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String Quartet Cycle

The Complete String Quartet Cycle by Heitor Villa-Lobos

The following essay comes from a posting to the rec.music.classical newsgroup by Saul Bitran, 1st violinist of the Cuarteto Latinamericano.  It is reprinted here with Saul's permission.
As part of the 26th Festival Internacional Cervantino, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano from Mexico will perform the 17 string quartets by Heitor Villa-Lobos in five concerts (October 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25, in Guanajuato, Mexico). The ensemble is currently recording the cycle for Dorian Records, and the first three volumes are already in the market. 
According to Marcelo Rodolfo, of the Villa-Lobos 
Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this will be the first performance ever of the Brazilian composer's complete quartet cycle.

These 17 works are a landmark in the 20th century chamber music output...

These 17 works are a landmark in the 20th century chamber music output, not only quantitatively,  (an amount equaled only by Milhaud and Shostakovich), but especially because of their high quality. Villa-Lobos wrote quartets throughout his lifetime, allowing us to follow the composer's musical development step by step. The first Quartet was written in 1915 and the last one in 1957, only two years before his death. 
Even though all quartets share some common features  (richness of timbre, virtuosic instrumental writing, an astonishing abundance of melodic material, the nostalgic character of the slow movements, among others), they clearly reflect three groups, defined both stylistically and chronologically: 
  Quartets 1 to 6 (1915 to 1938) share the unmistakable influence of popular Brazilian music, French Impressionism and the interest for unusual performance techniques and original sonorities (abundant use of pizziccatti, harmonics, mutes, etc).

...an unparalleled milestone in 20th Century quartet literature...

The second group, (Quartets 7 to 9, 1941 to 1945) represents the pivotal part of the cycle. The depth of their expression, their harmonic sophistication, its counterpointal richness, the high level of instrumental difficulty and sheer length make them an unparalleled milestone in 20th Century quartet literature. 
The last seven quartets, (Quartets 10 to 17, 1946 to 1957) mark a return to a simpler, almost neoclassical compositional approach. The counterpoint becomes transparent and the rhythms simpler, although ever ingenious. 
Saul Bitran, First violinist, Cuarteto Latinoamericano  
July, 1998

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