Redating the Choros of Heitor Villa-Lobos, by Luis Fernando Lopes

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From the Latin American Music Center's "Composer and Community: An Inter-Disciplinary Colloquium" (Dec. 4-5, 2004).

Redating the Choros of Heitor Villa-Lobos

Luis Fernando Lopes
Musicology
Skidmore College

Abstract:

The Choros, a monumental series of fourteen works planned in an increasing order of musical and instrumental complexity, are widely regarded as Villa-Lobos's most significant contribution to twentieth-century music. As exemplified by Olin Downes's allusion to Choros No. 8 as the "Sacre du printemps of the Amazonas," the series is often described as combining European modernism and a holistic blend of the diverse musical traditions from Brazil. Even though most scholars have accepted the composition of the Choros as dating from the 1920s--the period of Villa-Lobos's two extended sojourns in Paris--the fact that no less than five large-scale orchestral works from the series were premiered only after 1942 has raised doubts about when some of the Choros were actually written. This paper provides the evidence that is currently lacking.

Drawing on a variety of hitherto unexamined archival materials from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Paris, I will show that Choros Nos. 6, 9, 11, and 12 were completed only between 1936-44--or later, in the case of the overture-like Introdução aos Choros--and share stylistic traits with the neoclassical Bachianas brasileiras (1930-45). While it is known that the worldwide crisis that ensued after the New York Stock Exchange Crash of 1929 forced Villa-Lobos to return to his country in 1930 and to remain based there until after World War II, I argue that these circumstances also thwarted the composition of the works I identified as the late orchestral Choros . With exception of the supposedly lost Choros Nos. 13 and 14, which likely never progressed beyond a couple of surviving excerpts and verbal descriptions, I propose that the late Choros were eventually completed taking into account the conservatism of Brazilian audiences and the overt nationalism of the Vargas dictatorship (1937-45). In conclusion, my revised chronology for the Choros provides a viable explanation for the stylistic incongruities that exist between the late works in the series and the early ones (especially the more avant-garde Nos. 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 10, as well as Choros bis ) unquestionably composed and premiered during the roaring 20s.