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Villa-Lobos
Biographical Note

 

November, 2004:

Please note that the Villa-Lobos Website is no longer being updated.

This resource will remain on the RDPL server.

 
I've been asked to explain how to properly pronounce Villa-Lobos' name. Here's the scoop from an expert, Brazilian pianist Ricardo Peres

"There is a fundamental difference between the way one pronounces names in Spanish and Portuguese (actually Brazilian......., although technically the language is Portuguese I myself always say that I speak BRAZILIAN....and the diplomats usually like the distinction.) Anyway, Villa-Lobos was a carioca, from Rio de Janeiro, where one speak the most "Brazilian Portuguese" imaginable. 

"The correct way to pronounce it is: 

"Vila - Veelah (where the lsounds just like an l in, say, love or life and the a is open mouthed, so to speak) Lobos- like it reads but where the final s sounds like a slight whistle."
 

Lobo-Guará, or Maned Wolf
The Lobo-Guará,
or Maned Wolf

 
The "wolf" in Villa-Lobos apparently comes from an originally Spanish surname, so it probably relates to a European animal.  But as Villa-Lobos felt so strong an identity as a Brazilian, he was probably aware of the beautiful animal pictured above, the Lobo-Guará, or Maned Wolf.  This animal is threatened with extinction; Brazil's zoos and various Government and environmental groups are working to re-introduce wolves into their natural habitat. 
Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1887. Learning music from his father, who was a widely-read, highly-cultured amateur of music (and a librarian[1] ), Villa Lobos by the turn of the century had turned himself into a professional musician. He earned his living as a cafe musician; his instrument was the cello. 
Raul Villa-Lobos, the composer's father
Raul Villa-Lobos,
the composer's father
Taruma Falls, Amazonia State
Taruma Falls,
Amazonia State
In 1905 Villa-Lobos made the first of his trips to Brazil's north-eastern states, to collect folk music.  Such trips would continue in the future, though Villa-Lobos spun a web of mystery around them; his own testimony of adventures with the cannibal tribes of the North-East is not always trustworthy. [2]Afterwards, he studied at the National Institute of Music in Rio de Janeiro, though his compositional style never conformed to any academic norms. His music remained always personal and idiosyncratic. As Villa-Lobos himself said many years later: "My music is natural, like a waterfall." Also: "One foot in the academy and you are changed for the worst!"  [3]
After another ethno-musicological trip to the Amazonian interior in 1912, Villa-Lobos returned to Rio de Janeiro. There, on November 13, 1915, he turned the city on its ear with a concert of his new music. By 1923, he had attracted enough official favour to win a government grant to study in Paris. On his return in 1930, Villa-Lobos was made director of music education in Rio de Janeiro.

Villa-Lobos was lionized from Los Angeles to New York to Paris...

Thus began Villa-Lobos' glorious second career: pedagogue of music for his country. He designed a complete system of musical instruction for generations of Brazilians, based upon Brazil's rich musical culture, and rooted in a deep and always explicit patriotism. He composed choral music for huge choirs of school children, often adaptations of folk material. His legacy in the Brazil of today, even amongst new generations brought up with the samba-schools or MTV, is a strong feeling of pride and love, intertwined with similar feelings for their country. This is surprising, considering that this is a "classical" composer dead now for more than 35 years; a North American parallel would be hard to find. 
In 1944, Villa Lobos made a trip to the United States to conduct his works, to critical and even some popular acclaim. Important new works were commissioned by American orchestras, and he even wrote a movie score for Hollywood, for the interesting 1945 film The Green Mansions. The 1940's were a period of triumph on an international scale. As a composer and conductor of his own music, Villa Lobos was lionized from Los Angeles to New York to Paris. In spite of his world travels, his home was always in Rio de Janeiro. There he died, on November 17, 1959.
Villa-Lobos with wine-glass
Villa-Lobos without his 
omni-present cigar - 
it must be in his other hand.
 One side at least of the character of Villa-Lobos the man is apparent in the many pictures that remain: so often in candid snaps Villa-Lobos has a cigar in one hand, and a glass of what seems likely to be strong drink in the other. He's usually smiling, probably at an amusing story he's just concocted about his trips up-river.
Julian Bream, master interpreter of Villa-Lobos' guitar music, gives this personal reminiscence[4]

"Villa-Lobos was larger than life, quite extraordinary. He didn't seem to be a composer. He wore loud checked shirts, smoked a cigar, and always kept the radio on, listening to the news or light music or whatever. Villa-Lobos wasn't refined in the intellectual sense, but he had a great heart."

Villa-Lobos playing pool
picture source
© Museu Villa-Lobos
Here was someone who enjoyed life. The joy is evident in so much of his music, as much as it is in the music of the other party animals of music, like Mozart (who also loved to play pool ) and Schubert. This joy is perhaps even more important to his continued world-wide popularity than the simple exotica of his "Latin" rhythms and his colourful nature painting. In the end his music, perhaps not as profound as that of some of his contemporaries, will endure because of its joy.
© 1997-8 Dean Frey. 


 
[1] His father worked at the National Library in Rio de Janeiro. See Lisa M. Peppercorn's article "Villa-Lobos, father and son," in her Villa Lobos: collected studies, 1992, p. 28. I'm collecting, for my kids' eventual use, the names of great people whose parents were librarians. So far I have Villa Lobos, the amusing Canadian novelist Farley Mowat, Canadian broadcaster Peter Gzowski and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. (Picture: the National Library in Rio de Janeiro.)
National Library of Brazil
The National Library 
in Rio de Janeiro
Indigo Girls
Here's one from a Villa-Lobos Website browser - Margo McCutcheon of Vancouver Island Regional Library let me know by e-mail the other day (following up on Bill Richardson's As You Like It CBC-Stereo program) that Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls is the daughter of a librarian.  Cool!
[2] For the lowdown on just what Villa Lobos was up to in the jungle, see Lisa M. Peppercorn's article "Villa-Lobos's Brazilian excursions," in her Villa Lobos: collected studies, 1992, p. 25. Her conclusion: "He was a courageous man, enterprising, energetic and audacious, an indefatigable, venturesome person all through his life. It is not impossible that he undertook at least part of these trips about which he boasted."
[3] As quoted in R. Gustafson's lovely remembrance of the last decade of Villa Lobos' life, "Villa-Lobos and the man-eating flower: a memoir." Musical Quarterly, 75:1-11, Spring 1991. The quotes are from p. 1 and p. 2.
[4] Quoted in Crampton, R., "Peace in limitations..", Vol. 322, Economist, 01-11-1992, pp 85. 


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