and I finally get around to what I wanted to post today, which is this very good performance of Villa's little piece for cello and piano which he wrote in 1946, entitled Divagação. Notice how the composer (a professional cellist himself) digresses with some ad libitum cello-drumming before he begins the actual cello part!

Thanks to @Holdengraber for his amazing Twitter feed, and for the great work he's doing at NYPL.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Villa-Lobos and Donga

I came across a great book by the guitarist and former Museu Villa-Lobos Director Turibio Santos, called Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Guitar. Originally published by the Museu in 1975, an English translation from Wise Owl Music came out in 1986. Here's a cool chapter about Villa's early days amongst the choroes.

Donga is Ernesto Joaquim Maria dos Santos (1890-1974). He wrote what is often considered the first Samba. That disc dropped 100 years ago, in 1916.

A few years ago I posted this at Tumbling Villa-Lobos. It gives another picture of Villa-Lobos hob-nobbing with the top popular musicians of the day.
"I went out for some bohemian fun with [historian Sergio Buarque de Holanda & journalist Pedro Dantas] the other night. With Villa-Lobos and Gallet, too. We went for an evening of guitar music and a drop of cachaça [cane liquor] with three true Brazilians - Pixinguinha, Patricio, and Donga."
The sociologist & cultural anthropologist Gilberto Freyre meets the greatest popular musicians - sambaistas - of Rio de Janeiro, from a diary entry in 1926. As usual, Villa-Lobos is right in the middle, as is his colleague Luciano Gallet. This is from the fascinating book The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil, by Hermano Vianna.

Another great caricature

This splendid caricature is from Marco Antonio Carvalho Santos's book Heitor Villa-Lobos, published by MEC in 2010. I can't find a credit; can anyone help with the artist's name?

And check it out! It's now my new Twitter profile photo.

Monday, October 17, 2016

54th Festival Villa-Lobos

Every November since 1961 the Museu Villa-Lobos celebrates the Festival Villa-Lobos. The 54th annual celebration takes place in Rio de Janeiro from November 4-15, 2016. There are a number of important celebrations taking place at this year's Festival. One is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great composer Anacleto de Medeiros, who was born July 16, 1866. Also, this year Moacir Santos would have been 90 years old.

But the star of this year's show is Egberto Gismonti. He was born on December 5, 1947, and according to the Festival Villa-Lobos website, his 70th birthday celebrations begin with this year's Festival. Gismonti will perform at the opening concert on November 4th.

There are various versions of this improvisation by Gismonti on Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5. This one is elegant, elaborate and beautiful.

Follow the Festival Villa-Lobos twitter feed for the latest information.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Dudamel at Carnegie Hall

Coming to Carnegie Hall on Friday, October 7th: Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in a concert that includes Villa's 2nd Bachianas Brasileiras, which featured in Dudamel's Proms concert last moth.

Cellists: get on this!

If you asked me to pick one work by Villa-Lobos that deserves to be better known, I might pick the Fantasia for cello and orchestra. Here's a great version by Hugo Pilger, with Roberto Duarte conducting the Orquestra Sinfônica da UFRJ, from a July 2015 concert which commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Academia Brasileira de Música. Pilger and Duarte together edited the new score that ABM published as part of their Projeto Villa-Lobos Digital. Cellists: the score and parts are available from ABM.

P.S. Stick around after the applause. Pilger plays a lovely piece by Francisco Mignone: "Aquela Modinha que o Villa nao Escreveu", which I think might mean "The Modinha that Villa didn't write." 

Thanks to Rodrigo Roderico for sending me the video link.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2 at the Proms

Here is the last of the Villa-Lobos Proms from the Latin American-themed 2016 version: Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, from earlier today, September 4, 2016. You can listen for the next month at BBC Radio 3's website.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dudamel conducts Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2 in Stockholm

From Swedish Radio, here is a very fine performance from the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel. This is from earlier today (September 1, 2016) at the 2016 Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm. BB#2 begins at 26:30.

1. Paul Desenne: Hipnosis mariposa.
2. Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas brasileiras nr 2 (1930).
3. Maurice Ravel:
a) Dafnis och Chloe, svit nr 2 (1912).
b) La valse (1920).

This is the same programme that Dudamel will take to the BBC Proms on September 4, 2016.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Aaron Copland and the Good Neighbor Policy

This 2014 lecture by Carol Hess from UC Davis at the Library of Congress, entitled "Copland as Good Neighbor: Cultural Diplomacy in Latin America During World War II." is a very good overview of the American's views of the musical scene in Latin America during World War II. The transcript is here.

Copland was often very disparaging about his Brazilian colleague. “Villa-Lobos marshalled a range of modern French processes of composition such that his music is enormously picturesque at times, sometimes cheap and vulgar. Sometimes astonishing original." Copland also said Villa was "Manuel de Falla on a good day; Ottorini Respighi on a bad one."

Prof. Hess is the author of the fabulous book Representing the Good Neighbor: Music, Difference, and the Pan American Dream (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Marin and OSESP at the Proms

Enthusiastic Proms audience from OSESP's 1st visit in 2012.
Yesterday was OSESP and Marin Alsop's big day at the BBC Proms. Their first concert featured two Brazilian works: Marlos Nobre's Kabbalah, and the first movement of Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4. There was also a bonus for Villa-Lobosians: Richard Rijnvos's orchestration of Valsa da Dor. The audience was clearly having a great time. The second encore, by the way, was Nelson Ayres' orchestration of Edu Lobo's Pé de Vento from his Suite Popular Brasileira. You can listen to this concert for the next month at the BBC Radio3 website.

There was a much bigger bonus than just the two encores, though: the Late Night Prom featuring OSESP & the Sao Paulo Jazz Symphony Orchestra. I listened to this live (yesterday afternoon my time), and the energy from the musicians and audience was fantastic. Once again, you can listen until the end of September. Another triumph for Balmer's Alsop and the Brazilians!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

All dressed up

An uncharacteristically formal picture of Villa-Lobos, looking uncharacteristically serious. This is a 1956 portrait by Studio Harcourt in Paris, from the French Ministry of Culture.

Werner Janssen 78rpm disc

From the French National Library Gallica research portal, here is side 2 of a 1954 LP by Werner Janssen conducting Chamber Groups. Choros no. 4 and no. 7 are to this day rather rare in recordings or concert halls.

String Quartet 17 from the ABM

From the superb Quarteto Radamés Gnattali, Villa's final string quartet, filmed at a 70 anniversary concert in 2015 at the Academia Brasileira de Música. Sometimes people talk about a reduction in quality in Villa-Lobos's final years, but this work is a powerful counter-argument. It's a fitting end to the great series (only sketches of the 18th quartet survive). Here's a sad note: the composer gave the score to the violinist Mariuccia Iacovino of the Budapest Quartet in Paris, but he died in Rio de Janeiro before he heard of the October 16, 1959 premiere at the Library of Congress.

Thanks to Juan L. Restrepo for letting me know about this. As Juan says, it's great to see a quartet on YouTube that's not no. 1 or no. 5 (as fun as both of those pieces are!)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Composer of the week

All five episodes of Donald Macleod's Composer of the Week feature on Villa-Lobos are available On Demand at BBC Radio3's website, for the next month. This is a superb in-depth series: 5 hours altogether, easily the best Villa-Lobos radio feature I've come across in the past 25 years.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The problem of Latin American music

Andrew Farach-Colton has a feature story in the latest Gramophone magazine entitled Viva Latin America. With the Olympic Games underway in Rio de Janeiro, and Latin American music featured at the BBC Proms, this is the summer (or rather, in most of Latin America, the winter) to listen to Villa-Lobos, Chavez, Revueltas and most especially, Centennial Boy Alberto Ginastera. It brings up some issues and questions that I've been pondering a lot in the last few years, as I soldier on promoting the Big Guy on the web.

The basic facts are presented well: Latin American music seems to continue to suffer from a lack of profile, though I'm not sure (North) American music is really that much better off compared to European music. For a while in the new century it looked like Villa-Lobos would break through into the average concert goer's/record buyer's consciousness, but the reputation bounce from the 2009 Villa-Lobos Year hasn't done much better than the Republican National Convention's. After Villa, even at this lower level, there's a big drop-off. Is Latin American music a One Hit Wonder?

Unfortunately, even with Villa-Lobos there's a basic problem that comes with the perception that he was impossibly prolific. He was an undisciplined composer, to be sure, but the catalogue of his substantial works isn't outrageously large. Rather, he was a dedicated musical educator, and the everyday-ness of his arranging, especially for choir and band, resulted in multiple versions of many works. Some works are lost, it's true, but even with that list you can't be sure if he ever actually wrote them, or merely had meant to write them and never got around to it. A corollary of this focus on the hugeness of his catalogue is the idea that there's a huge undiscovered mass of music waiting to be discovered. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Villa's music has been published, and the vast majority of that has been recorded, if not always that well. David Appleby pretty much got a handle on the Villa-Lobos Bibliography back in 1988, and that work has been extended by assiduous work by the Museu Villa-Lobos. His list of (substantial) works doesn't make it to 600, which is a lot, but puts him in the same ballpark as Bach and Telemann and Milhaud.

Villa-Lobos has actually been very well served by the gramophone industry. All 17 of the amazing String Quartets have been recorded, multiple times. All of his piano music as well (and it only makes up 7 or 8 discs in total). The core of his orchestral music - the Bachianas Brasileiras and (finally!) the Choros - is on disc in superb recordings. The guitar music has been recorded to death. Pretty much all of the chamber music, the concertos. most important choral works (a subset of a larger total, to be sure), all of this is on CD and streaming services. The symphonies? It's completely wrong for Arthur Nestrovski to say, as he does in the article, that OSESP's current symphonies series underway with Naxos is the first on record. There's a marvellous series on CPO from Stuttgart, conducted by Carl St. Clair, from around the turn of the century, and all still available.

And I can't agree with Marin Alsop's contention that ‘We only really know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Villa-Lobos.' We know pretty much the whole enchilada - sorry, the whole feijoada. Would I welcome Marin Alsop conducting OSESP in Madona, a symphonic poem waiting for its first commercial recording? Of course. The same with some of the stage works, most notably the operas Yerma and A Menina das Nuvens. Villa-Lobos's reputation is based partly on his larger-than-life character: he's the Rabelais of music. It's a big part of his appeal, but it's also holding him back.

As to other Latin American composers discussed in the article, I'm pleased that Saúl Bitrán of the Cuarteto Latinoamericano was quoted as setting down the four most important: Villa-Lobos, Ginastera, Chavez and Revueltas, "the composers who pretty much invented the language of Latin American concert music."

Gramophone has done great work to promote Latin American music in the past. They have a number of knowledgeable reviewers writing for them - most notably Guy Rickards. It's nice to see this review article; I hope it might help to get the Latin American concert music ball rolling again.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hommage à Chopin for cello & piano

This is very cool: as part of Lars Hoefs's project "The Influence of Chopin on the music of Villa-Lobos," he arranged for cello & piano Villa's piano piece Hommage à Chopin, written in 1949 as part of the celebrations of the centenary of Chopin's death. This video, of the first movement, Nocturne, features Hoefs on cello and Malgorzata Podstawska on a Pleyel piano, one of Chopin's favourites.

Amazon Trilogy Ballet in Rio de Janeiro

Photo: Júlia Rónai

One of the major cultural events taking place in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics is the ballet Trilogia Amazônica, presented at the Theatro Municipal from August 3rd to 14th. Here are the credits:

AMAZON TRILOGY - Ballet in three parts


Music - Heitor Villa-Lobos

Part I - Uirapuru

The Bird Forest (Canto III of The Amazon Forest , 1958) Uirapuru (1917)
Choreography - Daniela Cardim

Part II - Erosion

Erosion, the source of the Amazon River (1950)
Choreography - Luiz Fernando Bongiovanni
Choreography Assistant - Nina Botkay

Part III - Dawn

Dawn in the Rainforest (1953) Amazons (1917) Choreography - Marcelo Gomes Costume - Rene Salazar Scenario - Gringo Cardia Lighting - Maneco Quinderé Regency - Tobias Volkmann

More on this here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Golda Shultz sings BBno5 at the Proms

You can listen to the 1st of three Proms concerts featuring Villa-Lobos at the BBC's Proms website, for a limited time only. It's the 2nd Chamber Music Prom, and it features soprano Golda Schultz and cellist Guy Johnston, with lots of cello friends.

Still to come at the Proms:

The first movement of the orchestral version of number 4 is part of the August 24 Prom 51 concert by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop. This Prelude movement is often programmed separately in Brazil. It's great to see that Marlos Nobre's Kabbalah is also included on the program.

Bachianas Brasileiras number 2, played by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel, is part of Prom 67 on September 4. I'm also looking forward to hearing the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne's Hipnosis mariposa.

London Olympics 2012: Closing Ceremonies

Reposted from earlier this year:

This is really quite outstanding: from the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the hand-off to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, which begin August 5. Marisa Monte is ravishing in an under-stated gown, singing the Aria from Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 and Gilberto Gil's Aquele Abraço. Hard to believe it's been 4 years!

The Rio Games

Soprano Marisa Monte sings the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras #5 at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. The Opening Ceremonies for the 2016 Games in 2016 are tomorrow!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The YouTube Orchestra plays Villa-Lobos

2009 was the "Villa-Lobos Year", the 50th anniversary of his death in 1959. There was lots of activity around the world (and here at The Villa-Lobos Magazine: I put up 224 posts, by far the most of any year since this blog began in 2001). In the same year the YouTube Orchestra launched, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas.  MTT is an ardent Villa-Lobosian: I'm still a big fan of his 1998 album with another group of fine young instrumentalists, the New World Symphony.

Battle of the Bands! Here is the New World Symphony:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cartas à Posteridade

Flavio Varani's 1997 album Cartas à Posteridade is now available to stream on Spotify. It's a solid selection of some of Villa's best-loved pieces for solo piano.

"I consider my works as letters I've written to posterity without expecting answer" is a Villa-Lobos saying that's often quoted. It speaks to his confidence in his own abilities as a composer, but also to the relative lack of support he received in Brazil at various times in his life. Letters to Posterity is the title of another album, a recent double CD by guitarist Thomas Lyng Poulsen.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Barbara Hannigan sings BB no.5

From GSOLive, Barbara Hannigan sings the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, with the cellists of the Göteborgs Symfoniker. This video will be available until September 4, 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Well, the Proms are under-way for another year, and I'm excited about the best Villa-Lobos Proms programme since 2009. That's when the Last Night of the Proms included this:

Thanks to Roderico Rodrigo for posting this!

Here is a reminder of what's up this year:

The first of the Villa-Lobos pieces is Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, which will be performed by Golda Schultz and an orchestra of cellos led by Guy Johnston. This Chamber Music Prom 2 takes place at Cadogan Hall on July 25.

The second Bachianas is unfortunately incomplete; the first movement of the orchestral version of number 4 is part of the August 24 Prom 51 concert by the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop. This Prelude movement is often programmed separately in Brazil. It's great to see that Marlos Nobre's Kabbalah is also included on the program.

Finally, we have Bachianas Brasileiras number 2, played by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel, part of Prom 67 on September 4. I'm also looking forward to hearing the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne's Hipnosis mariposa.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The lost scores, and immortality

Back in 2003 I published this post on Villa-Lobos's lost scores at The Villa-Lobos Website, which is now hosted by the Latin American Music Center at Indiana University. It included a pretty long list of works which are not available, either because they've been lost or, as is quite likely in some cases, they were never actually written. I highlighted these works which we especially miss:
  • the 6th Prelude for guitar, which looms large because of the incredible popularity of the other five.  Guitarists would eat this score up!
  • the Fifth Symphony "A Paz", especially now that the other 11 are all recorded.
  • the two missing works - #13 and #14 - in the Choros series.  These two works are listed in the 1972 catalogue Sua Obra: "Choros #13 for two orchestras and band (1929) - score lost," and "Choros #14 for orchestra, band and chorus (1928) - score lost."
  • A Prole do Bebe, suite no. 3, which would instantly become part of the repertoire for many pianists, judging from the recent popularity of Villa-Lobos on the keyboard, around the world.
I also asked for feedback from my readers; this was the response:

  • The sixth guitar prelude: 50% (25 votes)
  • Prole do Bebe #3, for piano: 20% (10 votes)
  • The fifth symphony "A Paz": 4% (2 votes)
  • Choros #13: 10% (5 votes)
  • Choros #14: 8% (4 votes)
  • Fantasma, for orchestra (1918): 4% (2 votes)
  • Concerto Brasileiro: 4% (2 votes)
  • The Golden Centaur, for orchestra (1916): 0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 50
I wonder how people feel about this now. I'd still be most excited about news that the 6th Prelude had been found, though I wouldn't believe anything showing up on April 1st.  Musically, I think perhaps the 3rd book of Prole do Bebe would make the most impact, if it's anything like the first two books, both masterpieces of pianistic modernism. The Symphonies have been pushed forward by the second very successful Naxos series with OSESP and Isaac Karabtchevsky, so the 5th Symphony would fill what seems to be a bigger gap now.

But in terms of bigness - and there's always a certain amount of bigness with Villa-Lobos - the two missing Choros, written for large resources at the absolute peak of Villa's powers in 1929 (#13) and 1928 (#14) would be a hit, I think. Wikipedia has two marvellous articles on Choros 13 and Choros 14, which include a distressingly large amount of detail about works which have never been heard. Villa-Lobos said #13 was "absolutely atonal … with tendencies to classicism", while of #14 he says,
One might expect it to represent the simplest and most accurate in technique and form, with respect to the others. On the contrary, this Choros surprises us with its harmonic and thematic complexity, verging almost on a complete and calculated cacophony.
If there were any stops left in the Choros series after #8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, Villa-Lobos pulled them out in the last two of the series. The final one even ends on with a Haydn Farewell Symphony bit:
... after a development of the last stretto performed by almost all of the instruments, a kind of canonical rondo appears and gradually each performer drops out, leaving only the first violin (as soloist) with two long double-stopped notes a minor second apart, dying slowly away until disappearing.
I wonder, though, how much all of this really matters.  I just finished reading Alberto Manguel's marvellous book With Borges, and was struck by this passage:
He said he couldn't understand Unamuno, who had written that he longed for immortality. 'Someone who longs to be immortal must be crazy, eh?'
In the case of Borges, it was his work, his material, the stuff on which his universe was made that was immortal, and for that reason he himself did not feel the need to seek an everlasting existence. 'The number of themes, of words, of texts, is limited. Therefore nothing is ever lost. If a book is lost, then someone will write it again, eventually. That should be enough immortality for anyone,' he said to me once when he was talking about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
I'd love for someone to slide some of those missing scores underneath the door of the Museu Villa-Lobos some night, but I have no doubt that Villa's immortality is right here:

Friday, July 1, 2016

New scores for BB#9 and the Guitar Concerto

There are two new scores in the major publication project undertaken by Éditions Max Eschig and the Academia Brasileira de Música: the orchestral version of Bachianas Brasileiras no. 9, and the Guitar Concerto. These scores, edited by Roberto Duarte, should remove the errors that have plagued Villa-Lobos scores from the beginning. More information is here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts Uirapuru

Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts the Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica in the Uirapuru, from a March 2016 concert.

Museu Villa-Lobos News

Here's some news from Rio de Janeiro: the Ministry of Culture has placed a public call for the position of Director of the Museu Villa-Lobos. Here is a Google Translate version of the advertisement:
Open public call for the position of director of the Villa-Lobos Museum
06/21/2016 - 11:30

It was published on Monday (20) in the Official Gazette, called public intended for selection of director for the Museum Villa Lobos, in Rio de Janeiro (RJ), in commissioned position character.

Linked to the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram / Ministry of Culture), the Villa-Lobos Museum collects objects and documents relating to the life and work of composer and conductor Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). Its collection includes more than 53,000 items, including scores (handwritten and printed), correspondence, newspaper clippings, records, films, books, decorations, musical instruments and personal items.

They can run for office effective servers Ibram and not servers that meet the selection criteria, which include academic education at university level, proven experience in management and knowledge of public policy of the museum sector and the museum area of ​​operation. In the selection process, they will be taken into account technical criteria and qualification objectives, based on the curriculum analysis, Statement of Interest and Work Plan.

Applicants must submit documentation (CV, Statement of Interest and Work Plan) until 23:59 (GMT) next August 31 to the address informing the subject "Public Call Museum Villa-Lobos. "

The documentation can also be sent by physical means for People Management Coordination Ibram at the following address: SBN, Block 2, Block N, CNC III Building, 11th floor - CEP 70040-020 - Brasília - DF.

Questions and other issues must also be sent to the email

Press Office
Brazilian Institute of Museums
Ministry of Culture
I haven't been able to find any new about the current Director, Wagner Tiso. He turned 70 last December, so he may be retiring. Some help from my Brazilian friends, please! (Darn, it would be easier doing this if I knew Portuguese!)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

RIP Phyllis Curtin

It was sad to see the news today that soprano Phyllis Curtin had died, at the age of 94. I knew her music mainly from the 1964 Vanguard album Cantigas y Canciones of Latin America, which includes six Villa-Lobos songs, as well as pieces by Tavares, Ovalle, Fernandez, Perceval, Schiammerella, Galindo, Ginastera and Caturia. I was so pleased to see that the recording is available on Spotify.

New Brazilian music for string quartet

This new recording from Quarteto OSESP can be streamed or downloaded free from the OSESP website. Two great works from Kristoff Silva (Três ou Mais Canções Para Voz e Quarteto de Cordas) and Antonio Ribeiro (Homenagem a Koechlin). The excellent liner booklet includes commentary in English as well as Portuguese.

Violin and cello in Moscow

Wellington Müller Bujokas sends me this information about an upcoming concert with violinist Olga Garshina and cellist Andrey Berezin at the Brazilian Embassy in Moscow on June 17, 2016. Here's the programme:

  • Guerra-Peixe – Little Duo, for violin and cello
  • Paulo Chagas – Pas de Deux, for violin and cello
  • Villa-Lobos – 2 Choros (bis), for violin and cello
  • Alexandre Lunsqui – Jeuesquisse, for violin and cello 
  • Almeida Prado – Xangô, for violin and cello
  • Alberto Ginastera – Puneña No.2, , for cello solo
  • Silvestre Revueltas (mexicano) – Madrigal, for violin and cello
  • Sebastian Androne – Fresco meets Baldi, for violin and cello
Sounds like a great concert! I've posted this information at the Villa-Lobos Concerts page, where you can find music from around the world. Let me know if there's a Villa-Lobos concert coming to your city.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Olympic hand-off

This is really quite outstanding: from the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the hand-off to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, which begin August 5. Marisa Monte is ravishing in an under-stated gown, singing the Aria from Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 and Gilberto Gil's Aquele Abraço. Hard to believe it's been almost 4 years!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Fantasia for an Orchestra of Cellos

 From the Internet Archive, audio of the Fantasia for Orchestra of Violoncellos
The full title of this late piece by Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is Fantasia Concertante for Orchestra of Violoncellos. Composed in 1958, it was recorded in the same year in NYC on November 30, 1958. Villa-Lobos conducted the Violoncello Society Orchestra. I believe this may be the only recording of this work. Performance comes with a daunting problem: it requires 32 cellists. Obviously, that was not a problem for NYC. Not the best Everest recording in the sound department; it was made in their first year of operation. Transferred from the original Everest stereo LP SDBR 3024 by Bob Varney. 
This is indeed a distinguished group of cellists. Here's more information from the Violoncello Society:
The piece was written that year for the recently-formed Violoncello Society, at the request of Bernard Greenhouse. Its première at Town Hall, as well as this recording, featured the composer conducting, and Mr. Greenhouse performing the principal-solo part. They were joined by an orchestra of a number of New York’s most eminent cellists, including Luigi Silva, Harvey Shapiro, Claus Adam, Janos Scholz, Madeleine Foley, Jascha Bernstein, Marie Rosanoff, Daniel Saidenberg, Alan Shulman, Seymour Barab, and many others — all members of the Violoncello Society.... This celebrated achievement is one of the numerous landmarks in the Violoncello Society’s important ongoing mission.

The Everest LP has never been reissued on CD, but it shows up occasionally on eBay. A CD reissue would be nice, but better would be a modern recording of this fine work. A prominent cellist needs to round up 31 friends to make it happen!

Villa-Lobos - Um Clássico Popular

Villa-Lobos - Um Clássico Popular is a 2009 CD by the Quinteto Villa-Lobos. These are clever arrangements of Villa's greatest hits. The Quinteto Villa-Lobos are: Rubem Schuenck (flute), Luis Carlos Justi (oboe), Paulo Sergio Santos (clarinet), Philip Doyle (horn) and Aloysio Fagerlande (bassoon).

Photo by Silvana Marques

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Avante-garde orchestral sounds in the Nonetto

Enlever le bec et souffler dans la clarinette comme dans un cor.
Sinon chanter les notes, tres justes, dans le bec seul comme dans un mirliton.
In this section of the Nonetto (#33) Villa-Lobos instructs the clarinettist to remove the mouthpiece and blow the instrument like a horn, singing the notes "comme dans un mirliton." The Mirliton is also known as a Eunuch flute or onion flute (flûte eunuque, flûte à l'oignon), or in Germany, Zwiebelflöte. It's basically a wooden flute with a thin membrane fixed at one end, through which one blows and vocalizes at the same time. A kazoo is a kind of mirliton, though I believe Villa-Lobos was imitating an instrument used by Brazilian Indian musicians.

You can hear the effect after 9:30 in this classic performance of the Nonetto by The Roger Wagner Chorale and The Concert Arts Ensemble.

The Nonetto was begun in Rio in 1923, and completed and premiered in Paris the following year. This is the high-water mark of Villa's modernism; it's leading-edge avante-garde composition.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Camerata Atlântica Concert

From Spanish Radio RTVE, an April 11, 2016 concert by Camerata Atlântica, conducted by Ana Beatriz Manzanilla. This will be available until June 15, 2016.
Alberto Nepomuceno: SERENATA PARA CORDAS
Juan Bautista Plaza: FUGA CRIOLLA
Eurico Carrapatoso: CHORINHOS I E II
Cesar Guerra Peixe: MOURAO
There's more on the Fuga para a América Latina project here.

Composer of the Week

Composer of the Week has always been one of my favourite shows on BBC Radio 3. From June 4, 2014, here is Donald Macleod with an hour about Brazil's greatest composer.

Donald Macleod explores the cities that were important to Villa-Lobos, beginning by focusing on the impact on him of Rio de Janeiro - the place where the composer was born and died. Donald Macleod then turns to Paris, the city where Villa-Lobos developed his ideas, and which was a place he held in high affection for the rest of his life. Villa-Lobos was fascinated by the Amazon - a source of inspiration in many of his works. Donald Macleod follows the thread of fantasy that he weaved through his life. Sao Paulo was where Villa-Lobos first achieved fame - and where he later became a revered national educator. Donald Macleod looks at the Brazilian city that always celebrated his music. It was in New York that global recognition came to Villa-Lobos. Donald Macleod reflects on that city's devotion to the man and his music.

Release date: 4 June 2014 Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Tortorelli's Latin Latitudes

New from Brilliant Classics: Luciano Tortorelli's Latin Latitudes, with music by Spanish and Latin American composers. I really enjoyed his take on the Suite populaire bresilienne.

There's more information on this fine guitarist at his website and YouTube channel. Here are the works included on Latin Latitudes:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Agô!: Brazilian art song CD

I'm listening to Agô!, an album of Brazilian art songs by Renato Mismetti and Maximiliano de Brito. The album is available on MP3 from, or in CD format at

There's more information at the Pleorama website.

Villa-Lobos Symposium

In November 2012 the Escola de Comunicações e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo (ECA/USP) held a Villa-Lobos Symposium. The proceedings are available online.

At 341 pages, this is a major source for recent research. All the papers are in Portuguese, but each has an English abstract, and you can cut & paste text into a translator website (I use Google's). Here are a few papers I'm planning on reading more carefully.

Villa re-used his own music throughout his career. I'm especially interested in the Magdalena story.

This chart will be useful!

This article looks fascinating! It's not often I have a chance to connect Villa-Lobos and Canada. This is an examination of Choros no. 6 and the Introduction to Choros in the light of R. Murray Schafer's "Soundscape" idea.

I'll let you explore the rest on your own. I expect I'll be posting about some of these ideas over the next few months.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Imbapara, Pica-pau and the Cannibal Manifesto

In my last post I linked to a performance on YouTube of Oscar Lorenzo Fernández's 1928 work Imbapára.

The first theme is the same one used by Villa-Lobos in his 1925 Choros no. 3 "Pica-pau":

This theme is a drinking song of the Parecis Indians. It was rare for Villa-Lobos to quote an actual Indian song.

This is a real coincidence; I've just been reading Gerard Béhague's article "Indianism in Latin American Art-Music Composition of the 1920s to 1940s: Case Studies from Mexico, Peru, and Brazil", Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 2006), pp. 28-37.

Both these works are good examples of the Brazilian modernist tendency to begin to create a new Brazilian music with reference to both native and popular cultures. 1928 was the year that Oswald de Andrade published his famous Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto):
Its argument is that Brazil's history of "cannibalizing" other cultures is its greatest strength, while playing on the modernists' primitivist interest in cannibalism as an alleged tribal rite. Cannibalism becomes a way for Brazil to assert itself against European postcolonial cultural domination. 

Festival de Musica Sudamericana

In March of 1953 Villa-Lobos was in Barcelona for the Festival de Musica Sudamericana, to promote his own music (he never stopped doing that), and the music of a number of his colleagues from Latin America. Here is his program; Villa conducted the Orquesta Sinfonica del Gran Teatro del Liceo, with pianist Ramon Castillo.

This is some real leadership by Villa-Lobos. He's using his by then considerable fame to help boost the careers of friends in South America. The first piece he chose was a premiere of a work written in 1920: La Voz de las Calles by the Chilean Pedro Humberto Allende. Allende is an almost exact contemporary of Villa-Lobos; he was born in 1885, two years before Villa, and died the same year, 1959.

I wasn't able to track down a performance online of the Obertura Criolla by the Argentine Ernesto Drangosch (1882-1925). His piano music seems to be quite popular, though.

Villa-Lobos often included his friend Oscar Lorenzo Fernández in programs he conducted. Imbapára is an impressive Indianist work from 1928.

Evencio Castellanos (1915-1984) is an important Venezuelan composer who deserves to be much better known. El rio de las siete estrellas is a fine work; I praised this version by Jan Wagner and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela back in 2012.

When you add these four works to the Momoprecoce and especially Choros no. 6 by Villa-Lobos, this is an impressive evening of music!

This programme is from the Dipòsit Digital de Documents de la UAB.