Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Erosion, Origin of the Amazon River

 Here's another LP from Boston Public Library's vinyl LP collection, newly archived at Archive.org.

In the 1950s the Louisville Symphony commissioned orchestral works from composers in the Americas; one of the first was Villa-Lobos's Erosion, Origin of the Amazon River, from 1950. 

Though during this period Villa-Lobos sometimes tossed off commissioned work rather hastily, this work is powerful, and full of incident. According to Prof. Tarasti, this was one of his own works that the composer was most proud of. There's a more recent recording, from 1991, with Roberto Duarte conducting the Slovak Radio Symphony on Marco Polo. It's more polished, and Duarte is certainly a more accomplished Villa-Lobos conductor, though the Louisville and Bratislava orchestras both seem to have a real connection with this music.

I can also highly recommend the other work on this Louisville LP: Norman Dello Joio's St Joan Symphony is wonderful. It's just one more American symphony that seems to have slipped through the cracks.

Listen up!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mass of Saint Sebastian from Berkeley

The Mass of Saint Sebastian is one of Villa-Lobos's greatest choral works. It was written in December of 1936 and January 1937. In the 1930s the composer was in the middle of his Bachianas Brasileiras series, so it is no surprise to hear his typical combination of erudite European music (in this case Renaissance choral music, especially Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli) and folkloric Brazilian themes (here, Amerindian chants). Saint Sebastian is, of course, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro, but I couldn't hear anything here of Villa's own personal patron saint, Johann Sebastian Bach. Villa-Lobos's work was closer to Bach's time than Palestrina's work (written in 1562) was to Bach's. This is, like so much of Villa's music, Eclectic with a capital E.

I haven't been able to track down the date of this Columbia Masterworks album recorded by the Chorus of the University of California Berkeley, conducted by Werner Janssen. It was played on The Voice of America in May of 1952, and reviewed by Henry Cowell in the April 1953 issue of The Musical Quarterly, so I think we can safely date it in the early 1950s.

I was thrilled to see this album in the Boston Public Library's archive of their vinyl LP collection, newly digitized and available at The Internet Archive. This has never been reissued on CD, and I've never seen it at eBay. It's a noisy copy, but Janssen's personal connection with Villa-Lobos provides some real authenticity; the two were friends from Villa's first visit to Los Angeles in 1944. I'll be posting more Villa-Lobos albums from this valuable resource in the future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Villa-Lobos by Arnold Newman

On September 15, 1951, Heitor Villa-Lobos sat in New York for one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century, Arnold Newman. Villa was one of the most photogenic of composers, and he spent a good portion of his life creating and burnishing his own image. These photographs are outstanding.

Newman pays special attention to Villa's famous cigar, or, rather, Villa wields it like a baton, and Newman is there to pick up on his vibe. He's like a rock star or Hollywood actor.

And this is my absolutely favourite portrait of Villa-Lobos. Total relaxation; complete self-possession.


Sunday, September 4, 2022

Mr. Famous


From the Museu Villa-Lobos photo archive, this great photograph, from 1958, of Villa-Lobos with Audrey Hepburn and her little Yorkshire Terrier. The dog's name was "Mr. Famous". Villa is visiting the set of the MGM film Green Mansions, directed by Audrey's husband Mel Ferrer, and based on the novel by W. H. Hudson. Villa-Lobos was hired to write the music, and he received an on-screen composer credit, though most of the score was written, in the end, by Bronislau Kaper. Villa later turned his Green Mansions music into Forest of the Amazon (Floresta do Amazonas), a very fine work for orchestra and chorus.

The still photographer on the set of Green Mansions was the great Robert Willoughby, so I wouldn't be surprised if this photo was taken by him.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Great Classical Music from Brazil

Brasil em Concerto: music by Nepomuceno, Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, Guerra-Peixe, Santoro, Almeida Prado

This six-disc box set, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Brazil, continues the excellent Music of Brazil series from Naxos. We continue to learn more about Brazilian classical composers other than Heitor Villa-Lobos, though the Villa disc (which I reviewed here) is quite wonderful. Another disc I've reviewed recently was a real eye-opener for me: César Guerra-Peixe's Symphonic Suites and Roda.

Standouts from the other five discs include two Claudio Santoro symphonies: the 5th and 7th, subtitled 'Brasilia'. The latter reminds us that Villa-Lobos died just five months before the unveiling of the country's new capital on April 21, 1960, and he would have been the natural composer for this kind of symphony.

Oscar Niemeyer, the designer of much of Brasilia and its buildings, was one of Brazil's great modernist artists who made a big splash on the world stage in its second century. Another was, of course, Villa-Lobos, while a third was a friend of Villa's, the painter Candido Portinari. It's fitting that Naxos has featured a Portinari painting on the cover of this box set, "The Tree of Life", from 1957. A country's culture is, of course, so much richer than just the output of its artistic giants; this valuable set gives us a much better, more rounded, view of the music of Brazil.

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.