VILLA-LOBOS: Circlo Brasileiro / Choros Nos. 1, 2 and 5

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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

Piano Music, Volume 3

In discussing the legacy of Heitor Villa-Lobos the questionof nationalism versus universalism cannot be avoided. In previous volumes ofthis series, the influence of Brazilian culture on Villa-Lobos's piano workshas been addressed from various perspectives, and it is my intention to add tothis fundamental feature of his artistic development. Nationalism in thenineteenth century was associated with the political movements of the time. Inthe early twentieth century, it was invariably linked to a genuine concern inmusic for ethnographic research and the due preservation of cultural heritage.This view informed major ethnographic projects by Bartok, Kodaly, Stravinsky,and Villa-Lobos himself, who in 1905 started a series of research tripsthroughout Brazil. The manner in which this material was later incorporatedinto Villa-Lobos's works continues to generate scholarly interest because ofthe enormous variety of compositional procedures to which this material wassubjected. These techniques range from direct quotations to newly inventedthemes that have an unmistakable folk character, as the composer himselfacknowledged. Villa-Lobos conceived of nationalism as distinct from anypolitical implications: \Patriotism in music, and capitalizing upon it, is verydangerous. You will have propaganda instead. But nationalism - the power of theearth, the geographic and ethnographic influences that a composer cannotescape, the musical idioms and sentiment of people and environment - theseorigins, in my opinion, are indispensable to a vital and genuine art". Thisgenuine nationalism must also be distinguished from the superficially culturalveneer of exoticism. Villa-Lobos, however, sometimes seemed to capitalize onexoticism. He often remarked, for instance, that the Dansa do ?ìndio Branco, thelast piece in the suite Ciclo Brasileiro, was his musical portrait.

In doing so, he opened the door to the folklorisation of hislegacy, which can be detected not only in scholarly studies but in performancesof his works. Significantly, the Brazilian modernist writer Menotti del Picchiacoined the expression "an Indian wearing smoking" to refer to Villa-Lobos, nodoubt as a reference to the confluence of regional and cosmopolitan elements asa determinant of his style. Equally significant for an understanding ofVilla-Lobos's style is the fact that, throughout his career, he remainedfiercely independent from any direct influence. According to him, whenever hefelt that another composer's influence was taking root in his works, he wouldshake himself free from it. This sense of independence was sustained by alifetime of continuous study and self-discovery, and eventually led him todisdain any critical appreciation of his works, which he considered to be"letters written to posterity and to which he expected no answer". Heelaborated further on this notion, when responding to criticism about thedifficulty of some of his works: "I do not write in a dissonant style just tobe modern. What I write is a direct consequence of my studies, of the synthesisthat I have achieved in order to express the particular nature of Brazilianculture. I tested my studies against the heritage of Western music andeventually arrived at a middle ground that represents the individuality of myideas".

As before in this series, the works recorded in this volumeoffer a comprehensive sample of the genres and styles found in Villa-Lobos'spiano music. The majority of his compositions for this instrument consist ofcharacter pieces, single or organized into suites or collections. They reveal abewildering variety of formal procedures, but pieces belonging to the samegenre often share some structural framework that influences not only the natureof the musical material but also the dimensions of the work.

The Suite Floral is a relatively unknown work, in spite ofits great beauty. Written in 1917-18, it belongs to a phase of Villa-Lobos'scareer in which the influence of French impressionism is at its most prominent.The harmonies and sonorities of Idilio na Rede (Idyll in a Hammock) suggest ablend of Debussy and Faure, with no hint of a Brazilian idiom. The swingingrhythm and leisurely pace are particularly effective in suggesting theindolence of a warm afternoon as one dozes off in a hammock. The second piece,Uma Camponeza Cantadeira (A Singing Country Girl), has an interestingquintuplet figure in the left-hand accompaniment suggesting the uncertainty andwonder of the country girl. This device is a good example of Villa-Lobos'sability to paint a character with only a few strokes. The delicacy of the piecedoes not preclude an element of melancholy, which is soon dispelled by thejoyful rhythms and lively textures that characterize Alegria na Horta (Joy inthe Garden), the only piece in the Suite in which a distinctly Brazilianflavour is noticeable. The second piece of the Suite Floral was performed inone of the concerts organized during the Week of Modern Art in S?úo Paulo in1922.

The Ciclo Brasileiro, composed in 1936, is unquestionablyone of the most important works that Villa-Lobos wrote for the piano, arepresentation of the romanticism that characterized much of his work duringthe 1930s. The four pieces are musical snapshots of the Brazilian character andlandscape, each one alluding to a specific genre of Brazilian music. Theopening piece, Plantio do Caboclo (The Peasant's Sowing), is based on ahypnotic, hymn-like melody that unfolds through the arpeggiated chords in theleft hand, enveloped by an ostinato figure in the right hand. The calm atmosphereis disturbed only through the quick modulations of the central section, whichsoon give way to the sustained character of the opening. Impress?Áes Seresteiras(Impressions of a Serenade Musician) is a waltz built on an engaging melodywhose motives are fragmented and recombined in different ways throughout thepiece, often combined with sparkling virtuosity. The writing is highlyidiomatic, and the wide range of sonorities and textures creates a sharpcontrast with the uniform texture of the opening piece. The virtuoso Festa noSert?úo (The F?¬te in the Heartlands) is written in the manner of a toccata withelements from the traditional Brazilian dance batuque. Its harmonic vocabulary,which includes chords based on the whole-tone scale, is ingenuously offset byrhythmic writing of astonishing diversity. The polyrhythms of the centralsection support a languid melody in 5/4, creating a type of texture that wasparticularly favoured by Villa-Lobos in many of his piano works. The lastpiece, Dansa do ?ìndio Branco (Dance of the White Indian) is based on a fewostinato figures that have a distinctly percussive character. The work callsfor great virtuosity, especially in bringing out the melody embedded in thefierce succession of alternating chords. The harmonic vocabulary is primarilydiatonic, with the melodic motives centred in the key of A minor. This piecehas been explained as "the memory of how the composer met in a Brazilian foresta white Indian, who constantly danced and died", but this explanation does notseem plausible, given Villa-Lobos's own assessment of the work as his musicalself-portrait.

The six pieces that comprise the collection Brinquedo deRoda (Children's Round Games) date from 1912. They represent Villa-Lobos'searliest turn to childhood as a subject for his piano works. Each piece isbased on a traditional melody from Brazilian children's round games, which istreated in a simple texture that clearly differentiates between right and lefthands. The pieces may have had a didactic purpose, and in the delicacy of theirwriting they can be compared to the pieces collected in later works such as theCirandinhas and the Guia Pratic
Item number 8555286
Barcode 747313528622
Release date 06/01/2003
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Rubinsky, Sonia
Rubinsky, Sonia
Composers Villa-Lobos, Heitor
Villa-Lobos, Heitor
Producers Silver, Bonnie
Silver, Bonnie
Disc: 1
Choros No. 5, "Alma Brasileira"
1 I. Idilio na Rede
2 II. Uma Camponeza Cantadeira
3 III. Alegria na Horta
4 I. Plantio do Caboclo
5 II. Impressoes Seresteiras
6 III. Festa no Sertao
7 IV. Dansa do Indio Branco
8 I. Tira o seu pezinho
9 II. A moda da carranquinha
10 III. Os tres cavalheiros
11 IV. Uma, duas angolinhas
12 V. Garibaldi foi a missa
13 VI. Vamos todos cirandar
14 I. Farrapos
15 II. Kankukus
16 III. Kankikis
17 Tristorosa
18 Choros No. 1, "Tipico"
19 Choros No. 2
20 Choros No. 5, "Alma Brasileira"
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