Brazil’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos mined the rich exotic sound world of his native country’s folk music. Argentina’s Ginastera followed suit and also inspired a young Piazzolla, who played the tango accordion (bandoneón) to follow his muse as the father of “new tango.” Come early for tango dancing in the lobby!
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ORLI SHAHAM • PIANO AND HOST | HECTOR DEL CURTO • BANDONEON | BENJAMIN SMOLEN • FLUTE
JESSICA PEARLMAN FIELDS • OBOE | JOSEPH MORRIS • CLARINET | ROSE CORRIGAN • BASSOON
PAUL MANASTER • VIOLIN | TIMOTHY LANDAUER • CELLO | STEVEN EDELMAN • BASS
Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
Trio for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon, W182
Jessica Pearlman Fields
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2
Dance of the Old Herdsman
Dance of the Beautiful Maiden
Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy
I N T E R M I S S I O N
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Hector Del Curto
This concert is generously sponsored by Dot and Rick Nelson.
Music by Villa-Lobos, Ginastera and Piazzolla
When it comes to music by Central and South American composers, U.S. annotators often start their notes by reminding readers of the enormous wealth of superb music by these composers that remains to be discovered by listeners here.
It's a good and important point; for those particularly interested in it, it's worth seeking out the writing of Janet Crane, who is sensitively informed on it. But as Crane herself has asked: How long must we keep repeating the story of this music's relative neglect here, as if it were some thrillingly exotic terra incognita?
Heitor Villa-Lobos circa 1922
Still, it does remain thrilling, thanks to its quality, abundance and relative unfamiliarity. What turns a new listener into a fan is often a characteristic moment of discovery upon hearing a popular masterpiece from south of our borders, such as the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos.
Like many of his compositions, on first hearing it sounds as if we've always known it—familiar, yet foreign. Some of the characteristics that make it irresistible stand in stark contrast to American musical traditions.
Here, we have a clear divide between popular and classical; in Central and South America, hugely diverse musical sources from Africa, Europe, and indigenous peoples are inextricably braided together. We see this even in the title of the suite of Bachianas, an homage to Bach, whom Villa-Lobos venerated. The suite itself is informed by the composer's love for the Brazilian cultural melting pot as well as the classical tradition of Europe, where he studied.
During his lifetime Villa-Lobos was considered South America's most important living composer, occupying a position much like that of Aaron Copland in the U.S. One can surmise that the epithet "dean of American composers," accorded to Copland, might have nettled Villa-Lobos; as our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere remind us, the U.S. is not all there is to North America, and North America is not all there is to the Americas.
Copland traveled south of the U.S. as a matter of professional interest. But like many North American musicians, he came to some premature judgments about the music scene there and seems to have been a bit perplexed by the South American conflation of popular sources and classical traditions.
He freely acknowledged the pre-eminence of Villa-Lobos as a composer, though the two men were not exactly pals; Copland's academic writing from this period describes an abundance of musical talent in South America but a lack of technique that he deemed almost primitive.
Now, more than half a century later, his conclusions— drawn at a time when American composers were struggling in a way that was hardly more advanced—seem patronizing and off-target.
He had already begun to self-correct later in the 1940s when he developed a friendship with Villa-Lobos' heir apparent, the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Ginastera became a student of Copland's; both men studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and went on to experiment with a wide range of modernist techniques.
Ástor Piazzolla, too, studied with Boulanger. But unlike many of her other students, who struggled to find their "voice," Piazzolla brought a strong sense of national and personal identity with him. He fairly burned with love for the music of his native Argentina—most especially the tango, which he treated with the respect of form and the compositional techniques we associate with European classical forms.
Boulanger listened to many of Piazzolla's experiments in then-current compositional techniques, but it was not until she heard his tangos that she recognized his gifts. In the U.S. we know him as a "tango composer"—not inaccurate, but misleading in a way that seems to continue the curse of our reductive neglect of Central and South American composers.
Piazzolla found a world of classical expressiveness within the formal constraints of the tango. It's not stretching the point to compare his path in music to that of Richard Wagner, who composed almost exclusively opera, or Tchaikovsky and de Falla, who found hidden depths of expression in dance music.
Piazzolla was a well-traveled composer and even spent part of his childhood in a rough section of New York. Even so, he seems to have reciprocated the American shortsightedness of his work.
The Pajama Game (1954 Original Broadway Cast)
In a 1970s interview at New Yorks WQXR, a classical radio station, host Robert Sherman asked Piazzolla about his reaction to the song "Hernando's Hideaway" from the Richard Adler-Jerry Ross musical The Pajama Game. Dating from 1954, the song is an affectionate and skilled tango-parody that tips its hat to Piazzolla. But Piazzolla told Sherman that such reductive compositions made him "want to die."
Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon
Heitor Villa Lobos (1887 - 1959)
Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1887 to a highly cultured family. He learned music from his father, who—in addition to being a book-lover and librarian—was an accomplished amateur musician. By his early teens, the younger Villa-Lobos was a professional, earning his living as a cafe musician; his instrument was the cello.
In the first half of the 20th century ethnomusicology began to flourish among serious composers throughout the West, and in 1905 Villa- Lobos made the first of his trips to Brazil's northeastern states to collect folk music, much as Bartók and Janáček did in Hungary. He later studied at the National Institute of Music in Rio de Janeiro, though in his compositional style he seemed to resist academic conventions.
His musical style, always distinctive, remained both highly personal and nationalistic; he would later describe it as "natural, like a waterfall." He also cultivated a populist image and was suspicious of academia. "One foot in the academy," he claimed, "and you are changed for the worst!"
In 1912 Villa-Lobos embarked on a second expedition of ethno- musicological research in the Amazonian interior. He then returned to Rio de Janeiro—then Brazil's capitol city—where he astounded the cultural establishment with a 1915 concert of his new music. By 1923, his growing reputation earned him a government grant for musical studies in Paris.
When he returned to Rio seven years later, Villa- Lobos was a national figure of sufficient repute to be appointed the nation's director of music education, launching his second career as music educator. His system of musical instruction, based on Brazilian musical traditions, was rooted in his own primary research; it helped shape the lives of millions of young Brazilians, and continues to do so today.
For parallels in Europe, we would have to look to Orff, Hindemith, and perhaps Bartók. In North America, we have none.
With Villa-Lobos' growing stature, a tour of the United States was to be expected, and almost mandatory. It happened in 1944, toward the end of World War II, and added to his acclaim: he conducted his own works, received major commissions from American orchestras, and even composed a movie score for a Hollywood feature: the 1945 film The Green Mansions, an interesting if overwrought tale of love and mysticism pairing Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins.
Though not all of his music "made the cut," his prominence as a composer and conductor continued to grow internationally, and his travel itineraries read like those of a jet-setter before the age of jets—always leading back home to Rio de Janeiro, where he died in November 1959.
The American guitarist and lutenist Julian Bream fondly remembered him as "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."
Dating from 1921, this trio is cited by some analysts as the most musically advanced of Villa-Lobos' earlier chamber compositions. These works were boldly innovative, combining European traditions such as Baroque-style counterpoint with Brazilian forms such as the choro, which resonates in many of Villa-Lobos' works.
Despite its name, which means "lament," the choro is energetic, emphatic in its rhythms and can even sound joyful in its defiant affirmation of life in the face of sadness and death. It's not surprising to hear its echoes here, since many choros are trios to begin with — typically scored for flute, guitar and a smaller stringed instrument resembling a ukulele.
---Movement I: Animé of the Villa Lobos Trio for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon. Performed by Capital Reeds.
This trio challenges its players by combining raw, distinctively Brazilian textures and energy with classical features that, according to one commentator, remind us that "the Bachianas Brasileiras were even now struggling for birth."
Argentine Dances for Solo Piano
Alberto Ginastera (1916 - 1983)
Born in Buenos Aires to a Catalan father and an Italian mother, Alberto Ginastera was deeply influenced by the folk music of his homeland, Argentina. He studied at the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938 and joining the faculty at the Liceo Militar General San Martín.
During a visit to the United States from 1945 to 1947, he studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood; he then returned to Buenos Aires, where he co-founded the League of Composers.
Ginastera's compositions combine traditional folk elements with European classical forms. But unlike the Brazilian Villa-Lobos, his style was wide-ranging and experimental, evolving with time and gradually shifting in emphasis from national to international. Fans of the movie The Competition with Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving will recall Ginastera's enthralling Piano Sonata No. 1, which combines stretches of twelve-tone composition with peppery, Argentinian- inspired rhythms.
Critics and listeners could not always keep pace with Ginastera's questing musical mind. But for the most part, they eventually caught up. The composer himself grouped his music into three periods: "Objective Nationalism" (1934–1948), "Subjective Nationalism" (1948–1958), and "Neo-Expressionism" (1958–1983).
Among other distinguishing features, these periods vary in their use of traditional Argentine musical elements. His Objective Nationalistic works often integrate Argentine folk themes in a straightforward fashion, while works in the later periods incorporate traditional elements in increasingly abstracted forms.
Composed in 1937, when he was only 21, Ginastera's Argentine dances for solo piano are titled Danzas Argentinas. The first dance of this three-movement suite, Danza del viejo boyero ("Dance of the Old Herdsman"), challenges the ear with a kind of aural puzzle: It is composed in two strictly separated modes, with the left hand playing black notes while the right plays white notes.
Described in terms of key signatures rather than modes, the right hand plays in C major; the left, in D-flat major. Rather than a mess, we hear charm and perhaps a hint of Bartók, interestingly textural and rhythmic.
Unexpected contrasts are excitingly characteristic of Ginastera, and we certainly get them here. In the second movement, Danza de la moza donosa ("Dance of the Beautiful Maiden"), we encounter a more lyrical dance in a stately triple rhythm, with a sinuous melodic line that winds its way through the movement until it is overtaken by a more assertive tune.
Critics have described this later section, which relies on the open intervals of fourths and fifths in its harmonization, as evocative of the spatial vastness of the Argentine pampas.
Almost like a concerto, this three-movement suite ends with a rousingly energetic final movement. Ginastera had a special flair for urgently percussive writing for the piano, and we can see it here without hearing a note—in descriptive notations such as mordento (biting), salvaggio (wild), furiosamento (furiously) and violente (violent). The energy reaches a climax with exciting (and loud!) glissando effects.
Ástor Piazzolla (1921 - 1992)
Ástor Piazzolla was born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents with whom he moved to New York's Little Italy neighborhood at age 4, staying for several years.
He returned to Argentina while still a child and fairly burned with love for the music of his native that country—most especially the tango, which he would later revolutionize, treating it with the respect of form and the compositional techniques we associate with European classical forms.
But first, Piazzolla would return to New York, taking music lessons with the Hungarian classical pianist Bela Wilda, a student of Rachmaninoff, who taught him to play Bach on his bandoneon, a traditional Argentine form of accordion that is the melancholy inner voice of the tango. In 1934 Piazzolla met Carlois Gardel, a seminal figure in the history of the tango, who invited the young Piazzolla to tour with him—a great honor and opportunity.
Though the boy's father did not allow it, Piazzolla was undeterred. He returned to Buenos Aires at age 17 and joined the orchestra of bandoneonist Anibal Troilo— another tango artist whose ensemble was destined to become a legend, one of the greatest tango orchestras of all time.
With his classical training and Argentinian soul, Piazzolla embodied the tango, expanded it, and transcended it. His tango-based compositions often specifically reference European forms and even quote themes from composers such as Vivaldi. But he does so in a distinctively Argentinian way, transforming instrument and instrumentalist into dance partners.
In his music we hear the spirit of the tango, something we cannot hear in the music of European composers. Even without classical composition, this remarkable dance is a language unto itself that speaks with fiery eroticism tinged with melancholy and introspection. Applying 20th-century harmonic theory and his own unique style, Piazzolla opens a world of expressiveness to listeners.
The tangos you will hear today were all written by Piazzolla and cover nearly two decades of his compositional output. The selected tangos for this afternoon's performance are Revirado, Adiós Nonino, Fuga y Misterio, Invierno Porteño and Libertango. The concert order will be announced from the stage.
To learn more about tonight's Artists, please click here