Glorious Hector

July 7 2014

I have celebrated Villa-Lobos occasionally in this blog. One day I will write a long piece about this wildly uneven artist, the last great twentieth-century composer to receive his due. Here are a few short works of his. They do not show his full range.

Charm (I do wish Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could pick up a guitar): the Gavota-choro in Suíte popular brasileira, more often called Suite populaire brésilienne, because he published it in France in the ’50s as a collection of pieces written in his youth. This is from 1912. I love Fabio Zanon’s playing; Bream is too artful here:

Modernism: Chôros 7, 1924. Chorões were street musicians in Rio at the turn of the century, instrumentalists without voices. Choro means weeping. I think I am getting the Portuguese accents right. Villa-Lobos wrote a series of compositions in the ’20s called Chôros (plurale tantum). They are for anything from one instrument to orchestra with voices and can last for anything from a couple of minutes to over an hour. Number 7, called Setemino (Seventh), is for seven players – violin, cello, saxophone, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon (Daniel Guilet, Bernard Greenhouse, Vincent Abato, Paul Renzi Jr, Paolo Renzi, Bernard Portnoy, Elias Carmen) – and offstage tam-tam (William Blankfort; it doesn’t sound offstage here) under Izel Solomon (a US ensemble, I think):

[Postscript. Since that is now private, here is a performance by OCAM Ensemble (no more information about the group is given):]

The grand pianistic manner, though this is restrained, and fine, playing by Isabel Mourão, Brazilian, in 1953. Impressões seresteiras (Impressions of a Serenader) from the Ciclo brasileiro of 1936:

And a bassoon concertino of which Richard Strauss would not have been ashamed, the Ciranda das sete notas of 1933, with its unforgettable opening phrase. That means round dance on seven notes. Three identifiable sections. Lobosian string harmonies. As with all good bassoon writing, the soloist seems to be a human voice, the instrument is saying things that we can almost understand as words. I like the delicacy of this performance. Others drive it too hard. Orquesta de Cámara del Conservatorio Superior de Música de Aragón, Zaragoza, under Rolando Prusak, Stefano Canuti bassoon; this is worth your calm and alert eleven minutes:

Why should we not end with the remarkable and haunting, however tired we may be of hearing it, fifth Bachianas brasileiras? Plurale tantum. It was composed for soprano and eight cellos. The first movement, called Ária (Cantilena), is the well-known one, from 1938. It starts as a vocalise. Then there are some words about the moon, by Ruth Corrêa. Then the soprano returns to the tune and hums. It must all have irritated Stravinsky.

The second, less Bachian, part, from 1945, is called Dança (Martelo), with lyrics by Manuel Bandeira. But let’s have the Ária. I am not sure that it has ever had its ideal interpreter. There are the two sopranos with whom Villa-Lobos recorded the piece: Bidu Sayão and Victoria de los Angeles. You can hear it with Joan Baez, who is led by Maurice Abravanel. Or with Natania Davrath, who is led by Leonard Bernstein. Some versions use more than eight cellos. Here is Bidu Sayão:

Afterthought: opening credits of O Índio de Casaca (The Indian in a Tailcoat), director Roberto Feith, a documentary shown on Rede Manchete, 1987, give a sense of the man and of his presence in Brazilian society. Start at 1:55 and watch the first minute. At 2:50 he is coming out of hospital near the end of his life. The music is a sultry passage from the second Bachianas:

3 Responses to “Glorious Hector”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The 1948 Fantasia for tenor saxophone and chamber orchestra is a kind of companion to the bassoon Ciranda, but not its equal.

    Fabio Zanon is pretty much an ideal Villa player in the whole œuvre. His CDs of all the solo works are one of the great recordings of the post-Segovia/Bream era. He varies the chronology to play the Études last, which puts the recital on a rising curve of difficulty. He also convinces one that the Études are a single work, on a Bachian scale, and can be heard together.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    BBC Radio 4 announces this, without mentioning Villa-Lobos, which seems almost actionable:

    Playing the Skyline
    Ep 1/3

    Monday 14 July
    9.00am-9.30am
    BBC RADIO 4

    On old nautical charts, as well as the bird’s eye view of the coastline, there is often a coastal profile – the outline of the land seen from the point of view of a sailor approaching it.
    The programme’s producer Julian May was struck by the musicality of these shapes, the undulations of hills are melodic, the spacing of landmarks – trees, church spires – rhythmic. Why not, he thought, take the line dividing sky from land, place it on music manuscript paper, and ask musicians to play the skyline?

    Half a dozen prominent musicians have been intrigued by this – including jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine, the Scottish composer James MacMillan, Julie Fowlis, leading light of Gaelic song, and Anna Meredith, who was commissioned to create an electronic piece for the Last Night of the Proms.

    Tim Marlow presents three programmes in which two musicians look at the skyline, talk about their initial responses, then begin playing their skyline. He catches up with them to hear how they are getting along and, finally, they all hear for the first time each other’s finished pieces and consider what they have made.

    In the first programme Courtney Pine and the composer Anna Meredith, who was commissioned to write a piece for the last night of the Proms, join Tim on the Millennium Bridge in the middle of London. They consider the view from St Paul’s, past the Walkie Talkie and new buildings of the City, with Tower Bridge in the background and Canary Wharf in the distance, to the Shard.

    They speak about their responses, what intrigues them, and discuss how they they will render such a dramatic skyline, with all its history and physical variety, in sound.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Published during the World Cup.


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