Sao Paulo: the life and music of Villa Lobos

Villa Lobos and Sao Paulo


November, 2004:

Please note that the Villa-Lobos Website is no longer being updated.

This resource will remain on the RDPL server.

Picture: the Revolution of 1932 Memorial in Sao Paulo. The photo is from the excellent website of Embratur, the official Brazilian tourist ministry.
Eero Tarasti, author of one of the recent major English works on Villa Lobos (Heitor Villa Lobos: the life and works, Jefferson NC: McFarland, 1995) contrasts the essentially rustic, folkloric city of Rio de Janeiro with the more urban, European, modernist Sao Paulo. "The modernists were concentrated in Sao Paul, with resulted in Villa-Lobos's music receiving a greater response there than in cosmopolitan and aristocratically reserved Rio." (p. 63)
The week of February 13, 1922 was of great historic importance for the music of Villa Lobos and Brazilian culture in general. The Teatro Municipal (pictured to the right) was the site of the Semana de Arte Moderna. As Tarasti explains in his chapter "The arrival of Modernism in Brazil," the lecture/concerts at the Teatro Municipal were seen as the 'apotheosis' of Villa Lobos. As with so many similar events early in the century, the arrival of "modern" art was greeted with enthusiast support or skepticism:
[During the performance of Villa Lobos' Third Trio for piano and strings] "...somebody in the audience began to whistle the main theme simultaneously with the instument playing it. Finally, the police had to break up the event and later found young people with boxes full of rotten eggs and potatoes with which, they explained, they had intended to crown the organizers of the Week of Moden Art, but had refrained out of respect for the performers, the majority of whom were 'paulistas'." (Heitor Villa Lobos: the life and works, p. 67.)
The University of Sao Paulo's Museum of Contemporary Art held an exhibition in 1995 relating to modernism in Brazil entitled "Modernismo/Paris Anos 20: Vivências e Convivências." The exhibit focusses on three visual artists who exhibited during the Semana de Arte Moderna: Victor Brecheret, Antonio Gomide and Vicente do Rego Monteiro. These sculptures and paintings, redolent of Cubism and Art Déco, are visual analogues of Villa Lobos' modernist works of the 1920's.
The theoretical background to the Semana de Arte Moderna came from Mario and Oswald de Andrade, whose manifestos were published in Sao Paulo in the early 1920's. Oswald de Andrade's famous saying "Tupi or not tupi - that is the question" [The Tupi are a Brazilian Indian tribe] referred to the central role of indigenous cultures in the development of modernism in Brazil. This has obvious resonance for the the works Villa Lobos wrote in the 1920's, with their Indian musical references.
The Week of Modern Art further cemented Villa Lobos' modernist credentials amongst Brazil's intelligentsia, and Villa Lobos moved to modernism's global centre: Paris.
After his return from Paris, Villa Lobos began his second career, as musical paedogogist, with a concert tour to 54 small towns in the state of Sao Paulo in 1931.
The best single site to go to for information on Sao Paul is by Sergio Koreisha in Oregon. This is part of his very highly recommended Meu Brasil website.
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