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.