Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)
The son of a collaborator of the National Library and an amateur violoncello player, Heitor Villa-Lobos soon learnt the first notes. At the age of six, he would listen to his aunt Zizinha play the Well-Seasoned Cloves (Cravo Bem Temperado), while on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, groups of amateur musicians would play on party nights. Thus, his musical life in his youth would oscillate between Bach and serenades of chorões. When he lost his father at the age of 12, he decided to learn the guitar and the cavaquinho (a kind of banjo) on his own.
At 18, against the wishes of his mother who wanted him to be a doctor, he joined up with the chorões. As an itinerant musician he went to Espírito Santo, Bahia and Pernambuco. Back in Rio, he signed up for the National Music Institute of Rio de Janeiro, but felt “more pleasure in soaking up the folklore that passed by his windows rather than listening to the long arguments of the lecturers”.
After a new trip, to the North and the Northeast of the country, where he collected more than a thousand themes that he would use in his works, he completed his training by dedicating himself to the study of the great masters and also treatises on harmony and orchestration. He got married to pianist Lucília Guimarães, played the violoncello in the orchestras of the theatres and also composed suites about Brazilian childhood themes.
The year 1915 showed the start of the official presentation in Rio de Janeiro of Villa-Lobos as a composer. His music brought the wrath of the traditionalists. In 1922, with his African Dances (Danças Africanas), he would face the shocked audience of the Modern Art Week and composed two symphonies ordered by the Government. The following year, Villa-Lobos set off for France, not to study or enhance knowledge, but to conquer, taking in his bags his full works, already composed.
Five years later, he would return to Europe with the baton in his hand, to conduct the main orchestras of the continent and present the choros to the world, as also the Serenades, the Mass of St Sebastian. Villa-Lobos was concerned with the lack of attention given to music in Brazilian schools, and ended up presenting the revolutionary Musical Education Plan to the Government of São Paulo.
After two years of work, the composer of the Bachianas Brasileiras was invited by Anísio Teixeira to organise and direct the Superintendence of Musical and Artistic Education, which would introduce the teaching of Music and Choir Singing in schools.
With the support of the then president Getúlio Vargas, he organised grandioise Orpheonic meetings which sometimes gathered, under his conduction, up to 40 thousand school pupils. He gave his first presentation in the United States in 1944. In the following years, already married to Mindinha, he went on countless tours, where he conducted and recorded his works, received honours and also orders for new scores, as well as having had contact with some great names of American music, thus completing his cycle of international fame.
Book 100 Brasileiros(2004)