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ESTUDOS DE HARPEJOS: About the composer: the "South America Bartok"

Dernière mise à jour : 26 nov. 2018

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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is a Brazilian composer who has been underestimated for a long time. Among guitar composers, he is certainly the one who wrote the most for the other instruments and for orchestra.

His grandfather was a librarian and author. His father was a novelist who sold story books and worked as a teacher at the library of Rio de Janeiro. He also played cello. His mother had Indian origins.

In 1899 his father died and a member of his family (his grandfather or his aunt?) took him home He was taught the piano by his aunt. He also learnt cello, guitar and clarinet. He ended his studies in the Monastere de Sao Bento.

Around the years 1903 to 1905, he left home and travelled in the Nordeste where he discovered Brazilian traditional songs (Indian, Black and Rural music). In 1906, he decided to visit the south of Brazil but was disappointed because “their music is too much European!”. So he came back in Rio in 1907 where he played music in restaurants, and took Harmony and Cello courses in the class of Federico Nascimento.

In 1913 he married the pianist Lucilia Guimaraes and from 1915 his career took off with a concert at Rio. Around 1918, he met the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein and the composer Darius Milhaud, who were very impressed by his works.

In 1917 the art painting movement of Cubism arrived at Rio with the painter Anita Malfatti. The same year Villa-Lobos was composing the symphonic poem Uirapuru.

In 1923 he got a scholarship to study in Paris. It was there that A. Rubinstein introduced him to the editor Max Eschig. In Paris, Villa-Lobos also met the avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso and Edgar Varèse, he also became a friend of the composer Vincent d’Indy and the famous Piano teacher Marguerite Long, who sent him pupils. In 1927, with Arthur Rubinstein and other artists, Villa-Lobos maybe gave his greatest series of concerts at the Gaveau concert hall (Chôros, Noneto, Prole do bebe, Rudepoema, Serestas…).

Unfortunately a revolution in Brazil in 1930 prevented him from returning to Paris. The Getulio Vargas regime wanted him to become a “high-level official” of music pedagogy; in spite of his blunder about soccer when he said that it “moves the intellect from the head to the feet”. It was also in 1930 that he married his second wife Arminda Neves d’Almeida.

In the 40’s, he met with international success. In 1944, thanks to the English director Leopold Stokowski, he directed several orchestral pieces in the USA. Unfortunately, he learnt that he was affected by a cancert in 1948.

The legacy of Heitor villa-Lobos includes more than a thousand pieces (symphonies, quartets, operas, ballets, piano and guitar pieces). One of the most famous of his compositions is the Bachiana brasileira written for Voice and 8 Cellos. As regards guitar pieces, there are the 12 Estudos, the Chôros, the Preludes and the Brazilian popular suite.

Although there are controversies about the form of certain pieces (particularly with the guitar concerto, concerning the lack of development of the musical speech), every musicians will find interesting, original and creative pieces to play in the Villa-Lobos repertoire, whether in the first “folk” Brazilian period or in the “European modern” one. Finally, this self-taught composer who wrote music so fast still remains relatively unknown.

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