Heitor Villa-Lobos

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March 5, 1887
November 17, 1959
Place of birth: 
Rio de Janeiro

Heitor Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1887 and died there in 1959. In addition to symphonies, instrumental concertos, film scores and chamber music his oeuvre above all includes works for guitar and piano. In his early years Villa-Lobos undertook three extensive trips into the depths of Amazonia in search of musical inspiration. His creations do indeed reflect the diversity and rhythmic wealth of Brazil’s multiethnic culture. Arthur Rubinstein is said to have discovered and mentored the then unknown composer. In his memoirs he writes: “Right here in Brazil lives an authentic genius, in my opinion the only one on the whole American continent. His country does not understand him, but future generations will be proud of him.” (A. Rubinstein: My Many Years, pg 155). Rubinstein’s appraisal was to prove true. “A Prole do bebê No. 1” (translated as “The Baby’s Family”), composed in 1918, is his best-known work, dedicated to his wife Lucilia and premiered by Arthur 7 Rubinstein in 1922. The suite of eight pieces gives musical form to eight dolls by incorporating children’s round dances and folkloristic melodies. The first six dolls reflect Brazil’s ethnic and social diversity. They each consist of material that not only fits each doll’s character but also alludes to its status. The first doll “Branquinha”, the white porcelain doll, is expensive, fragile and must be handled carefully by the child. It stands for Brazil’s white share of the population. “Moreninha”, made of papier-mâché, symbolises the result of generations of intermarriage. “Caboclinha”, the copper-coloured doll made of clay, stands for the intermingling of the indigenous Indian population with Portuguese immigrants. “Mulatinha”, the soft rubber doll, typifies the group of mulattos. “Negrinha”, made of inexpensive wood, represents the black share of the population, who mainly belong to the underclass. “A pobrezinha”, the little poor doll, is a rag doll made of tatters of cloth. “Bruxa”, the witch doll, alludes to the African legacy of multifaceted natural religions, in which evil spirits and witches play a role. Of course no doll family should be without “o polichinelo”, the Punch doll. This figure comes from the “commedia dell’arte” (Punchinello) but has a personality of its own in every country. Villa-Lobos uses a children’s round dance known in Brazil which, played in a furious tempo, lends this doll a cheeky character. In the original form “o Polichinelo” would be the penultimate doll before “Bruxa”. Arthur Rubinstein introduced the practice of reordering this sequence to optimum effect.