Sunday, November 6, 2011

Contagious Music

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos (1887-1959) has been one of my favorites since childhood. My introduction to him came at age 10 or 11, I think, with a record sent by my Aunt Liz for my birthday.

One of the pieces on it was Choros No. 10, part of what I later learned was a series of 12 pieces – one each for guitar and piano, one for horns and the rest for chamber ensembles and full orchestra. On the same record were two movements from Bachianas Brasileiras No.2; the Bachianas comprised nine pieces combining the method of Bach with native Brazilian music; they are probably Villa Lobos’ best known works. The toccata from No. 2 is a stunt piece, inspired by a narrow gauge railroad in the Caipira – the remote back country. Somebody created an appropriate video; it isn’t the railroad, or even the right country, but it’s the right vintage:

"Yes, I’m Brazilian – very Brazilian. In my music, I let the rivers and seas of this great Brazil sing. I don’t put a gag on the tropical exuberance of our forests and our skies, which I intuitively transpose to everything I write."

That’s how Villa Lobos is quoted at the head of an article for an online journal called Guitarra:

Although its focus is on guitar music, the article touches on the Choros in general. And of the tenth, it remarks:

Considered to be one of his masterpieces (if not his greatest work), Choros No. 10 utilizes the forces of an orchestra augmented with native Brazilian instruments and chorus to create a monument of nationalistic Brazilian music.

Villa Lobos’ Wikipedia entry has it that “The first European performance of Chôros No. 10, in Paris [1927], caused a storm: L. Chevallier wrote of it in Le Monde musicale, "[…it is] an art […] to which we must now give a new name." Be that as it may, the choral section of Choros No. 10 (Its subtitle, “Rasga o Coracão,” or “Tear the Heart,” is taken from a popular ballad) is certainly one of the most infectious pieces of music ever. Just look at how the singers, especially the women, are getting into it in this performance at São Paulo three years ago:

I’ve been infected for close on 60 years now. I hope I can spread that infection!

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