Heitor Villa-Lobos Samuel Barber
Katrina Krimsky, American/Swiss composer and pianist of Russian descent she has a highly individual style, exuberant and joyfully expressive, drawn on a vast wealth of musical resources and has received acclaim as interpreter of piano music by Villa-Lobos and Barber. "A Volcano Erupts... With a stupendous technique...\' Her unique career spans major movements in modern music. Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) When Heitor Villa-Lobos arrived in Paris for his first visit in 1922 it is said that upon being asked "With whom do you plan to study?", he replied, "You are going to study me...." The story varies and is frequently told, but it bears repeating, for the response was characteristic of the man who was to become the first great and internationally known Brazilian composer. Strong, intuitive, passionate, he came to Paris having already absorbed the musical essence of the Brazilian people and, at the age of 35, having already recognized his own position relative to the mainstream of European music of the 20th century. In 1914 Villa-lobos was described as a dark young man with an intent face and deep black eyes. Because he lacked academic musical training his work, at that time, was not taken seriously. He was taught cello by his father (and went on to learn the guitar, the saxophone, and other wind instruments), but as a composer he was self-taught. His one attempt at formal training at the National Institute of Music in Rio de Janeiro "began and ended almost simultaneously," to quote Everett Helm. His musical learning, however, was extensive. But his timeliness and his greatness came not from this learning but the use he made of experiences performing popular music in the chôros or instrumental street bands in Rio and from extended travels (1905-1912) collecting Afro-Indian and Portuguese folk music of Brazil. He was encouraged by two European musicians, the French composer Darius Milhaud, who was attached to the French Legation at Rio de Janeiro from 1915 to 1918, and the pianist Artur Rubinstein, who visited Rio in 1918. Milhaud undoubtedly influenced Villa-Lobos, although influences of contemporary composers are difficult to establish. Even facts are hard to come by where Villa-Lobos is concerned, for he was a man of contradictions and of fantasy, who came to believe his stories and who resisted the need of others to pin him down. But European influences aside, it is the picturesque element that gives his music it's primary interest; the sonorities, the play of colors, the popular rhythms are all essential to his personal expression. His melodies, frequently quoted from or composed in the style of folksongs or popular tunes, are modal, often pentatonic; the harmonies are unstable, dissonant, percussive, the rhythms irregular, the texture a complex fabric of rhythmic motives. He enjoyed his first success in Paris among the avant-garde who, like him, had turned to popular sources and were seeking solutions to the exhausted tonal harmonies of the 19th century. Twenty years later, in the 1940s, he enjoyed a great vogue in the United States; in 1931 he was appointed director of music education in Rio, work that he approached with the same boundless energy and imagination that he gave to composition. The two suites entitled Próle do Bebê were composed in 1918 and 1921, before Villa-Lobos went to Paris. The first, Dolls, was performed by Rubinstein in 1922; the second, The Little Animals, was dedicated to the pianist Aline von Bärentzen and premiered by her in 1923. They are based upon a series of children's tunes for each of which Villa-lobos composed an "atmosphere" (a term he preferred over "arrangement") that evokes the world of the child and the doll, or the toy animals. In Suite no. 1 the dolls represent distinctive ethnic types of Brazil. The white Porcelain Doll is presented in French impressionistic sparkling colors and sudden changes of mood. In contrast, the Indian Clay Doll dances in syncopated jazz rhythms. The most famous setting is Punch with it's bitonal use of black and white keys. This is preceded by the Rag Doll cast in muted colors, singing her melancholy tune over a guitar-like accompaniment. The sonorities of the guitar are everywhere. On the whole Villa-lobos avoids direct imitation; rather, he extends the sound capabilities of the piano to include those of the guitar: percussive repetitions, tone clusters, slidings, and arpeggios. The Second Suite is less lyrical and less impressionistic than the first, and it makes far greater demands upon the pianist. The melodic element of the child's tune recedes in favor of virtuosity. The counterpoint is highly complex; the dance rhythms are particularly vivid. Each number, like a miniature tone poem, projects special musical techniques, the flexible tempo and measure-lengths for the languid Cardboard Cat, the irregular divisions of the 11/8 measure for the Rubber Dog, the erratic rocking figures for the Wooden Horse, the tone clusters for the Glass Wolf, and perhaps the most extraordinary of all, the Brazilian forest filled with bird songs for the Cloth Bird. Villa-Lobos composed a third suite for piano to which he gave the title Próle do Bebê, (1926). It is unpublished and remains unknown. Margaret E. Lyon, Mills College Music Department Samuel Barber (1910-1981) The Barber Sonata for Piano, Opus 26, was written in 1949 and won immediate acclaim as a major milestone in the literature for solo piano. First performed by Vladimir Horowitz in Havana, Cuba, December 9, 1949, it has been called by one critic "a virtuoso's paradise," presenting transcendent technical difficulties for the performer. This four movement composition in the sonata form draws upon twelve-tone serial procedures and creates a masterpiece that is at once distinctively American, contemporary and intensely personal.