Thursday, May 5, 2016

Music of tribute


We've all been told many times that classical music's focus on dead composers is an oddity of the modern period, and in previous times art music was contemporary music. Indeed, I'll tell you that very same thing myself, one more time. Not that we shouldn't listen to four-centuries-dead Monteverdi. He's awesome, and we should listen to him even more. Only we should listen to Kate Moore and Lydia Kakabadse as well. Anyway.

I'm not sure if this is sociologically significant, but something interesting happened after the death of Claudio Monteverdi in November 1643. In 1650 Monteverdi's pupil Francesco Cavalli published a posthumous collection of music, a tribute to his teacher. It was called Messa a quattro voci et salmi, and it included sacred music not included in Selva morale e spirituale of 1641, the last sacred collection published by Monteverdi in his lifetime. Monteverdi was well-loved in his lifetime, and there was plenty of interest in his music after the great master's death. Cavalli slipped in a piece of his own, a 10-minute Magnificat that matches his teacher's work.

Surprisingly, not all of this music has been recorded, which I find astounding. Every little bit of Monteverdi seems special to me, and there's nothing below a very high level on this disc, the first volume in Harry Christophers' new series with The Sixteen. This is choral singing of a high standard, with able support from "the continuo team", as Christophers calls the instrumentalists in his entertaining note on the 5-day recording session at St. Augustine Church in Kilburn,  London. The Sixteen recorded "in the round":
Everyone was in eye contact so that each subtle nuance and invention could be passed aurally and visually from one to another with great ease. 
There's a relaxed feeling in this music that comes from the recording setup, the obvious work taken by these musicians to become comfortable with the intricacies of Monteverdi's music, and the trust between musicians that is required to make great choral, or any kind of music.

Here's a behind the scenes look at the recording, from The Sixteen's YouTube channel:



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 Amazon.com, or in CD format at Amazon.de.


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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Orchestra Villa-Lobos

I recently came across the 2012 dissertation by Gabriel Augusto Ferraz entitled Heitor Villa-Lobos and Getulio Vargas: Constructing the "New Brazilian Nation" through a nationalistic system of music education.  This thesis is available in full text at the University of Florida's institutional repository here. This is a marvellous work which contains a huge amount of information about Villa's professional life and its intersection with national politics in the 1930s. Much of this is new to me. It's been hard to get a handle on a period which has been documented on the whole only in Portuguese. I look forward to a close reading, and then I'll post some thoughts about Villa's relationship with Vargas, which is fraught with many vexing political and personal issues.

Much of Ferraz's research took place at the Museu Villa-Lobos, a treasure trove of unpublished material. I was surprised to learn of the existence of the Orchestra Villa-Lobos in 1933. This short-lived project only produced five concerts, from April 12 to June 5 of that year.

Orchestra Villa-Lobos cover from Museu Villa-Lobos via Ferraz thesis

This has been quite a surprising discovery for me, and quite a coincidence, since I've been preparing a post here about Villa-Lobos as a conductor of works by other composers. Villa's choice of repertoire included his own works - how could it not! - but there were lots of European and Brazilian pieces in these five concerts. Many of them are Brazilian premieres, and all of this music is conducted by Villa-Lobos.


There's a major surprise for me in this list: it was Villa-Lobos who conducted the Brazilian premiere of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I've always wondered if Villa and Gershwin might have met in Paris in the 1920s. They have so much in common, musically, and they also both loved billiards and cigars. Otherwise it's natural to see Villa's choice of Bach and Stravinsky and Ravel. Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner likewise seem a natural fit for Villa-Lobos. Don't forget that the 1930s was a period when Villa-Lobos wrote some of his greatest orchestral works, including much of the Bachianas Brasileiras series. 

More on this to come!


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Currency News

I was so pleased to hear this morning about the U.S. Treasury's plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill in place of Andrew Jackson. Now there's more good currency news:
The U.S. Treasury has announced new plans for American currency. Among the figures to be honored on the new currency is singer Marian Anderson, who will be featured on the five-dollar bill.
There's more on this story at Classical Minnesota Public Radio's website.

I've posted a few times about Marian Anderson's close relationship with Villa-Lobos (here and here). Here's a picture of the great singer, with Villa and Mindinha:


Villa-Lobos, of course, is no stranger to a bank-note himself. Here he is on the 500 cruzeiro note, issued in 1986: