Alvaro Pierri was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he was introduced to music at an early age by his mother, the pianist Ada Estades. By the time he was 7, he was taking guitar lessons from his aunt, [...]
They spoke about it
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) can be considered the personification of creative genious. He was at once an extremely prolific composer of profound originality, a passionate innovator, an incomparable musical performer and a visionary of inextinguishable thirst, capable of expressing himself with all the means available to his extremely fertile imagination. He was born March 5, 1887, immediately before the revolution which led his native Brazil to the abolition of slavery and the end of monarchy.
He was deeply immersed from the earliest age in an atmosphere of nationalistic exaltation, affirmation and search of “modernism” in all its meanings. He captured in his musical language all the elements of his universe, and through this conveyed the essence of his self-definition as a man and as an artist. His vast knowledge of his people’s folklore combined with his mastery of the compositional techniques of the “educated” musical styles of the period led to a most universal artistic product.
As a child he would spend hours each day playing the cello, often in duo with his father, constantly amusing himself at a game of immediate recognition of sounds and reproduction of their exact pitch… the passing train, a squeaking chair, a falling object, a door slamming shut, bird calls, or anything happening around them. Sound, therefore, was a privileged link to reality from the very first years of his life. This reality was that of a milieu in constant transformation, and the composer’s output of over a thousand works gave rise to a “composite” style, at first of European model, later exploding in all directions.
In fact, all this “composite” producing was already something deeply known to this young man who earned his living playing and improvising chôros in soirées of all kinds. He was at once guitarist, clarinettist, pianist or cellist, conductor, arranger, accomplished improvisor and reputed virtuoso accompanist among the “nocturnal fellows” of his Rio de Janeiro. Mostly self-taught, curious, vital and furiously energetic, he was not afraid of influences; mixing them at will, he drew from Richard Wagner, Puccini, Strauss, Berlioz, Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, De Falla, Bartók, Varèse, Prokofiev, Schmitt, Poulenc, Copland and more, many of them close friends.
To all this he mixed the colours of his homeland, from the city or the rural areas: his beloved Ernesto Nazareth, Catulo da Paixao Cearense, Loao Pernambuco, Anaclecto de Medeiros, Donga, and all that comes from the Indians, the Blacks, the Portuguese. For him music was the ultimate experience of intuition, the composer relying exclusively on his ear, without which it is impossible to access genuine creativity. “Composition,” he said, “is a biological imperative.”
Composition was therefore his principal activity, fundamental, essential and vital, even during the course of normal life, while giving a lesson, surrouded by his friends or cooking a stew! Without a hint of arrogance he once told a reporter in a sudden impulse of sincerity: “I am the folklore.” Such a comment was fitting for a man of his vitality — powerful transfiguration of the cultural mosaic of his musical “nation.” Friend of Stokowski, Varèse, Milhaud, Rubinstein, Segovia, unsurpassed orchestrator and chamber musician, orchestra and choir conductor, unique pedagogue of spectacular realisations, often controversial, he always disseminated his creative energy in all directions to the major benefit of our emotions.
The guitar is omnipresent in his life: for fun, to serenade, to earn money, to try an idea, to accompany, to seduce… His output for the instrument has become a fundamental constituent of the repertoire as much for its musical beauty as for its contributions to the development of technique. There is a considerable amount of breakthroughs and radical new approaches, so much, in fact, that after the pittoresque and agitated meeting with Segovia in Paris in 1924, Villa-Lobos eventually had to demonstrate to him in detail certain passages of the Twelve Études, a work spawned by this encounter, and that Segovia thought “unplayable.”
Chôros No. 1, for solo guitar
The Chôros No. 1, also called Chôro Typico, is a joyful piece, picaresque, full of the “ingredients” of the typical form of seresta music, the salon or street serenade, in duet, trio, quartet, etc. It is a mixture of Portuguese melodies with rhythms of Africa or other cultures, depending on the origins of the participants at hand. These “jam sessions,” called Chôroes, were characterized by improvisations, always very refined in their harmony and counterpoint. There was a healthy sense of competition between musicians for their originality and demonstration of abillity and virtuosity. This particular chôro has become a great classic of the genre.
Douze Études, for solo guitar
The Douze Études were composed between 1924 and 1929. They came to be as a result of the meeting of Heitor Villa-Lobos with Andrés Segovia in the Spring of 1924 in Paris, during a “soirée” organized by Mrs. Olga Moraes Sarmento Nobre. Witnesses of this meeting spoke of slightly arrogant exchanges at the beginning, and of an eventual sympathy that led to a long and friendly relationship. These studies are a pure treasure of imagination, highly refined instrumental writing and above all, musical passion. The technical “vocations” of these pieces are proposed by and developed from ideas, motives, and processes inspired from Brazilian popular music, such as the chôro, the chorinho, the chôrao, the modinha, the seresta, the waltz, the “scottish,” the mazurka and others.
Cinq Préludes, for solo guitar
The Cinq Préludes came to life dedicated “to Mindinka” (Arminda Villa-Lobos) his second wife. We may consider these as a sort of gallery of emotions very Brazilian in their colors, with all the joy and tenderness and the “saudade” melancholy that their creator could display with all his life experiences and musical expertise in 1940.
© Alvaro Pierri