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.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Camerata Atlântica Concert

From Spanish Radio RTVE, an April 11, 2016 concert by Camerata Atlântica, conducted by Ana Beatriz Manzanilla. This will be available until June 15, 2016.
Alberto Nepomuceno: SERENATA PARA CORDAS
Juan Bautista Plaza: FUGA CRIOLLA
Eurico Carrapatoso: CHORINHOS I E II
Cesar Guerra Peixe: MOURAO
There's more on the Fuga para a América Latina project here.

Composer of the Week

Composer of the Week has always been one of my favourite shows on BBC Radio 3. From June 4, 2014, here is Donald Macleod with an hour about Brazil's greatest composer.

Donald Macleod explores the cities that were important to Villa-Lobos, beginning by focusing on the impact on him of Rio de Janeiro - the place where the composer was born and died. Donald Macleod then turns to Paris, the city where Villa-Lobos developed his ideas, and which was a place he held in high affection for the rest of his life. Villa-Lobos was fascinated by the Amazon - a source of inspiration in many of his works. Donald Macleod follows the thread of fantasy that he weaved through his life. Sao Paulo was where Villa-Lobos first achieved fame - and where he later became a revered national educator. Donald Macleod looks at the Brazilian city that always celebrated his music. It was in New York that global recognition came to Villa-Lobos. Donald Macleod reflects on that city's devotion to the man and his music.

Release date: 4 June 2014 Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Tortorelli's Latin Latitudes

New from Brilliant Classics: Luciano Tortorelli's Latin Latitudes, with music by Spanish and Latin American composers. I really enjoyed his take on the Suite populaire bresilienne.

There's more information on this fine guitarist at his website and YouTube channel. Here are the works included on Latin Latitudes:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Agô!: Brazilian art song CD

I'm listening to Agô!, an album of Brazilian art songs by Renato Mismetti and Maximiliano de Brito. The album is available on MP3 from, or in CD format at

There's more information at the Pleorama website.

Villa-Lobos Symposium

In November 2012 the Escola de Comunicações e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo (ECA/USP) held a Villa-Lobos Symposium. The proceedings are available online.

At 341 pages, this is a major source for recent research. All the papers are in Portuguese, but each has an English abstract, and you can cut & paste text into a translator website (I use Google's). Here are a few papers I'm planning on reading more carefully.

Villa re-used his own music throughout his career. I'm especially interested in the Magdalena story.

This chart will be useful!

This article looks fascinating! It's not often I have a chance to connect Villa-Lobos and Canada. This is an examination of Choros no. 6 and the Introduction to Choros in the light of R. Murray Schafer's "Soundscape" idea.

I'll let you explore the rest on your own. I expect I'll be posting about some of these ideas over the next few months.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Imbapara, Pica-pau and the Cannibal Manifesto

In my last post I linked to a performance on YouTube of Oscar Lorenzo Fernández's 1928 work Imbapára.

The first theme is the same one used by Villa-Lobos in his 1925 Choros no. 3 "Pica-pau":

This theme is a drinking song of the Parecis Indians. It was rare for Villa-Lobos to quote an actual Indian song.

This is a real coincidence; I've just been reading Gerard Béhague's article "Indianism in Latin American Art-Music Composition of the 1920s to 1940s: Case Studies from Mexico, Peru, and Brazil", Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 2006), pp. 28-37.

Both these works are good examples of the Brazilian modernist tendency to begin to create a new Brazilian music with reference to both native and popular cultures. 1928 was the year that Oswald de Andrade published his famous Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto):
Its argument is that Brazil's history of "cannibalizing" other cultures is its greatest strength, while playing on the modernists' primitivist interest in cannibalism as an alleged tribal rite. Cannibalism becomes a way for Brazil to assert itself against European postcolonial cultural domination. 

Festival de Musica Sudamericana

In March of 1953 Villa-Lobos was in Barcelona for the Festival de Musica Sudamericana, to promote his own music (he never stopped doing that), and the music of a number of his colleagues from Latin America. Here is his program; Villa conducted the Orquesta Sinfonica del Gran Teatro del Liceo, with pianist Ramon Castillo.

This is some real leadership by Villa-Lobos. He's using his by then considerable fame to help boost the careers of friends in South America. The first piece he chose was a premiere of a work written in 1920: La Voz de las Calles by the Chilean Pedro Humberto Allende. Allende is an almost exact contemporary of Villa-Lobos; he was born in 1885, two years before Villa, and died the same year, 1959.

I wasn't able to track down a performance online of the Obertura Criolla by the Argentine Ernesto Drangosch (1882-1925). His piano music seems to be quite popular, though.

Villa-Lobos often included his friend Oscar Lorenzo Fernández in programs he conducted. Imbapára is an impressive Indianist work from 1928.

Evencio Castellanos (1915-1984) is an important Venezuelan composer who deserves to be much better known. El rio de las siete estrellas is a fine work; I praised this version by Jan Wagner and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela back in 2012.

When you add these four works to the Momoprecoce and especially Choros no. 6 by Villa-Lobos, this is an impressive evening of music!

This programme is from the Dipòsit Digital de Documents de la UAB.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Villa-Lobos and the Cinema

"Flaubert believed that it was impossible to explain one art form in terms of another, and that great paintings required no words of explanation." - Julian Barnes in Keeping an Eye Open.

Back in 1982 Simon Wright wrote the short article "Villa-Lobos and the Cinema: A Note", Luso-Brazilian Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Winter, 1982), pp. 243-250. There are a lot of ideas to explore here, but I'm on board with the general idea that Villa-Lobos's orchestral music has a 'cinematic' character:

I've been wondering about this question recently, since I've come across similar statements about the cinema's influence on the other arts, most recently in David Thomson's How to Watch a Movie. In Andrew Shail's The Cinema and the Origins of Literary Modernism we have a rigorous examination of influences by cinema on the development of an art that's different than Villa-Lobos's, but most certainly sharing its modernist world-view. Is cinema, in Shail's scheme, first- or second-tier generative in Villa's music? Are we perhaps dealing with "...symptoms rather than analogues, products of unconscious developments rather than conscious engagement, ... general rather than writer-specific..."?

Villa-Lobos has no consistent, or even evolving, artistic world-view; his is a kitchen sink kind of aesthetic. Cinematic flourishes in a Choros are just one of a chaotic mix of ideas and techniques he pulls out of the air (yes, let's say "air"). Here's Shail again: "As a consequence, in part, of the influence of modernism’s own film theory, cinema appears as a new aesthetic toolkit to be consciously deployed by its own auteur practitioners, and equally consciously emulated by writers, rather than as a set of institutional and social practice."

I recently came across a review by Guy Rickards of Lisa Peppercorn's 1992 Villa-Lobos biography in which he says "Villa-Lobos was always meant to be listened to rather than written about." I'm not sure I agree. I see that Bach must be listened to AND written about. When John Eliot Gardiner brings as much insight to his book Music in the Castle of Heaven as he does to a performance of the St. Matthew Passion, this is obvious. Bach is a theologian as well as a composer, plus he's 300 years away, living in another world. There are lots of things great writers can say that make me understand Bach's music better. Now I don't have much objectivity here, since I've been living in the House of the Wolf for a very long time, but I think there are things to be written about Villa-Lobos that might be more interesting and insightful than there might be about better composers. The 21st century artist who is most like Villa-Lobos, I think, is Quentin Tarantino. Each is a master self-promoter and self-cannibalizer, acutely aware of his forebears, idolizing his Sensei and ticking off influences on his work, about which he would rather talk than do almost anything else. We may be no further ahead in understanding their art because of this self-promotion, but it's entertaining, and by now it's part of the schtick. Both are fun to listen to/watch, and both are fun to write about.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Harmonica Concerto

In 1955 Villa-Lobos was commissioned by John Sebastian to write a harmonica concerto, and the piece was premiered in in Jerusalem on October 27, 1959, a month before Villa's death. Lisa Peppercorn, in her article "Villa-Lobos in Israel", Tempo, New Series, No. 169,  (Jun., 1989), pp. 42-45, quotes from a letter she received from Sebastian's widow, Nadia Sebastian:

"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..." Apparently Sebastian wasn't comfortable with Villa's first version of the Cadenza, so together they put together this:

Sebastian recorded this work on a Heliodor LP with Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Hans Schwieger. I'm not sure if this has ever been transferred to CD. Here is a YouTube video of the LP:

This piece has been very lucky with recordings. The top modern exponent is Robert Bonfiglio; his recording on RCA with the New York Chamber Symphony under Gerard Schwarz is my favourite. 

Villa-Lobos at the Hotel Bedford

"Visiting Villa-Lobos at the Hotel Bedford in Paris in May 1958, we found ourselves in the presence of a man of typically Brazilian cordiality who knew at once how to set his companions at ease."
 - Pierre Vidal, the French journalist who wrote the liner notes for the great Villa-Lobos par lui-même record album from French EMI.
In 1952 Villa-Lobos decided to make Paris his European headquarters, and he settled in to a suite in the Hotel Bedford, 17, rue de l’Arcade, in the 8th District. He was pleased and flattered to be offered the same suite used by the Emperor of Brazil, Pedro II, during his exile after 1889. He even used the Emperor's writing desk. In 1971 the Brazilian ambassador arranged for this plaque. It was still there when I made my pilgrimage in 2004, but I don't see it on Google Street View.

photo: Ed Tervooren

This photo is from  Lisa M. Peppercorn article "H. Villa-Lobos in Paris", Latin American Music Review, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Autumn - Winter, 1985), pp. 235-248.

It's so cool that the Hotel Bedford takes its musical heritage seriously. This photo is from a page about Villa-Lobos on their website. It was at the Hotel Bedford in 1954 that Villa-Lobos composed his ballet Gênesis; I wonder if that's what he's writing here.

It's interesting that Segovia lived for a time at the Bedford as well, and that the two spent time together there. I've been posting lately about these two great musicians. I knew they had met in Paris, but didn't realize they were hanging out there in the 1950s as well.

On February 20, 2016, pianist Coraline Parmentier gave a "Concert de piano en hommage à Villa-Lobos" at the Hotel Bedford. There's a YouTube video of her A Lenda do Caboclo, which I can't embed here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Harp Concerto

I'm not sure why Villa-Lobos's Harp Concerto isn't better known. I realize it will always be ranked well behind Ginastera's great concerto, especially in the great Argentine's Centennial year. And Villa's Harp Concerto isn't at the level of the Guitar Concerto, or the 2nd Cello Concerto. But it deserves a listen.

Here is Villa-Lobos between two great musicians for whom he wrote the Guitar and Harp Concertos, Andres Segovia and Nicanor Zabaleta.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

La Tribute des Critiques des Disques

Radio France Musique has a very cool program called La Tribute des Critiques des Disques, presented by Jérémie Rousseau, in which six different recordings of classical works are presented "blind", and critics discuss positives and negatives, voting for their favourites. In a recent episode, Jérémie Bigorie, Chantal Cazaux and Jean-Charles Hoffelé talked about Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5. I wish my French were better; I'm only following about 1/3 of what's happening.

SPOILER - here are the six sopranos:

A = Natania Davrath
B = Victoria de los Angeles
C = Anna Moffo
D = Sandrine Piau
E = Anna Maria Martinez
F = Renee Fleming

I opted for version "B", which isn't a surprise; I've always loved the version Villa-Lobos conducted in Paris in the 1950s, with the great Victoria de los Angeles.

I've embedded the France Musique player with this program loaded, but you can also listen at this website. It also has a link to the podcast; which you can download on iTunes.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Villa and Segovia

I'm reading Don Andrés and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo, Alfredo Escande's 2012 book. Though the relationship between the great guitarist and his second wife, the pianist Paquita Madriguera, is the key one in this book, his professional connections, especially with composers, were of course very important, and Villa-Lobos looms large in this story.

Segovia and Villa had met at a party in Paris in 1924, and there was both an immediate connection and a wariness between them. Each of them had a different memory of what happened. Once Segovia fled Spain for Uruguay in 1936 he and Villa were bound to run into each other more often. Villa eventually dedicated his 12 Etudes for Guitar to Segovia, but the guitarist was not enamoured of these works at all. Indeed, he says this in a 1928 letter to Manuel Ponce: “From his swollen number of compositions I do not exaggerate in telling you that the only one that is of any use is the study in E Major." Segovia never recorded the complete Etudes, but the few he did are masterful. Here's no. 7 in C sharp minor:

As to the Preludes, again Segovia wasn't impressed at first, but later he wanted to get on the band-wagon, as had happened with the Etudes. I talked about this in my sneak-preview post about Escande's book, from last month.

When Villa-Lobos's friend, the soprano and guitarist Olga Praguer Coelho travelled to New York in 1938 she sang for Eleanor Washington at the White House, and began her American recording career at RCA Victor. She also met Segovia, and began a liaison with him that eventually ended his marriage.Villa-Lobos dedicated his arrangement of Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 for guitar and voice to Olga, and Segovia provided the fingering.

Here are Villa-Lobos and Don Andres many years later, again in New York, with Mindinha and Olga.

Villa & Arminda; Don Andres & Olga - photo from O Globo

This was the period when the two began their closest collaboration, over Villa's Guitar Concerto, which began as the Fantasia Concertante in 1951. But that's beyond the scope of this excellent book, and a story for another time.