VILLA-LOBOS: Music for Solo Guitar
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Complete Music forSolo Guitar
Choros No. 1; Suitepopulaire bresilienne; ?ëtudes; Preludes
Though there are barely forty guitar pieces amongst the thousand or soworks contained in Villa-Lobos's catalogue, they would have been enough, byreason of their exceptional quality, to make him one of the most importantcomposers of guitar music of the 20th century. They are the result of acenturies-old inheritance together with personal compositional principles opento progress.
Whether Indian, White or Black, the peoples that make up Brazil havealways been musicians. Brought by the Jesuits and the colonizers, the guitarvery quickly became a favourite instrument in the country, in popular as wellas classical music. In Villa-Lobos's time, European themes were mixed with thecountry's folk music. In his native Rio, the composer would play together withstreet musicians and became an excellent guitarist, accompanying the smallinstrumental groups which improvised on fashionable themes in the"Ch??ros" form, and with the "seresteiros" (serenaders).
"We made a logical, not scholarly, counterpoint, far superior to anyclassical counterpoint", the composer said later, with his characteristicmalice. Amongst the forms which he cultivated, the "Suite popularbrasileira" (1908-12) immortalizes the improvisations in question in theirrelative rhythmic simplicity. Thence the subtitles of the four first pieces:mazurka, schottisch (a kind of polka very much in vogue during the 19th century),waltz, gavotte. The last piece, "ch??rinho", is a miniature ch??ros.
Many explanations of the term "Ch??ros" have been given.
Villa-Lobos explained that the Brazilian is "very sentimental, notromantic, and that the term in question came from the Portuguese verb"chorar", meaning "to cry". For Turibio Santos, this cryingmay also be found in vibrato on the upper strings of the instrument. The"Ch??ros No 1" from 1920 forms the portico of a series of fourteencompositions employing the same title (always in the plural). Conceived fordifferent groups, they culminate with orchestra and choir. The first in theseries is symbolic. Dedicated to Ernesto Nazareth, it is inspired by themelodic formulations of these musicians, and its rondo form is in the samespirit. The Parisian years, from 1923 onwards, were an unprecedented period ofafirmation which placed him in the first rank of the avant-garde. It was in1929 that he wrote the Twelve Etudes. Here it is worthwhile making a detourback to the composer's youth. On the death of his father, who had givenVilla-Lobos his first musical training, his mother wanted him to become adoctor. As she had confiscated all his musical materials, he was obliged towork in secret, to work out on the guitar pieces by Haydn, Bach and Chopin. Inthis way he developed a special guitar technique. At the time, Andres Segoviafound the Etudes unplayable, but after he had assimilated them the greatguitarist recognized that Villa-Lobos had a deep knowledge of the instrument,"If he chose a particular fingering for the performance of a phrase, weshould follow his indications, even at the cost of great technical effort,Villa-Lobos has presented the history of the guitar with the fruits of histalent, as great as that of Scarlatti or Chopin." It was in 1953, whenthey were published, that the composer finally dedicated the etudes to Segovia.
Assuredly, they are in themselves a veritable catalogue of innovations, ofstrange effects in their use of styles ranging from black incantations to themodinha (a Luso-Brazilian sentimental song), in a great variety of rhythms. Onthe other hand, the com?¡positional basis is close to Chopin, who, as EeroTarasti has written, had increased in his etudes the technical and sonicpossibilities of the piano. The three first are devoted to different ways ofplaying in arpeggios - the first evokes the playing of a guitarist in a ch??rosensemble; the fifth explores the polyphonic possibilities of the instrument.
The seventh is innovative in various technical ways, which is also the casewith the eighth, with its dramatic contrasts. While the ninth adopts thevariation principle, the tenth is more complex by virtue of its use ofpolyrhythms. Generally considered as being highly Brazilian in character, theeleventh, one of the most attractive and evocative, is the peak of the series.
The twelfth contains dazzling glissando effects.
Dedicated to Mindinha (Arminda, the composer's second wife), the FivePreludes of 1940 form a highly attractive collection in the richness of theirinspiration. Turibio Santos has pointed out the use in these pieces ofprocedures typical of Jo?úo Pernambuco, one of Villa-Lobos's colleagues amongstthe popular musicians, whose compositions became fashionable at the beginningof the 1920s. The melancholy of the opening prelude in E minor is contrastedwith a highly Brazilian atmosphere. The arpeggiated Prelude in E major depictsthe capadocio (rogue) in Bachian style, and owes its popularity to thesuggestive atmosphere in the style of the Bachianas Brasileiras and thelyricism of modinhas. The penultimate piece, in E minor, reflects the primitiveIndian soul, which haunted Villa-Lobos throughout his life. It is of a dramaticseriousness and intensity. In the slow waltz of the fifth prelude in D major,the composer's malicious wit comes through when he declared that he had therebyrendered "homage to social life, in other words, fashionable, affectedyoung people, frequenting the concerts and theatres of Rio de Janeiro."
English translation: Ivan Moody