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Heitor Villa-Lobos

Heitor Villa-Lobos

The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was the most prolific and original of those Brazilians who, during the 20th century, worked toward the development of a national idiom in serious music that incorporated African and Native American motifs.

Heitor Villa-Lobos was fascinated early by the popular music and samba rhythms of his native Rio de Janeiro at a time when gentility forbade such interests. Although his father, a college professor and librarian, had encouraged this interest, Villa-Lobos ran away from home at 16 to escape his widowed mother's attempt to keep him from developing further his musical talents.

Soon Villa-Lobos began drifting. He absorbed the folk music of whatever region he passed through, listening, mimicking, improvising, elaborating, and composing as he went. He traveled along the Amazon in a canoe, listening to the songs of tropical birds and the drums of the Indians. Although he occasionally enrolled for formal schooling, he found such experiences boring; he remained principally self-taught. In his 20s he lived for 3 years in the culturally diverse city of Bahia, where the Afro-Brazilian influence was strongest. Then he returned to Rio de Janeiro, where he studied European music on his own.

Meanwhile, Villa-Lobos experimented continuously and wrote a great deal, always seeking to express Brazilian qualities. His nationalism was reflected in the following incident. In 1923 wealthy friends raised money and sent him to Europe, but when upon his arrival he was asked what he had come to study, he replied, "I am here to demonstrate my own achievements." Indeed, Parisians showed more interest in his works than had Brazilians, perhaps because in Europe they were considered exotic. He remained in Paris for 7 years, composing some of his most important work.

Back in Brazil in the 1930s Villa-Lobos became a music educator, campaigning for the introduction of Brazilian music into the school curriculum and staging performances by massed a cappella choirs extolling nationalistic themes. The semiauthoritarian dictator Getulio Vargas gave him full support in this campaign, and Villa-Lobos's influence can still be seen in musical education in Brazil.

At this time Villa-Lobos composed the nine suites entitled Bachianas brasileiras. These are his best-known works; in all of them he used a contrapuntal and fugal technique superimposed upon typically Brazilian themes, although otherwise they are quite diverse. They are characterized by an impressive range, great power, melodic inventiveness, and controlled structure.

Villa-Lobos composed over 1, 500 works in almost every conceivable genre, including operas, ballets, church Masses, choral pieces, orchestral works, guitar solos, and movie scores. Not all his work is good, but at his best it is superb.

Further Reading

There is no serious book-length study of Villa-Lobos in English, although Vasco Mariz prepared a short summary, Heitor Villa-Lobos: Brazilian Composer (1963), a condensation of the author's biography published in Rio de Janeiro. Villa-Lobos is set in the larger context in Nicolas Slonimsky, Music of Latin America (1945). There is a section on the composer in Joseph Machlis, Introduction to Contemporary Music (1961).

Additional Sources

Behague, Gerard, Heitor Villa-Lobos: the search for Brazil's musical soul, Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1994.

Peppercorn, L. M. (Lisa Margaret), Villa-Lobos, London; New York: Omnibus; New York: Distributor, Music Sales Corp., 1989. □

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Villa-Lobos, Heitor

Villa-Lobos, Heitor (b Rio de Janeiro, 1887; d Rio de Janeiro, 1959). Brazilian composer. First mus. lessons from father, who taught him vc. Had harmony lessons 1907, otherwise self-taught, earning living by playing in cafés, etc. Played vc. in Rio opera and sym. orchs., absorbing influences from Russ. nationalists, Stravinsky, and Strauss, under whose baton he played in 1920. Befriended by Milhaud when latter was Claudel's secretary at Fr. embassy, and by Arthur Rubinstein, 1921, who played his pf. mus. Spent 1923–4 in Europe and 1927–30 in Paris where he was influenced by Satie and Milhaud and by fashionable neoclassicism. Result was series of works called Bachianas Brasileiras in which Baroque forms were re-created with Brazilian ‘local colour’. Returning to Brazil 1930, held series of official teaching posts. Founded Conservatório Nacional de Canto Orfeónico 1942 and Brazilian Acad. of Mus., 1945 (pres. 1945–59). Visited USA 1944 as cond. of own mus. Extremely prolific composer, with expected sharp variations in quality. Though his mus. suggests the folk idiom, he rarely, if ever, quoted a folk-song, relying instead on colour and rhythm to give Brazilian flavour. Melodist and romantic, he used the popular chôro form as a basis for series of works for various combinations of instr. and vv. with specific nationalist intent. Prin. works incl.:OPERAS: Izaht (1912–14); Yerma (1955–6).CHÔROS: No.1, gui, (1920); No.2, fl., cl. (1924); No.3, 7 winds, male ch. (1925); No.4, 2 hn., tb. (1926); No.5, pf. (1926); No.6, orch. (1926); No.7, 5 winds, vn., vc. (1924); No.8, 2 pf., orch. (1925); No.9, orch. (1929); No.10, orch., ch. (1925); No.11, pf., orch. (1928); No.12, orch. (1929); No.13, 2 orchs., band (1929); No.14, orch., band, ch. (1928). Also Chôros bis, vn., vc. (1928)BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS: 1. 8 vc. (1930); 2. The Little Train of the Caipira, chamber orch. (1934); 3. pf., orch. (1934); 4. pf. (1930–40) or orch. (1941); 5. v., 8 vcs. (1938); 6. fl., bn. (1938); 7. orch. (1942); 8. orch. (1944); 9. unacc. ch. or str. (1944).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 (1916), No.2 (1917), Nos. 3 and 4 (1919), No.5 (1920)—Nos. 3, 4, and 5 are a World War I trilogy, subtitled respectively ‘Guerra’, ‘Vitória’, and ‘Paz’—No.6 (Montanhas do Brasil) (1944), No.7 (Odisséia da paz) (1945), No.8 (1950), No.9 (1951), No.10 (Sume pater patrium), soloists, ch., orch. (1952), No.11 (1955), No.12 (1957); Suite Suggestive No.1 (1929); 4 Suites, Descrobimento di Brasil (Discovery of Brazil) (1936–7, 1942); New York Skyline (1940); vc. concs., No.1 (1915), No.2 (1953); 5 pf. concs. (1945–54); gui. conc. (1951); hp. conc. (1953); harmonica conc. (1955).CHAMBER MUSIC: 17 str. qts. (1915–58); 3 pf. trios (1911–18); 4 vn. sonatas (1912–23); Berceuse (1915); 2 vc. sonatas (1915, 1916); Nonet (1923); Sextetto mistico (1945).PIANO: Suite Infantil Nos. 1 and 2 (1912, 1913); A Prole do Bebê Nos. 1 and 2 (The Baby's Family) (1918, 1921); Rudepoema (1921–6, also for pf. and orch.); Saudades das Selvas Brasileiras (1927).GUITAR: 12 Études (1928); 5 Preludes (1940)

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Villa-Lobos, Heitor

Heitor Villa-Lobos (ā´tôr vē´lä-lô´bôs), 1887–1959, Brazilian composer, educated in Brazil but self-taught in composition. He developed an interest in Brazilian folk music, which became the strongest influence on his works. A series of compositions which he called Chôros, ranging from an instrumental solo to an orchestral work, employ a synthesis of the different modes of Brazilian folk and popular music. Outstanding are Chorôs No. 7 (1924), for strings and woodwinds, No. 10 (1926), for orchestra and chorus, and No. 11 (1928; premiere, 1942), for piano and orchestra. He visited Paris (c.1923–26), conducted various orchestras in Europe, and became well known there; but it was not until his music was played at the New York World's Fair (1939–40) that he became known in the United States. In 1932 he was appointed director of musical education in Brazil. He came to the United States (1944–45) to conduct various orchestras in performances of his works. His compositions, including five symphonies, several operas, concertos, chamber music, and songs, number about 2,000. Although these are of uneven quality, his best works, such as Bachiana's brasileira's No. 1 (1930), written in homage to Bach, display great originality and vitality.

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Villa-Lobos, Heitor

Villa-Lobos, Heitor (1887–1959) Brazilian composer and conductor. Villa-Lobos' Chôros compositions were influenced by Brazilian folk music and the music of Claude Debussy. His range of works includes operas, ballets, symphonies, religious and chamber music. His nine Bachianas Brasileiras are a Brazilian transcription of the music of J. S. Bach.

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