Some years ago, when I was still at school, I attended a lecture by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, which was organised for students of Poznan music schools. Górecki spoke about his life and his artistic career. When he talked about his work as a teacher I heard something I knew I would never forget.
He said that when working with students it became clear that being a composer is a kind of vocation, and that a vocation cannot be taught. He added that music studies might polish the talent, but would never create it. I understood this also referred to other aspects of life, and to all other professions, because it is simply not possible to produce true passion, love, or talent. Heitor Villa-Lobos is an outstanding example of this. He acquired the rudiments of his musical knowledge from his father. Later, his attempts to start regular music studies ended in a fiasco. He preferred to work on his own. As a result, his talent, diligence and passion allowed him to create the classical musical language of Brazil, but also gave him a place in the pantheon of the most fascinating and accomplished composers of the twentieth century.
Today it seems impossible to overrate such works as Chôros, or the nine Bachianas Brasileiras, which display not only the composer's love for Brazil, but also his fascination for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Two legendary personalities contributed to the promotion of Villa-Lobos's music: the pianist Artur Rubinstein, and the guitarist Andres Segovia (whose belief in the abilities and the imagination of Villa-Lobos contributed to the creation of many exceptional and precious works). They both played his works in their recitals; they were both ambassadors of his talent all over the world.
The Five Preludes for guitar were written in 1940. Initially Villa-Lobos wrote six preludes. Unfortunately - probably during one of Andres Segovia's many concert tours - one of the preludes got lost and was never found again. Prelude No. 1 is also referred to as the ‘Cello Prelude' because of the melody line played by the bass strings. No. 2 is slightly flirtatious; its B section offers an nteresting treatment of the arpeggio technique.
Prelude No. 3, with its almost contemplative mood, establishes a tie with the aforementioned cycle Bachianas Brasileiras. Prelude No. 4 draws on Brazilian folklore, and No. 5, with its peaceful and slightly dreamy character, is simply bewitching.
Another important work by Heitor Villa-Lobos, written in 1951 and commissioned by Andres Segovia, is the Concerto for guitar and orchestra. It was initially called Fantasia Concertante, but at the suggestion of Segovia, and even of the composer's wife, Villa-Lobos added a virtuoso cadenza and renamed the work ‘Concerto'. It is an unusually vivid and varied piece. The first movement, Allegro preciso, sparkles with ideas and impetuousness . The second, Andantino e andante, takes us into the world of impressionist music. The virtuoso cadenza contains various guitar techniques which were not yet commonly in use at the time of its composition.
The composer refers here to his Twelve Studies, certainly one of the most innovative and fascinating guitar cycles of the twentieth century. The third movement, Allegretto non troppo, shows the very best of both the soloist and the orchestra. It is full of energy and happy lyricism. This great tribute to the guitar as a concert instrument is not a typical instrumental concerto. It is very much a chamber piece - with all the instruments of the orchestra complementing the solo part.
The present recording concludes with the Melodia Sentimental, specially arranged for guitar, violin and orchestra by Bernard Chmielarz. This charming short piece was written in 1958, becoming part of the suite Floresta do Amazonas. It was part of the last concert programme conducted by Villa-Lobos shortly before his death, which gives a special meaning to this piece. At present it is one of his most frequently performed works. The music of Heitor Villa-Lobos is in many ways exceptional. It falls outside the confines of any established form or convention. It moves with its beauty and frankness, and charms with its innovation and fresh ideas, whilst exhibiting the respect the composer has for traditional music.