Villa-Lobos was born on the 5th March 1887 in a modest house in Rio de Janeiro. His fathers major interest was music, and he taught his son to play the cello (actually a viola adapted with a long spike) from a very early age. His interest in Bachs music started when at 8 years of age he heard his aunt play the well-tempered Clavier.
As a teenager he used to listen to the chorões, performances of typically Brazilian music played by small groups of popular musicians. At 18 he decided to go travelling to discover Brazil. He headed north, and went as far as Recife; in a second trip he went to the south. His longest trip began in 1910, when he joined an operetta company and stayed with them until they got to Recife where the company was dissolved. But he wanted to go on, and with a friend called Donizetti headed to Fortaleza and later to Amazon State, where they had contact with friendly Indians. Unfortunately, a lot of material he collected on this trip was lost when they capsized twice in the rivers of the region when they were traveling in a fragile canoe. When he arrived back in Rio two years later, his mother had already celebrated a mass for her sons soul! It is said that Villa-Lobos got engaged eight times during these trips, but in 1913 he married Lucilia Guimaraes, who was a competent pianist. At this time, French music was predominant in musical circles of Rio de Janeiro, and it was there that Villa-Lobos met Arthur Rubinstein in 1918, and started a lasting friendship. In 1922, Rubinstein gave the first performance of the suite Prole do Bebê No.1 in Rio de Janeiro. This delightful suite consists of eight pieces written in 1918. Each piece evokes a special kind of doll; Branquinha is the porcelain doll, delicate and sweet, then comes Moreninha, the papier-mâché doll, decided and insinuating. Caboclinha is the clay doll, dancing an Indian dance accompanied by the drums. Mulatinha is the rubber doll, elastic, dancing to an attractive rhythm. Negrinha is the wooden doll who cannot dance but can only walk monotonously, and yet involves us in the magic of her rhythmical steps. Pobrezinha is the rag doll, forgotten in a corner of the house. Then comes the Polichinelo, the most famous of the series, full of energy to the sound of a nursery tune familiar to all Brazilian children. The last one is Bruxa, the witch doll, riding on a broom and scaring the children...
The twenties began with a peaceful piece, Lenda do Caboclo, written in 1920. Caboclo is the racial mixture of the Indian with the white, and in this piece the temperament of the caboclo, dreamy and melancholic, is beautifully evoked. In 1923, Villa-Lobos went to Europe, to the Paris of Ravel, Stravinsky, Milhaud and Prokofieff. Among others, he met Segovia, who said that the twelve studies for guitar by Villa-Lobos are to the guitar what the Chopin studies are to the piano. An amusing incident occurred when an interview was published in the Intransigent in which Villa-Lobos was depicted as being captured by Indians and tied to a post with the man-eaters dancing and singing around him. This article, published just before he gave a concert at the Salle Gaveau, made the event a hit.
At this time, he was composing the Choros, a monumental series in which No.5 (1926) is for solo piano. Subtitled Brazilian Soul, it is a kind of psychological portrait of the Brazilian man, whose nature ranges from the peaceful and sweet to the wildest frenzy. In 1927 he returned to Paris for a longer stay, in order to solidify his contacts. In the middle thirties, he went back to Brazil, but could not avoid feeling frustrated by the realities of his native country. His attempts to create a Symphonic Concert Society failed after a number of concerts. He then considered returning to Paris, but a Government official began to take interest in the plans. The first move was a tour of 54 concerts, taking music to the countryside, but after two years trying to implement the teaching of music in the schools, he went to Rio de Janeiro as the director of the Artistic Musical Education Superintendence. He continued his quest for the introduction of choral music in schools, and organised concerts with school children in football stadiums. In 1940, there were 40,000 youngsters singing at the Vasco da Gama Stadium under his baton.
His cycle, Bachianas Brasileiras, was begun in 1930, and in this composition he tries to combine two major musical styles: the music by Bach, and that of the Choro-players. This explains the compositions two titles, one universal Bachian, the other local Brazilian. Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 was written between 1930 and 1941 for solo piano, and the Prelude starts with one of the most beautiful melodies he ever wrote. The Choral emerges tranquilly, whilst a melody in the upper register, which represents the call of the araponga (a bird of the sertao), makes an insistent accompaniment. In the Aria, Villa-Lobos uses a genuine folk melody from north-east Brazil, developing it in a middle section of strong rhythmical writing. The last one is the Dance - the only fast movement - in which he uses the miudinho, a dance from the Samba family.
During this period, he also wrote a number of impressive pieces such as the Brazilian cycle for piano. Even though he did not play the piano very well himself, he wrote remarkably well for the instrument, and this cycle is a good example of this very effective piano writing. It was at this time that his marriage to Lucilia broke down, and he begun to live with Arminda Neves de Almeida Mindinha, to whom the cycle is dedicated. It was written in 1936, and there are four pieces. The first, Plantio do Coboclo, shows the peasant in the countryside, and the triplets which appear throughout the piece represent the sound of the spade hitting the soil. The almost monotonous melody reflects the long work day, and the song which the peasant sings to himself. The second, Impressões Seresteiras, is in the serenade style, alternating a lyrical refrain with sections of an often passionate improvisatory character. The third one, Festa no Sertão, is often translated as Jungle Festival. However, Sertão is not the jungle, but an area far removed from the coast, a bushy and hot country frequently affected by droughts. The people who live there are very traditional, and in this case they gather for a party. The last one in the cycle, Dança do Indio Branco, is considered to be a self-portrait of the composer, where he has tried to create the white man freed from all the preconceptions of society.
In November 1944, Villa-Lobos made his first visit to the United States, and the following year conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a concert devoted exclusively to his music. After this, he divided his time between America and Europe (New York and Paris), but in 1948 he became ill, and had to undergo surgery in the United States. Despite this, he continued to travel and compose, and on his 70th birthday the New York Times published an editorial to celebrate Villa-Lobos as one of the greatest living composers of the time.
He died in Rio de Janeiro on 17th November 1959, and Mindinha was later able to create the Villa-Lobos Museum there to preserve and expand his musical legacy. According to Villa-Loboss own words, the only thing he searched for all his life was not culture and orthodox knowledge, but for music which came directly from the heart. The heart is lifes metronome.
Following the footsteps of former South American female pianists Teresa Carreno, Guiomar Novaes, Magda Tagliaferro and the legendary Martha Argerich, Clélia Iruzun is one of today's greatest Brazilian piano recitalists.
Clélia's childhood was spent growing up in the colourful and cultural world of Rio de Janeiro where she started her studies at four years of age. Soon it became clear she needed to spread her wings and she moved to London where she was taught by distinguished teachers such as Maria Curcio, Noretta Conci, Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy of music and the late Mercês de Silver Telles, in Paris, who studied with Claudio Arrau. In Addition, Ms Iruzun has received invaluable guidance and support from internationally recognised pianists such as Nelson Freire, the late Jacques Klein, Fou Ts'ong and Stephen Kovacevich.
Clélia won many awards in Brazil and in Europe, such as the Tunbridge Wells Piano Competition in the UK, the Paloma O'Shea in Santander and Pilar Bayona in Zaragoza.
Even from the early years of her career, Clélia's stunning piano playing caught the attention of prominent musical figures such as Francisco Mignone who wrote a Suite especially for her.
Her appearances have taken her all over Europe, the Americas and Asia, including recitals and concerto performances at the Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Teatro Cultura Artistica in São Paulo, Theatro Municipal and Sala Cecilia Meireles in Rio de Janeiro, the Konserthusets of Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, the Grand Theatre in Shanghai and the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing.
In between such engagements, Clélia also regularly appears in radio and television broadcasts in several countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, France, Sweden, Spain, China and the UK, as well as spending time in the recording studios, having released seven Cds ranging from Villa-Lobos to Mendelssohn Concertos.
Although she returns home to Brazil two or three times a year, Clélia has made London her home where she lives with her husband and her two children.