Saturday, October 27, 2001

Ricardo Prado column

Darn! I'm going to have to learn to read Portuguese!

This article from columnist Ricardo Prado : Villa-Lobos na Broadway, discusses an important period in VL's life, when he was invited by producers Edwin Lester and Homer Curran to go to New York to write a Broadway musical.

From what I've been able to piece together from the often mangled Altavista Babel Fish machine translation (hey, I'm not complaining - it's a fabulous service!), Prado has some great stories to tell. Lester and Curran were known world-wide for their production of The Song of Norway, based on the life of Edvard Grieg. In 1959 they brought the team of Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, successful scriptwriters of a million MGM films and Broadway musicals, to New York to work with the world-famous Brazilian composer. Wright and Forrest came up with a pretty good story for a "musical adventure in two acts" - it was called Magdalena.

Language was also a problem for the Magdalena collaborators. VL's English stretched to the two things he liked best about North America: "vanilla ice cream" and "cowboy movies". The others had no Portuguese, so they all made do with gestures and bits of French. There seem to have been the kind of conflicts between the American commercial point of view and VL's more artistic sensibilities that became more rancorous in the 1950's when the composer went to Hollywood to write the music for Green Mansions at MGM. At one point VL had to remind everyone that, while Grieg was dead, he himself was still alive!

The production at the Ziegfeld Theater was a big success - the critics gave it raves, including one that said it represented "a new path for the musical theater." Richard Rogers said that it was 25 years ahead of its time, and saw its influence, eight years later, in Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story. Unfortunately, VL couldn't build upon his New York success for two reasons. James C. Petrillo's American Music Federation strike had shut down the bulk of recordings of new music, and VL was diagnosed with the liver cancer that would kill him late in the following decade.

Though Magdalena has recently been revived around the world (in Germany and in Los Angeles in 1999), we still need a good modern CD to bring this music to the attention of the large new Villa-Lobos fan base that's grown up in the last ten years. Prado himself worked on a major production of the piece in 1997, with the support of Turíbio Santos, director of the Museu Villa-Lobos, and money from a major Brazilian bank. Again events conspired against wider acceptance for the piece, when the bank was taken over by a foreign company. We can only hope for an important new production in Brazil or New York, followed by an excellent live recording.

Hey - enough blogging for one day! I think I'll scoop out some vanilla ice cream and watch a cowboy video on TV!

VL on Cultura FM

With the major Brazilian classical radio stations now available live on-line, I'll be watching out for major Villa-Lobos concert events and noting them here.

On October 31st at 11:00 a.m. São Paulo time (that's 6 in the morning here in Red Deer) you can hear an hour of VL's music on the program Circanda, on Rádio Cultura FM. The program includes two items from Brazilian CDs that might be difficult to come across in North America or Europe: the rarely recorded Sinfonietta number 1 (I've never heard it myself) with the Orquestra Petrobrás Pró-Música, and the important modernist work Sexteto místico with a Brazilian ensemble that inclues harpist Cristina Braga.

On the same program the following day you can hear the superb recording by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, pianist Ralf Gothoni and conductor Sakari Oramo, of the important Choros number 11.

A useful site in Portugese - from Portugal - is Leonor Lain's biographical essay Villa-Lobos. Among the many Villa-Lobos pictures is one of my favourites, which shows Villa-Lobos and his close friend Edgard Varese in Paris in 1927.

The site includes a revealing chronology of 20th Century ideas. It's interesting to note, for example, that while Villa-Lobos and his colleagues Manuel Bandeira, Oswaldo de Andrade and Mário de Andrade were shocking the citizens of Sao Paulo in 1922, Neils Bohr was winning his first Nobel Prize in Physics, and Henri Bergson was writing Duration and Simultaneity. This reference to Bergson sent me to some books and websites, at one of which I found a quote which might have been used as a motto by the young modernist rebels in Sao Paulo:

"Art has no other object than to set aside the symbols of practical utility, the generalities that are conventionally and socially accepted, everything in fact which masks reality from us, in order to set us face to face with reality itself."

I just came across the English version of the site - excellent!

Festival Villa-Lobos

Rio de Janeiro is the site of the 39th Festival Villa-Lobos, organized by the Museu Villa-Lobos. Here are some of the events that will take place - for complete information on these concerts, go to VivaMusica!. I will also add these concerts to the Upcoming Villa-Lobos Concerts page real soon.

- On November 17, a Mass in Memory of Villa-Lobos will be performed at the Igreja Nossa Senhora Esperança.
- On November 19, a concert by Patrícia Endo, in the Sala Cecília Meireles.
- Guitarist Maria Haro and Friends perform on the 20th, also in the Sala Cecília Meireles.
- In the same venue on the 21st, an afternoon concert by the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira Jovem, followed that evening by a concert by pianist Marcelo Verzoni.

Among the other performers at the Festival are the Quinteto do Rio de Janeiro, soprano Carol McDavit and pianist Maria Teresa Madeira.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Fermata do Brasil Ltd. has a useful website, in English as well as Portugues, that may be of interest to Villa-Lobos fans. They publish a number of Villa-Lobos scores for piano, and also sell the kinds of instruments you see in VL orchestral scores: castanholas, chocalhos, conjuntos de percussao, pratos de mao, reco-recos, and many others.

Speaking of which, here's a fabulous resource: the web article "Percussões do Brasil", from the site A Biblioteca Virtual do estudante brasileiro. The site is available in English as well.

There are pictures and MP3 files of the sounds of many Brazilian instruments. I like the "Afoxé and Xequerê", and the Reco-Reco.

Sunday, October 21, 2001

What do the following composers have in common?

Florence Price
Giuseppe Becce
Ernst Toch
Heino Eller
Kurt Atterberg
Max Trapp
Sigmund Romberg
and last (but not least)
Heitor Villa-Lobos

Well, they were all born in the same year: 1887. I found that out by going to a very useful online resource:
Klassika - die deutschspachigen Klassikseiten.

I'm afraid that the only exact contemporary I know at all well is the Swede Kurt Atterberg. I find his neo-classic 4th Symphony quite charming (along with his 1st, it's on a cpo CD with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ari Rasilainen (catalogue number : 999639). Another marvellous CD is Koch-Schwann's coupling of Atterberg's Cello Sonata and Cello Concerto (with Werner Thomas-Mifune, cello, Carmen Piazzini, piano, and the Berlin RSO conducted by Karl Anton Rickenbacher - catalogue 3-1585-2). BIS-1024 has the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jun'ichi Hirokami performing the 6th Symphony - another lovely piece - the work that brought Atterberg his greatest fame (it was recorded by Toscanini).

Is this music at all like Villa-Lobos? There's a tension in Atterberg's music between classical and romantic that seems very reminiscent of Villa-Lobos. Atterberg and Villa-Lobos share a common gift for melody and an interest in folk music. If you agree with Messiaen, who said that Villa-Lobos was the most gifted of 20th century orchestrators, you might put Atterberg not too far behind. There's an interesting review of the Koch-Schwann disc in Gramophone magazine that points in this direction:

" the finale some of the orchestral writing points (briefly but remarkably) towards Villa-Lobos!"

There's a modernist side to Villa-Lobos, though, that Atterberg doesn't share.

Atterberg lived until 1974 - 25 years longer than Villa-Lobos, though his greatest works seem to have been written by the time VL died in 1959. I'm looking forward to listening to more of his music.

The new version of the Gramophone website looks great, and there's lots of information there. A recent Webwatch talks about Latin American music sites on the web, and includes a reference to the Heitor Villa-Lobos site.

Gramophile, the magazine's review archive, has always been a very useful resource. The new interface is now much easier to use.

Modern Strings is a chamber ensemble with an adventurous repertoire, and a website with lots of interest for those who read German. Even if you don't, though, the above link will take you to a page full of RealAudio and MP3 files from the group's CD and live concerts. There are some very interesting pieces to listen to: besides standard string pieces like the Barber Adagio, there are pieces by relatively unknown composers such as Rodolfo Halffter and the Turkish composers Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Ismail Dede Efendi and Zeki Mehmet Aga.

Of course, I was also interested in the prelude and fugue from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras number 9, recorded in the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn in 1992, available in both RealAudio and MP3 format. As well, I enjoyed the pieces from the group's 1995 EMI CD of music by Astor Piazzolla. Put it all together for a quite delightful web concert.

Friday, October 19, 2001

Geirr Tveitt

Geirr Tveitt (1908-1981) is a very interesting composer born in Bergen, Norway. I love what I've heard of his music - deeply rooted in folk music with a modernist edge. I was surprised to learn from this site (part of a fabulous web resource for all kinds of classical music: the Naxos site) that Tveitt was once a pupil of Villa-Lobos.

My surprise doesn't come from the music - there are many similarities between VL and Tveitt - but from the fact that VL was well-known for not having many formal pupils. George Hufsmith is a fairly well-known exception. Like Villa-Lobos, Tveitt spent the 20's immersed in the musical excitement of the Paris of Stravinsky, Honegger (who was also his teacher), Milhaud, Varese and Messiaen, and then went back home to discover his own national roots in ethnomusical investigations.

Have a listen to Tviett's music - the Naxos CDs are very inexpensive and very high quality (both in interpretation and sound quality) - and let me know what you think.

In an article in Brazzil magazine, Bruce Gilman talks with the Brazilian group Uakti: Uakti, a sound from another world - Brazilian Music - June 1997. The group acknowledges their debt to Villa-Lobos.

An excellent overview of VL's string quartets is contained in another article by Bruce Gilman in Brazzil magazine: Cuarteto Latinoamericano keeps Villa-Lobos alive - Brazilian Music - July 1998.

Desde el Escritorio de Randy Osborne - an interview with Villa-Lobos from 1958. VL talks about the importance of the guitar in his music.

"Piano 300" is the international celebration of the 300th anniversary of the piano. One of the pianists involved in the project is Luiz de Moura-Castro. This page includes an MP3 file of Alma Brasileira, Choros number 5.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001


There are some interesting concerts coming up this season. Here are some highlights:

Michael Tilson Thomas won a lot of new friends for Villa-Lobos with his Alma Brasileira CD (on Sony, with the New World Symphony and soprano Renée Fleming). It's great to see him programming Villa-Lobos in his San Francisco Symphony series. The concert is called MTT Conducts Pan-American Mavericks, and it includes one of VL's greatest works, the Choros number 10. The concerts are on December 12-15, 2001.

Another great work in the Choros series is number 11, less well known than number 10. It's featured in five concerts by the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in four Florida cities, from November 13-19, 2001. Thanks to Catherine Perron from the Florida Philharmonic Chorus for the heads-up on this. Go to the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra website for all the details.

For complete information on VL concerts around the world, go to the Villa-Lobos Concerts page. Don't forget to let me know about any upcoming concerts featuring the music of Villa-Lobos.

Monday, October 15, 2001

Ben-Dor Feature

Conductor Gisele Ben-Dor was recently featured in Fanfare magazine. Ben-Dor's recent recording of VL's 10th Symphony was given a rave review by the critic Paul Snook.

Film Awards

There's a list of awards and nominations for the Viana film
Villa-Lobos - Uma Vida de Paixão (2000) at the Internet Movie Database

Film Site

While the new Villa-Lobos film by Zelito Viana hasn't yet made its way to North America on video or DVD, there has been a fair amount of interest in the film world-wide because of festival screenings. A Brazilian cinema site has a page that gathers information about the film along with reviews: FILMES - Villa Lobos, Uma Vida de Paixão

Sunday, October 14, 2001

VL Radio

Check out Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Music of Brazil on This is a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week station with a wide variety of music - officially licensed by ASCAP - by Villa-Lobos and some popular Brazilian artists influenced by him. Enjoy!

Film Review

Check out this new CD review and an excellent review of the new Villa-Lobos film by Harold Lewis.

Stalking Stokowski

The February 2000 issue of Brazzil magazine includes this fascinating article by Daniella Thompson: "Stalking Stokowski".

It's great to know we have people like Daniella out there digging for this important information! Excellent work!

Daniella's mention of "Saludos Amigos" reminds me that the classic Disney feature - released in 1942 as part of the U.S. "Good Neighbor" Policy during WWII - is now available on VHS and DVD. Besides being completely entertaining in its own right, this is an important release because it includes "South of the Border with Disney". This documentary "featurette" shows an interesting picture of 40's Brazil through Hollywood's eyes. There's even a short clip of Villa-Lobos conducting one of his massive children's choral concerts at Rio's Vasco da Gama Stadium! This is highly recommended for both Villa-Lobos and Donald Duck fans!

Radio Sonicnet

Thanks to the cool concept of Radio Sonicnet, you can now listen to a web radio station that plays music by Villa-Lobos, along with European and American composers from his time, as well as music by today's popular Brazilian artists, most of whom were influenced by Villa-Lobos. It's the Villa-Lobos & His Contemporaries station on Radio Sonicnet. Click here to listen, and click here for more information on the composers you can hear: they include such important influences as Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, and such Villa-philes as Tom Jobim and Gilberto Gil.

Robert Bonfiglio interview

Harmonica virtuoso Robert Bonfiglio is one of today's biggest Villa-Lobos advocates. He has played the VL Harmonica Concerto more than 200 times, with symphony orchestras around the world. I had a chance to interview Robert by email recently.

Museu VL pictures

The Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro is the most important centre for Villa-Lobos research. Thanks to Villa-Lobos fan futura, we have some cool pictures of what's up at the Museu. Thanks, futura!

Villa-Lobos Conference in Paris

Here's an exciting announcement: plans for a major international Villa-Lobos Conference, which Prof. Eero Tarasti of Helsinki has shared with us earlier this year, have been finalized. Sponsored by the Institut Culturel Finlandais in Paris, the conference will take place on April 10-13, 2002.

There is more information on the Conference, in English and Portuguese, at the following website: