"I don't use folklore, I am the folklore"

Happy Birthday, Heitor Villa-Lobos!


Heitor Villa-Lobos was a Brazilian composer and arguably the most significant Latin American musician to date. Villa-Lobos drew from the style of classical European composers but also focused on developing a new, Brazilian musical culture. Villa-Lobos was a pioneer in Brazilian music and a patriot of his country. He wrote many orchestral, chamber and vocal pieces as well as composing for instruments including the piano, cello, classical guitar, harp and harmonica.

HeitorVillaLobos2Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 5th, 1887. During his childhood, the country was going through political change and revolution. The Empire of Brazil was overthrown in 1889 and this event saw a great ripple effect in the nation's arts culture. European music had been the main influence in Brazil's musical style. A young Villa-Lobos would listen to his father's musical evenings from the top of the stairs and later learned to play the cello, guitar and clarinet. Villa-Lobos supported himself and his family by playing music at the theatre and cinema orchestras around Rio de Janeiro.

In 1905, Heitor Villa-Lobos experimented with improvisations on the guitar and delved into a more Brazilian sound, descended from native folk music. Brazil's indigenous cultures included African, American Indian and Portuguese elements. Villa-Lobos traveled the country to explore this musical background. He also played with several street bands and denounced conventional training, instead focusing on improvisation. When Villa-Lobos met composer Arthur Napoleão dos Santos, he was inspired to settle down and focus on his compositions as a career.

Sinfonietta n.1 (1916)

Villa-Lobos' music began to be published in 1913. By this time, the composer had married pianist Lucília Guimarães and took a more serious approach to the creation and distribution of his work. Villa-Lobos' music was played in a series of chamber concerts between 1915 - 1921 but he was still struggling with the identity of his music. He couldn't decide whether it should sound more like the classic European music he had grown up with or explore traditional Brazilian influences. In 1916, Villa-Lobos composed the symphonies Amazonas and Uirapurú. Both were inspired by native Brazilian folk tales and legends.


Amazonas (1917)

Choro no. 1 for Guitar

HeitorVillaLobos4In 1917, Villa-Lobos met many renowned musicians who were traveling through Brazil. Sergei Diaghilev brought his Ballet Russes to Rio and it made quite an impact. He was also introduced to French composer Darius Milhaud and to Arthur Rubinstein. He would become close friends with Rubinstein and this motivated Villa-Lobos to write more material for the piano. In 1919 he wrote Carnaval das crianças (Children's carnival) about Rio's Lent Carnival. While it was written mostly for piano, it showed no trademarks of European romanticism.

In 1922, Villa-Lobos contributed work to the festival of modern art in São Paulo. He felt that the people of Brazil did not understand or appreciate this the new musical style, which would one day be referred to as "Brazilian Modernism". Villa-Lobos traveled to Paris where he met Edgard Varèse, Pablo Picasso, Leopold Stokowski and Aaron Copland. His music was performed in concerts and received very well. He wrote a Nonet entitled Impressão rápida do todo o Brasil (A Brief Impression of the Whole of Brazil), which displayed a mixture of musical techniques.


Choros n.2 (1924)

Choros n.6 (1926)

HeitorVillaLobos5In the 1920s, Villa-Lobos was commissioned to write a guitar study. He created a series of compositions called Chôros and introduced them to the world. Parisian critics were astounded by the music, which did not yet have a genre or category under which it could be described. In the 1930s, Villa-Lobos returned to Brazil and played a larger role in the nations politics. He became director of the Superindendência de Educação Musical e Artistica (SEMA), where he wrote patriotic and propagandist works, such as his Bachianas Brasileiras. The revolution and reign of dictator Getúlio Vargas meant that Villa-Lobos could not go back to Paris. Instead he played patriotic and education music around São Paulo. Some of the work he composed during this period included the educational Canto Orfeônico, a score for the documentary O Descobrimento do Brasil (The Discovery of Brazil) and A Música Nacionalista no Govêrno Getúlio Vargas about Brazil's sacred symbols. He also led a committee to create the definitive Brazilian National Anthem. Villa-Lobos's Invocação em defesa da pátria was written in 1943, right after Brazil declared war on Germany.

Bachianas Brasileiras #2

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 7 Complete

In the final years of his life, Villa-Lobos was commissioned to write compositions from many different sources. He managed to complete many of them, despite his bad health. He composed concertos for a range of different instruments and traveled to Paris, Israel, Great Britain and America. Heitor Villa-Lobos died in 1959 and his funeral in Rio was a major civic event. His music is still practiced and performed by orchestras today and his influence lives on as the first pioneer composer of a new, truly Brazilian music.


Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 05 March 2014
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