REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » VILLA-LOBOS: String Quartets Nos. 1, 8 and 13
Quartets Nos. 1, 8 and 13
love to write quartets. One could say that it is a mania." Villa-Lobos
made his confession, quoted by Pierre Vidal, in Paris in the
spring of 1958. He had completed his seventeenth and final quartet the year
before and had begun to sketch an eighteenth. It is usual to think of Villa-Lobos's
prodigious output in orchestral terms, and it may come as a surprise that
chamber music forms a substantial part of his work. Of that chamber music string
quartets are by far the major constituent, and within the broader context of
the twentieth-century string quartet, dominated by Bartók and Shostakovich,
Villa-Lobos's seventeen quartets must be considered a significant, though
poorly acknowledged, contribution.
attributed his knowledge of the string quartet to the study of Haydn. Whether
or not one accepts the veracity of his claim, any attempt to find traces of the
Viennese master in the Brazilian's work would be in vain. There are no stylistic
connections, and sonata form itself is all but absent. The keys to Villa-Lobos's
quartet idiom lie elsewhere. A primary source of inspiration is the rich and
diverse musical folklore of Brazil, which the composer
discovered between the ages of 18 and 25, when he traveled extensively through
the Northeast, the Amazon basin and the South with touring theatrical
companies. Even earlier he had come to know the lundu, the chôro, the maxixe
and other forms of "urban folklore," better described as the popular
music of the times. To those Brazilian impressions may be added a taste for
Renaissance polyphony, the ricercare, Bach's fugues and Franck's cyclical
principle, the last acquired most likely through self-study of d'Indy's Cours
de composition musicale. In this highly personalized scheme of things the
Viennese classical structures and especially the sonata held little attraction
for Villa-Lobos. Instead the mostly self-taught composer found his own,
non-academic solutions to the problems of form and unity. His frequent reliance
on imitation - the successive entry of a theme in all four voices - affirms an
innate feeling for fugal thought. Variation, which substitutes for development,
creates a sense of continuity, often transforming one musical idea into another
in a "stream of consciousness." In his study of the quartets,
published in 1978 by the Museu Villa Lobos, Arnaldo Estrella describes this as
"a flowing brook, a constant becoming." Conversely, variation also
creates contrast, a stylistic device that Villa-Lobos achieved even more
dramatically through abrupt juxtapositions. Finally it must not be forgotten
that the composer began his professional life as a cellist in small ensembles,
"orquestrinas," that entertained in cafés, music halls and theatres.
Many ideas in the quartets seem conceived in terms of the cello; even when
introduced by another instrument, they attain fullest expressivity when heard
in the cello part. Villa-Lobos's experience as a string player may also account
for the uncommon sonorous combinations and instrumental techniques that impart
a further dimension of originality. That is often most evident in the scherzos,
which give freest reign to his exuberant flights of fancy.
the baffling, sometimes uneven profusion of the Brazilian's music, the
seventeen string quartets maintain a consistently high quality and become in
later years his chosen medium of expression. Chronologically they form four
groups. The first four quartets were composed between 1915 and 1917, a period
of much other chamber music, including the second Sonata-Fantasia for violin
and piano, two cello sonatas and the second piano trio. Thereafter a
fourteen-year hiatus intervenes in the quartets. That period from 1917 to 1931
saw the creation of major orchestral works, among them Uirapuru, Amazonas and
the six orchestral Chôros. Much of that time was spent in Paris, where
Villa-Lobos came into contact with Ravel, Dukas, Falla, Schmitt, Honegger,
Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Casella and Varèse - contact that obviously bore fruit.
His return to the string quartet in 1931 produced one isolated example, the
fifth. For the next seven years he energetically focused on the development of
musical education in Brazil, composing a multitude of choral pieces. The
sixth quartet, also isolated, appeared in 1938, and four more years were to pass
before Villa-Lobos's involvement with the quartet resumed and intensified. From
1942 onward he produced eleven quartets in fifteen years.
the quartets belong to three periods. To the early period belong the first four
quartets. Of these, the first has little in common with the others. It is in
fact a six-part suite with a folkloric veneer; its three successors, with few
traces of national flavour, move tentatively toward the originality that
Villa-Lobos was seeking. The fifth and sixth form an overtly nationalistic
pair, even indicated by the designations Quarteto Popular No. I and II Quarteto
Brasileiro. In a practice unusual for Villa-Lobos the fifth quartet quotes
actual folk melodies, but the sixth absorbs folkloric elements into a broader
musical spectrum and, significantly, marks the maturation of his quartet idiom.
The seventh to the seventeenth quartets belong to the third phase, wherein
national elements become increasingly universalized and find ultimate
expression in the rarefied atmosphere of the final masterpieces.
No. 1, written in the mountain town of Novo Friburgo, had its first performance
there at the home of composer Homero Barreto on 3 February 1915. Formally
unlike any other of Villa-Lobos's quartets, it is a suite of six pieces,
alternately lyrical and dancelike, nostalgic and happy. Its language is
romantic, and its structure is deliberately simple. Four of the movements are
virtually monothematic; the third and fifth are in ternary song form. A
Cantilena (Andante) with the character of a serenade establishes a songlike
mood at the outset. This is followed by Brincadeira (Allegretto scherzando), a
lively Brazilian polka. Canto Iírico (Moderato) is expressive and
contemplative, or perhaps tinged with irony and meant as a caricature of the
romantic aria. A more animated Cançoneta (Andante, quasi allegretto) follows.
Nostalgia pervades Melancolia (Lento), the quartet's most fully developed and
true slow movement. Finally, Saltando como um Saci (Allegro), roughly
translatable as Jumping Like an Imp, is a fugal dance with a catchy tune.
Referring to Saci Pererê, a mythical, one-legged black dwarf who wears a red
cap, frequents swamps and delights by night in frightening people, this
delightful finale reaffirms the quarters folkloric nature.
in Rio de Janeiro in 1944, Quartet No. 8 received its première there on 5
September 1946 by the Quarteto lacovino. After the monumental complexity of the
seventh quartet, the eighth returns to the intimate dimensions of chamber
music. Its rhythmic and thematic elements, disposition of voices and structural
proportions all conform to the patterns of the authentic chamber idiom. In his
study Arnaldo Estrella emphasizes that the quartet is systematically atonal,
although he points out that each movement ends with an affirmation of tonality.
In the Allegro the cello introduces a motoric idea, from which subsequent
themes rise by diverse means, including variation and inversion. Despite its
seemingly jarring juxtapositions the movement is logically constructed. The
Lento begins in lamentation, but soon a lovely blossoming of melody affirms the
C major tonality. Glissandi lend unusual colour to a third episode, and a return
of the opening lament rounds off the movement. The scherzo, Vivace, waltzes
along hurriedly in a lilting 6/8 meter and ends, both in the initial statement
and in the return, with a curious, scurrying coda. The rhythmic trio has a
typically Brazilian character and offers full display of Villa-Lobos's
inventive power. The finale, Quasi allegretto, grows from an eight-bar
introduction, related rhythmically to the trio theme. With organic links
throughout, it nevertheless gives an impression of unbridled rhapsody.
No.13, dedicated to the Quatuor Municipal de São Paulo, dates from 1951 and had
its first performance two years later. Specifying no key, it conveys a more
definite feeling of tonality throughout than the eighth quartet. The broadly
melodic, somewhat restrained Allegro non troppo owes its contrapuntal texture
to imitation. Following the exposition the viola assumes a virtuosic solo role
in a brief but effective episode. The scherzo, Vivace, virtually gallops along;
a slow central section offers respite before the scherzo proper returns a fifth
higher. Surely the magical opening of the Adagio is a supremely beautiful
moment among the quartets. Muted strings provide a transparent harmonic support
for the first violin's serene melody. A free dialogue ensues, and at the end
one's hope for the return of the magical beginning is not disappointed.
Retrogression and diminution take part in the construction of the concluding
Allegro vivace, but that hardly seems to matter; the effect is of a highly stylized
Brazilian dance that lifts the spirits.
Danubius Quartet has won considerable acclaim since its establishment in 1983.
With the violinists Judit Tóth and Adél Miklós, violist Cecilia Bodolai and
cellist Ilona Wibli, and the artistic direction of the distinguished violinist Vilmos
Tátrai, the quartet won awards at Trapani, Evian and Graz in the earlier years
of its foundation, and has recorded, among other works, the String Quartet No.
1 of Reményi for Hungaroton, the complete String Quartets of Villa-Lobos for
Marco Polo and for Naxos the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets. The Danubius
Quartet has given recitals in Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy, France and
Switzerland and appeared at a number of international festivals.
Last Albums Viewed
VILLA-LOBOS: String Quartets Nos. 1, 8 and 13