Heitor Villa-Lobos

Biography

Born: Mar 5, 1887; Brazil   Died: Nov 17, 1959; Brazil   Period: 20th Century
The music of Heitor Villa-Lobos is known for its characteristic nationalism, driving rhythms, and original instrumentation. He was trained as an autodidact opposed to academic instruction, his music grew in a completely independent and individual fashion.

Villa-Lobos began studying music at an early age, when his father, a worker at the National Library and an amateur musician, taught him to play cello, viola, and guitar. These early Read more influences later became evident in the orchestration of some of his more prominent works. Although he intended to enter school to study medicine, Villa-Lobos soon found that he preferred spending time with the local popular musicians, becoming familiar with the various musical styles native to Rio de Janeiro's street and night life. Among other skills, he learned to improvise guitar melodies over the "choro," a popular instrumental genre of the time, which lent Villa-Lobos the effortless Latin nationality so strongly present in his music.

From the ages of 18 to 25 he traveled extensively throughout Brazil and the African-influenced Caribbean nations, collecting themes and assessing the major style characteristics of the local musics. It was also during this time that Villa-Lobos composed his first major compositions, most notably his Piano Trio No. 1.

When he returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1912, Villa-Lobos briefly attempted to receive a more formalized education, but his personality and musical practice proved ill-matched with the academic establishment and, although he made important connections with the faculty, he soon left classes. He spent the next ten years composing and playing freelance cello in cafes and cinemas to earn a living. He eventually gained national recognition and a fair sum of government funding with the premiere of his Third Symphony, "A guerra," the first part of a symphonic trilogy commissioned by the Brazilian government to commemorate World War I.

From 1923 to 1930, Villa-Lobos found himself centered in Paris, where he was a huge success, his music being widely published and frequently performed. He eventually returned to Brazil, however, becoming one of the most esteemed artists of the new Nationalist regime, which lasted until 1945. During the 1930s, Villa-Lobos involved himself deeply and enthusiastically with public music education, once again traveling throughout Brazil to offer his services as a teacher and school coordinator. In 1945, his passion reached the ultimate fruition when he founded the Brazilian Academy of Music. He spent the last ten years of his life traveling and conducting, primarily in New York and Paris. Read less

Ginastera, Villa-lobos: Music For Strings / Yuli Turovsky
Release Date: 03/19/1996   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9434   Number of Discs: 1
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Spirit Of Brazil - Assad, Villa-Lobos, Gismonti / Aquarelle Guitar Quartet
Release Date: 03/31/2009   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10512   Number of Discs: 1
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CD: $14.99
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Work: Concerto for Guitar, W 501

 

About This Work
Heitor Villa-Lobos' Concerto for guitar and orchestra is the late capstone to a revolutionary body of guitar works by the composer that began with his Études in 1929. Written for Andrés Segovia in 1951, the concerto itself bears the Read more mark of an old composer looking back on earlier, more severe styles and recuperating them into sentimental fantasy. The opening Allegro precioso perfectly displays the synthesizing fecundity of Villa-Lobos' melting-pot imagination. After the strings initiate a Bartók-like head-motto of folk-derived rigid declamation, the guitar immediately enters with a figuration characteristic of Villa-Lobos' earlier guitar works: the guitarist repeats a motive while traveling down the neck of the instrument. It's a simple gesture, but releases in its executive ease a delightful wealth of weird harmonies. Soon enough, the guitar and orchestra are confidently dialoguing and begin a magically continuous string of stylizations: one minute a ritornello of Bach-like polyphony and shape, the next a movie soundtrack vista. The argument passes through all manner of Villa-Lobosian masks, from the learned to the folk, from Beethovenian motivic development through modal sequences right out of Debussy's later work. The following Andantino e andante is even more infused with the wistful remembrance of Debussy, though suffused with Villa-Lobos' inextricable confidence and native tone. The movement is a multi-sectioned rhapsody singing through its tempo and style changes with an ever-intoxicating harmonic brew. Instead of Debussy's sentimentalized French folklore, Villa-Lobos' "Brazilian sentimental" inflected with the sound of northeast Brazilian folk melodies can be heard, yet without quite quoting anything specific. The cadenza is a feat: a fond look back by the composer to his back-breaking, beastly, beating guitar Études of 1929, in which the instrument is taken through its gauntlet of technical effects (harmonics, arpeggios, scales, madly repeated chords, and whimsical neck-sliding sequences) with suavity and bluster. Villa-Lobos originally wrote the concerto without a cadenza, but Segovia, ever the calculating (if reserved) showman, demanded the composer write him one. Villa-Lobos composed a veritable movement in itself for guitar alone and the cadenza is now known almost as much as an unaccompanied recital item as it is in its original context. The final Allegretto non troppo is announced by a declamatory sweep of the guitar's 12th-fret harmonics, after which the winds play out a groovy unison figure. This is quickly swept aside by further rhapsodizing, only to come back harmonized by the guitar itself. A parade of themes and thematic transformations ensue, each passage hinting at some type of popular dance (the Baroque gigue, the waltz, duple dances, etc.), simultaneously swathing it in a harmonic ambience of modal mixtures. The most structurally "liberated" of the movements, it spins through its luxurious guises until an abrupt bare-octave close.

-- Seth Brodsky Read less

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