Everybody knows that Brazil is the birthplace of bossa nova and choro. What many people don’t know, however, is the importance of Brazilian composers in classical music beyond the national scene. And that is the case of Heitor Villa-Lobos. Villa Lobos was both a conductor and a composer and nowadays he is known as the protagonist in the discovery of a specifically Brazilian “language” in classical music. No wonder, therefore, that in Gerard Béhague’s book he is referred to as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music”. He was responsible for incorporating elements of folk and indigenous songs in his erudite masterpieces.
Born on March 5th 1887, in Rio de Janeiro, Villa Lobos initially followed the footsteps of European composers. On the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, he was influenced by Wagner, Puccini, the French Romanticism (Frank), as well as the Impressionists. But around the first decade of the new century, the composer began to repudiate the European way, and started to reveal his own language, which became established later, in the Forest of the Amazon and Uirapuru and received many hard critics from the press. In 1923 he traveled to Europe, where he got in touch with the avant-garde music of that time. He returned to Brazil in time to engage the new realities produced by 1930 Revolution.
After 20 years of creative audacity, he entered into a “neo-baroque” period, when he composed one of the flagships of his work: the series of nine Bachianas brasileiras (1930-1945) for various instrumental combinations.
One of the most meaningful marks of Villa Lobos is the ability to mix: he was able to perfectly combine different styles and genres of music, introducing typically Brazilian musical materials (including the use of percussion and popular imitation of birdsong, for example) into a territory previously denied to the folk: the classical music.
The conductor did not fit into any movement, and even up until our day he remains unknown for the largest part of the public in Brazil. Attacked by critics at his time, his work was recognized by the Brazilian critics only after his death.