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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts Uirapuru

Isaac Karabtchevsky conducts the Orquestra Petrobras Sinfônica in the Uirapuru, from a March 2016 concert.

Museu Villa-Lobos News

Here's some news from Rio de Janeiro: the Ministry of Culture has placed a public call for the position of Director of the Museu Villa-Lobos. Here is a Google Translate version of the advertisement:
Open public call for the position of director of the Villa-Lobos Museum
06/21/2016 - 11:30

It was published on Monday (20) in the Official Gazette, called public intended for selection of director for the Museum Villa Lobos, in Rio de Janeiro (RJ), in commissioned position character.

Linked to the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram / Ministry of Culture), the Villa-Lobos Museum collects objects and documents relating to the life and work of composer and conductor Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). Its collection includes more than 53,000 items, including scores (handwritten and printed), correspondence, newspaper clippings, records, films, books, decorations, musical instruments and personal items.

They can run for office effective servers Ibram and not servers that meet the selection criteria, which include academic education at university level, proven experience in management and knowledge of public policy of the museum sector and the museum area of ​​operation. In the selection process, they will be taken into account technical criteria and qualification objectives, based on the curriculum analysis, Statement of Interest and Work Plan.

Applicants must submit documentation (CV, Statement of Interest and Work Plan) until 23:59 (GMT) next August 31 to the address informing the subject "Public Call Museum Villa-Lobos. "

The documentation can also be sent by physical means for People Management Coordination Ibram at the following address: SBN, Block 2, Block N, CNC III Building, 11th floor - CEP 70040-020 - Brasília - DF.

Questions and other issues must also be sent to the email

Press Office
Brazilian Institute of Museums
Ministry of Culture
I haven't been able to find any new about the current Director, Wagner Tiso. He turned 70 last December, so he may be retiring. Some help from my Brazilian friends, please! (Darn, it would be easier doing this if I knew Portuguese!)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

RIP Phyllis Curtin

It was sad to see the news today that soprano Phyllis Curtin had died, at the age of 94. I knew her music mainly from the 1964 Vanguard album Cantigas y Canciones of Latin America, which includes six Villa-Lobos songs, as well as pieces by Tavares, Ovalle, Fernandez, Perceval, Schiammerella, Galindo, Ginastera and Caturia. I was so pleased to see that the recording is available on Spotify.

New Brazilian music for string quartet

This new recording from Quarteto OSESP can be streamed or downloaded free from the OSESP website. Two great works from Kristoff Silva (Três ou Mais Canções Para Voz e Quarteto de Cordas) and Antonio Ribeiro (Homenagem a Koechlin). The excellent liner booklet includes commentary in English as well as Portuguese.

Violin and cello in Moscow

Wellington Müller Bujokas sends me this information about an upcoming concert with violinist Olga Garshina and cellist Andrey Berezin at the Brazilian Embassy in Moscow on June 17, 2016. Here's the programme:

  • Guerra-Peixe – Little Duo, for violin and cello
  • Paulo Chagas – Pas de Deux, for violin and cello
  • Villa-Lobos – 2 Choros (bis), for violin and cello
  • Alexandre Lunsqui – Jeuesquisse, for violin and cello 
  • Almeida Prado – Xangô, for violin and cello
  • Alberto Ginastera – Puneña No.2, , for cello solo
  • Silvestre Revueltas (mexicano) – Madrigal, for violin and cello
  • Sebastian Androne – Fresco meets Baldi, for violin and cello
Sounds like a great concert! I've posted this information at the Villa-Lobos Concerts page, where you can find music from around the world. Let me know if there's a Villa-Lobos concert coming to your city.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Olympic hand-off

This is really quite outstanding: from the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics, the hand-off to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, which begin August 5. Marisa Monte is ravishing in an under-stated gown, singing the Aria from Villa's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 and Gilberto Gil's Aquele Abraço. Hard to believe it's been almost 4 years!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Fantasia for an Orchestra of Cellos

 From the Internet Archive, audio of the Fantasia for Orchestra of Violoncellos
The full title of this late piece by Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is Fantasia Concertante for Orchestra of Violoncellos. Composed in 1958, it was recorded in the same year in NYC on November 30, 1958. Villa-Lobos conducted the Violoncello Society Orchestra. I believe this may be the only recording of this work. Performance comes with a daunting problem: it requires 32 cellists. Obviously, that was not a problem for NYC. Not the best Everest recording in the sound department; it was made in their first year of operation. Transferred from the original Everest stereo LP SDBR 3024 by Bob Varney. 
This is indeed a distinguished group of cellists. Here's more information from the Violoncello Society:
The piece was written that year for the recently-formed Violoncello Society, at the request of Bernard Greenhouse. Its première at Town Hall, as well as this recording, featured the composer conducting, and Mr. Greenhouse performing the principal-solo part. They were joined by an orchestra of a number of New York’s most eminent cellists, including Luigi Silva, Harvey Shapiro, Claus Adam, Janos Scholz, Madeleine Foley, Jascha Bernstein, Marie Rosanoff, Daniel Saidenberg, Alan Shulman, Seymour Barab, and many others — all members of the Violoncello Society.... This celebrated achievement is one of the numerous landmarks in the Violoncello Society’s important ongoing mission.

The Everest LP has never been reissued on CD, but it shows up occasionally on eBay. A CD reissue would be nice, but better would be a modern recording of this fine work. A prominent cellist needs to round up 31 friends to make it happen!

Villa-Lobos - Um Clássico Popular

Villa-Lobos - Um Clássico Popular is a 2009 CD by the Quinteto Villa-Lobos. These are clever arrangements of Villa's greatest hits. The Quinteto Villa-Lobos are: Rubem Schuenck (flute), Luis Carlos Justi (oboe), Paulo Sergio Santos (clarinet), Philip Doyle (horn) and Aloysio Fagerlande (bassoon).

Photo by Silvana Marques

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Avante-garde orchestral sounds in the Nonetto

Enlever le bec et souffler dans la clarinette comme dans un cor.
Sinon chanter les notes, tres justes, dans le bec seul comme dans un mirliton.
In this section of the Nonetto (#33) Villa-Lobos instructs the clarinettist to remove the mouthpiece and blow the instrument like a horn, singing the notes "comme dans un mirliton." The Mirliton is also known as a Eunuch flute or onion flute (flûte eunuque, flûte à l'oignon), or in Germany, Zwiebelflöte. It's basically a wooden flute with a thin membrane fixed at one end, through which one blows and vocalizes at the same time. A kazoo is a kind of mirliton, though I believe Villa-Lobos was imitating an instrument used by Brazilian Indian musicians.

You can hear the effect after 9:30 in this classic performance of the Nonetto by The Roger Wagner Chorale and The Concert Arts Ensemble.

The Nonetto was begun in Rio in 1923, and completed and premiered in Paris the following year. This is the high-water mark of Villa's modernism; it's leading-edge avante-garde composition.