Program Notes

HEITOR VILLA LOBOS (1887 – 1959)

I. A Menina e a Cancao
II. Quero ser Alegre
III. Sertaneja

With the last concert of the festival I decided to program a soprano instead of just talking figuratively about voice. We begin with three virtuoso songs by the great Brasilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Like Zhou Long and China, the Brazil of Villa-Lobos' childhood was a country undergoing a period of social revolution. Slavery had just been abolished and the Empire of Brazil was overthrown. From the top of the stairs of his house, Villa-Lobos learned music by watching the regular musical evenings arranged by his father, an avid amateur musician and astronomer. The young boy taught himself to play cello, guitar and clarinet and, when his father died suddenly, the twelve-year-old supported the whole family by playing in theatre orchestras in Rio. Around the same time Bartok and Kodaly were scouring the Hungarian countryside in search of the authentic folk music of Eastern Europe, Villa-Lobos began regular ethno-musicological explorations into Brazil's "dark interior,” emerging with fantastic tales of capture and near-escape from cannibals and, more important for us, copious notes. He eventually abandoned any pretense of pursuing a formal education in composition and instead began to play with local street-music bands, immersing himself fully in Brazil’s indigenous culture and popular music, itself based on Portuguese, African, and American Indian elements.

The three songs comprising his Suite (1923) translate as “The Young Girl and the Song,” “I Wish to be Happy,” and “The Peasant Girl of Brazil.” The second and third songs have a syllabic text, the first of which may be paraphrased: “The thin, gaunt girl, her skirt flying above her bony knees, came half dancing, singing, in the dim twilight. She beat a rhythm with her stick in the dust of the sidewalk. Suddenly she turned to the old woman who came tripping behind, an enormous clothes bundle on her head. ‘Oh, give it to me, granny?’ ‘No.’ ”

Program notes by David Yang