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.

Monday, April 25, 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.

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:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

O Descobrimento do Brasil with live orchestra

This would be great to see live: a showing of the classic 1937 film by Humberto Mauro O Descobrimento do Brasil, with a live orchestra playing Villa-Lobos's score. This short feature shows Roberto Duarte talking about the April 2016 performances of the film with the Orquestra Sinfônica Nacional da UFF.

I see that back in 2005 the L’Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse did the very same thing. It would be cool if this became more common, like live orchestral performances of The Hobbit or Star Wars or the great What's Opera, Doc? cartoon with Bugs Bunny. Villa's Descobrimento music is outstanding, and I know Mauro is touted as a pioneer of Brazilian film, but one has to make allowances for both the relatively primitive cinematic technique and the attitudes of the day. I wonder if the full orchestra might overpower the screen image. Still, I'd love to see and hear this!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Brian Asawa RIP

So sad to hear of the death of the marvellous singer Brian Asawa.  The Aria from BB#5 and two Villa-Lobos songs were highlights of his 1999 album Vocalise, with ASMF and Sir Neville Marriner.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Villa-Lobos at the Proms

It was great to see three (3!) Villa-Lobos works - all from the Bachianas Brasileiras series - included in the recently released programme for the 2016 BBC Proms, which take place from July 15 to September 10. A major focus of the Proms will be South America, due in part to the overlap between the Proms and the 2016 Olympics, which take place in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to August 21. Though 2016 is the Centennial year of Alberto Ginastera, there's only a single work of his: the ballet Ollantay, played by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena in Prom 24 on August 2.

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.

There hasn't been as much excitement about a Proms schedule amongst Villa-Lobos fans since 2009, when Choros no. 10 was featured in the Last Night of the Proms. "Excellent fare for the Last Night!"

Monday, April 11, 2016

Villa-Lobos in Montreal

The caption of this photo from the Museu Villa-Lobos gives a date of 1951, but I believe this might have been from Villa's visit to the Great White North the following year. There's a short clip online that might be the beginning of this interview. Unfortunately TVCultura no longer has the "Fala, Villa-Lobos" feature, but I have it captured on Tumbling Villa-Lobos (go here to listen).
In 1952 Villa-Lobos visited Canada.  Here’s his introduction on the International Service of CBC’s Radio-Canada, from Montreal.   The announcer welcomes Villa-Lobos, who seems to be suffering from a bad cold, and who will be giving a press conference shortly (I’ll have to look for reports in the Montreal paper archives).  When asked what school of composition he is connected to, Villa-Lobos replies “Mine”.  And when asked what kind of school it is, he says: “every year I found a new school.”
It’s all completely typical of Villa-Lobos.  [thanks to TV Cultura’s “Fala, Villa-Lobos” feature for this]
On this visit Villa-Lobos conducted the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal at Plateau Hall in a concert of his own music, along with pieces by Chilean Humberto Allende and Argentina's Ernesto Drangosch.

One of the most important Canadian connections for Villa-Lobos was the pianist Ellen Ballon, to whom he dedicated his First Piano Concerto. She played the Canadian premiere at Plateau Hall in 1953, with the OSM under Désiré Defauw. (The world premiere was in 1947 with the Dallas Symphony under Antal Dorati).

This somewhat startling sculpture of Ellen Ballon by Jacob Epstein (1938) is at Dalhousie University in Halifax, but there's also a version in the Strathcona Music Building on the McGill campus in Montreal.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Patriotism, progress and crisis

This is a very fine CD from one of my favourite Brazilian guitarists, Alvaro Henrique. It's a good chance to learn a bit about what's up with Brazilian composers after Villa-Lobos. Here we have Jorge Antunes, Mario Ferraro and Carlos Alberto da Silva, in an album with the theme of the creation and history of Brasilia.

Henrique begins patriotically with his own arrangement for guitar of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Grand Triumphal Fantasy on the Brazilian National Anthem. This was a pleasant surprise. You expect empty jingoism from something like this. It's virtuosic enough, but there's more substance than expected in this surprisingly intimate and sometimes moving piece.

I'm not an expert in these matters, but I know that Brasilia means more to Brazilians than Ottawa means to Canadians, or Washington (in a positive or a negative way) to Americans. The "spirit of Brasilia" is the theme of Carlos Alberto Silva's Reconstruction of Brasilia, an updating of the original spirit for the 21st century. Alternating progress and crisis, political and economic, doesn't change the underlying love of Brazilians for their country. Mario Ferraro's Little Suite from Brasilia paints pictures of real beauty of the landscapes before and after the city's construction.

The highlight of the disc, though, is Jorge Antunes' important work Brasilia 50. Each movement of this work (which I assume is a still in progress) represents a year in the history of Brasilia and the Brazilian and world events that affect it. In 1963, which has amazing relevance for politics around the world today, Antunes includes a snippet of a speech by John F. Kennedy: "Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions." This is interrupted, of course, by gunshots, and Antunes adds a haunting guitar coda. Other years include speeches in Portuguese, and though one might not know the content, sound effects and the guitar commentary help to provide context and musical interest. 1974 begins with the light but always sad fado music of Portugal, and is once again interrupted by ominous sounds. This time it has a happier outcome: the Carnation Revolution.

This is a fascinating project, and I hope to hear the years from 1976 to 2010 some time in the future.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Yerma from Manaus

In April 2010 the Amazonas Filarmônica under Marcelo de Jesus presented Allex Aguilera's production of Villa's opera Yerma in the famous Opera House in Manaus. The entire production is available on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. This is impressive music: top-drawer Villa-Lobos!

Here are the complete credits:

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Ópera em três atos
Libreto do compositor, baseado na obra de Federico Garcia Lorca
Yerma – Ana Lucrecia Garcia
Juan – Marcello Puente
Maria –Isabelle Sabrié
Victor – Homero Velho
1ª velha – Keila de Moraes
2ª velha – Elaine Martorano
3ª velha – Elmiza Carvalho
4ª velha – Regina Santiago
5ª velha – Lincoln Pires
6ª velha – Kelly Fernandes
1ª moça – Patrícia Botelho
2ª moça – Carol Martins
1ª lavadeira - Jaiana Silva
2ª lavadeira - Lídia Mendes
3ª lavadeira – Carolina Herculano
4ª lavadeira - Thalita Azevedo
5ª lavadeira - Dhijana Nobre
6ª lavadeira - Thelvana Freitas
1ª cunhada – Miriam Abad
2ª cunhada – Raquel Brasil
Dolores – Elaine Martorano
1ª mulher – Tamar Freitas
2ª mulher – Marinete Negrão
1º homem – Cristiano Silva
2º homem – Eli Soares
Macho – Randal Oliveira
Fêmea – Priscilla Pinheiro
Menino – Marlon de Souza Pereira
Menina – Marília Rodrigues Pinheiro
Voz feminina interna – Elane Monteiro
Companhia de Dança do Amazonas
Coral Infantil do Liceu de Artes e Ofícios Claudio Santoro
Coral do Amazonas
Amazonas Filarmônica
Direção Musical e Regência: Marcelo de Jesus
Direção Cênica e Figurinos: Allex Aguilera
Coreografia: Monique Andrade
Iluminação: Moisés Vasconcelos

Theatro Amazonas, photo by Pontanegra, Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Brazilian Sonorities

Back in 2009 I posted here about the Poema de Itabira, which Villa-Lobos wrote for Marian Anderson in 1938. Anderson never recorded the piece, and by 2009 there was no recording available. I did link to a fine performance on YouTube by baritone Renato Mismetti and pianist Maximiliano de Brito. Here, seven years later, is the song on CD & MP3.

This really is a fine song, with what seems to be a powerful text by the great poet, Itabira-born Carlos Drummond de Andrade. And it's part of a fine concert with music by Osvaldo Lacerda, Almeira Prado, Marlos Nobre, Kilza Setti, Violetta Dinescu and Renata Birnstein.