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.