Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was the first Brazilian composer to obtain international recognition. He is considered not only the greatest Brazilian composer of all time, but also an important musical educationalist.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, he started to learn the ’cello on a viola adapted by his father. Later, he also played the piano, the guitar
and several wind instruments. Street songs and popular musicians (Chorões) formed a substantial part of his background and his
exposure to Brazilian popular music was complemented by a detailed knowledge of the great masters. In addition to his well
documented reverence for J. S. Bach, Villa-Lobos came under the influence of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky whilst living in
Paris in the 1920’s which, however, only served to enhance his innovative personal style.
In 1920 he created a new form of musical composition, “Choros”. According to Villa-Lobos, this form is characterised by its
synthesis of the different modalities of Brazilian, native Indian and popular Music. Fourteen choros in all, written for a variety of
instruments including guitar, piano and orchestra, were premiered in Paris to considerable acclaim.
Villa-Lobos as a composer was prolific. He wrote more than 1000 works including 20 string quartets, numerous quintets, trios,
works for cinema & theatre, symphonic works, concerti, masses, oratorios, cantatas and operas.
This new compilation of the complete works for ’cello and piano reveals a fascinating juxtaposition of cultural and musical
values as it spans 33 years of Villa-Lobos’ creative period.
The Pequena suite and the Prelúdio no. 2, both dating from 1913, derive from a period when the rich middle classes of Rio were
faithful consumers of European art. At the same time as Villa-Lobos was exposed to classical and romantic authors, he was
traveling through savage lands full of history, collecting data from Brazilian folklore. In a trip to Amazonas, he met a young
British girl, fell in love and decided to sail with her to the USA. The ship anchored in Barbados for repairs, and the couple
managed to lose all their money gambling. In order to survive on the island, Villa-Lobos had to improvise concerts, playing his
’cello in bars and cabarets accompanied by his girlfriend on the piano. It is to these heady and impecunious times that these
early compositions for ’cello and piano are attributed.
At the time of the First World War, the influence of post-impressionism was beginning to reach Brazil, and this may account for
Villa-Lobos' seemingly audacious and innovative harmonic treatment of Sonhar (1914), Berceuse (I915), Capriccio (1915) and
The popular O Canto do Cisne Negro (1917), written for violin or 'cello with piano accompaniment, is an excerpt from the
symphonic poem Naufrágio de Kleônicos. A rippling seventh arpeggio on the piano depicts the lake with the black swan
emerging molto espressivo on the 'cello. The gradual morrendo portrays the last efforts of the swan to sing its song.
The Divagation was written much later, in 1946. The rhythmic figures, derived mainly from Brazilian folklore, include imitative
effects of percussion instruments with the ad libitum directive avec tambour.
Written between 1930 and 1945, the nine Bachianas Brasileiras, as their title suggests, were intended as a homage to Bach. Burle
Max states: "His admiration for Bach did not lead him to imitation, but rather to a rendering of his style in the Brazilian idiom...
It is in scope and intensity of feeling that he approaches the spirit of Bach".
Bachianas Brasileiras no. 2 was written in four movements, three of which he transcribed for 'cello and piano. In the first
movement, Prelúdio - (O Canto do Capadócio), the composer evokes the figure of the Capadócio. This unusual word is used to
describe a bohemian: someone malicious, a charlatan or fraudulent. The Capadócio's character, according to Villa-Lobos, has
various psychological manifestations: sentimental and dramatic, lyric, pathetic and tragic. The second movement, Aria - (O Canto da Nossa Terra) - "The Song of Our Land", opens passionately with a Largo in D minor. In the central part, a nostalgic melody is initiated over a persistent rhythmic pattern on the piano, reminiscent once more of native songs and rhythms. The four bars of the Largo are restated and the first section is heard again, before concluding on a unison. The work is completed by the Tocata - (O Trenzinho do Caipira), - "The Little Train of Caipira", which has become one of the composer's most popular pieces.
Villa-Lobos uses complex rhythmic figures to reproduce the sound of a departing train followed by its arrival at the station. He
starts with the piano in tempo un poco moderato, employing gradually quicker rhythmic figures, communicating the impression
of an accelerando. With this background, the 'cello gives life to the piece through a simple folkloric melody, later reproduced by the piano. A reversal of the rhythmic figures is employed to stop the train with added harmonics to emulate the breaking as it arrives at the station. This movement is said to have preceded the others and to have been conceived during a local train journey within the state of São Paulo.
However unfamiliar some of Villa-Lobos’ works remain to the world at large, the Aria (Cantilena), from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5, has enjoyed universal popularity for its beguilingly beautiful melody. Based on a poem by Ruth V. Correa, this piece was originally written in 1938 for soprano and ’cello orchestra. The opening pizzicati in 5/4 might have been scored with the guitar in mind, and Villa-Lobos did subsequently produce a transcription with guitar accompaniment. The scene is set for the Aria whose seamlessly unfolding melody introduces and concludes the movement. The poem is reserved for the middle section and its intensely nostalgic sentiment is matched by an accompaniment of poignant dissonance. All that remains is for the soprano to return to the Aria, humming with her mouth closed.
© Tânia Lisboa & Miriam Braga
TÂNIA LISBOA's career as a soloist has taken her to the United States, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Poland, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, England and her native Brazil. Acknowledged as one of Brazil's foremost musical talents, she was initially winner of national piano competitions, subsequently gaining wider recognition as a solo cellist. After obtaining her piano and cello Diplomas at the Conservatoire of Tatui in Brazil, she was awarded first prize in several competitions, together with grants from the British Council and the Brazilian Government, to completed her Postgraduate studies in Europe. She attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, City University (MA) and University of Sheffield (PhD in Music) working with renowned cellists such as Raphael Wallfisch, Richard Markson and Maud Martin-Tortelier respectively.
In conjunction with her international prominence as a solo performer, she is currently a member of staff in the Centre for the Study of Music Performance at the Royal College of Music in London. Miss Lisboa broadcasts regularly for Radio and TV in Brazil, Mexico, the USA, and the BBC in England, in addition to her various recordings for Meridian Records.
MIRIAM BRAGA's career as a concert pianist was launched after obtaining coveted prizes in the "Concurso Francisco Mignone Duos Pianisticos" and in the "Prêmio Eldorado de Música" in Brazil. Her prizes included concerts at the Villa-Lobos Society in Japan, leading to the establishment of her celebrated Duo "FortePiano", which has recently released "Brasileiras", a CD of Brazilian Music.
Trained in her native Brazil, Ms Braga studied with Amaral Vieira, Lina Pires de Campos, Homero Magalhães and Heitor Alimonda. She completed her BA Arts at the Faculty São Judas Tadeu in São Paulo, and her MA at the UFRJ in Rio de Janeiro. She has broadcast extensively on radio and television and appears regularly as soloist with the principal Brazilian Symphony Orchestras.
Ms. Braga is currently Professor at the Conservatoire of Tatuí, São Paulo, where in addition to her piano class, she lectures on Music Perception and Stage Performance.