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.