The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The United States advances in the World Cup of soccer and The Ear advances to another great moment in music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

June 28, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

After its one-point loss to Germany, the U.S. soccer team will advance to the knockout round of the  FIFA World Cup, which is being held in Brazil until July 13.

The next game for the U.S. is against Belgium on Tuesday.

Loyal fans of The Ear may recall that a week or so ago he decided the global soccer event being held in Brazil was a good opportunity to explore the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (below), whose music is beautiful and much too under-programmed and under-played here and elsewhere.

Villa-Lobos BW

Here is a link to the original post that also featured the gorgeous Cantilena movement for soprano from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 that has been recorded by folk singer Joan Baez as well as opera divas Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Hendricks, Victoria de los Angeles and Kathleen Battle.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

Here is another great moment in Villa-Lobos that I heard at the Cello Choir concert by the National Summer Cello Institute that was held this month at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

This moment comes from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 in a YouTube video below. It is the third movement, the finale, that happens in fugal form and again shows how Heitor Villa-Lobos tried to adapt the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach to the folk music and native dance rhythms of Brazil. That was an ambitious project, to be sure, and one in which The Ear thinks the composer was surprisingly successful.

Enjoy as you prepare to root for Team U.S.A.

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Classical music: The FIFA World Cup of soccer is a perfect time to become acquainted with the astonishing music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

June 20, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Go ahead. Forget the scores.

I know, I know.

In the 2014 World Cup of championship soccer (below), this week the U.S. beat the odds-makers and won against favored Ghana while Spain disappointed the odds-makers when it lost to underdog Chile.

World Cup 2014 playing

Nonetheless, The Ear is no jock.

But he knows a lot of people here and around the world will spend this weekend watching the competition.

So he got to wondering.

What would be good classical music to post in honor of the World Cup soccer championships that are taking place in Rio de Janeiro and many other stadiums (below) throughout Brazil between June 12 and July 13?

World Cup 2014 stadiums

And then last Saturday I went to the Cello Choir concert (below), a free concert given by the “the National Summer Cello Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and BAM!!! there was the answer.

Here is a link to the positive review I did of the concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

It was there that I heard two totally absorbing works by the 20th-century Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Villa-Lobos (below) was a very prolific composer, writing over 2,000 works in his lifetime (1887-1959). Given such productivity it is not surprising that some works seems second-rate. What is more amazing is how many seem so memorable and so first-rate.

Boy, did that man ever have a sense of melodic line, of poignant harmonies, of contagious and fiery Latin African rhythms. His music seems as robust and straightforward as the portraits that show the beefy composer chomping away on big cigars.

The Ear suspects that Villa-Lobos would have been a lot of fun to know and pal around with. He seems as outsized and rich in natural resources as his native country.

Villa-Lobos BW

And so does his body of work.

So why isn’t Villa-Lobos better known and more often performed outside his native country? I can’t think of the last time a work of his was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or by pianists and chamber music groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Maybe some readers can.

And Villa-Lobos used his native land to inform his work and the effect can be enthralling and even magical. He is a sure remedy to Eurocentric programming, and especially with a growing Hispanic population. (I know: Portuguese, not Spanish, is the colonial culture and language of Brazil. But still.)

Anyway, there I was, sitting in Mills Hall and listening to two outstanding works performed by the choir of 16 cellos and one soprano in works designed to “Brazilian-ize” Johann Sebastian Bach and update his Baroque musical style -– which I think they succeed in doing. Bach goes ethnic!

The first work was the famous Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 –- with its soaring aria-like Cantilena that has been recorded by great singers from folksinger Joan Baez (below top) to opera divas such as Victoria de Los Angeles, Anna Moffo (below bottom), Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathleen Battle and Barbara Hendricks.

Joan Baez

anna moffo

The performance that I heard live featured the UW-Madison soprano Anna Whiteway, who was absolutely exquisite. She had fabulous pitch, big volume, smooth vibrato, great diction and lovely tone. She was superb, and the cellists and conductor thought so too.

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Then there was the less famous Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1, which included a gorgeous second movement and fabulous fugal finale.

So below is a sample from YouTube, where you can find quite a lot of quality performances of music by Villa-Lobos.

And I think that during the month-long World Cup play in Brazil, we can’t do better than to listen to other samples of beautiful music by this prolific composer who seems to The Ear way, way underplayed and under-appreciated.

Personally, these days The Ear is checking out the Bachianas Brasileiras, the Choros and the chamber music, especially the cello sonatas and the string quartets.

But there is also much more in the way of piano music, guitar music and vocal music.

So from now to the end of the World Cup, I will periodically offer examples of music by Villa-Lobos.

And what do you think of Villa-Lobos?

Do you have a favorite piece that others should listen to?

The Ear wants to hear.


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