IMPRESSIONS OF BRAZIL
The music of Brazil is exceedingly rich and varied. It resists definition because its heterogeneous elements have not yet been coordinated into anything like a national idiom. Native Indian music - tunes, rhythms, instrumental sounds - constitute one part of the fascinating mixture. Another part consists of the hymn tunes brought over by the early missionaries and the songs of the Portuguese and Spanish settlers. Negro slaves brought with them their own tribal music from Africa. Music education, on the other hand, has until very recently been based on European models, and the traditions of opera in the centers of population were almost entirely Italian. Nineteenth and early twentieth century composers went to Italy of France (a few even to Germany) for advanced study and for contact with the great European traditions. Jazz, the most persuasive of the popular types of music in this century, was imported into Brazil as elsewhere and was combined with indigenous materials to produce a most attractive hybrid. French impressionism too has exerted a very strong influence. Brazil's music is thus a growing expanding thing, and it will doubtless take several generations of highly talented composers to weld a unified national style from the rich (one might almost say, too rich) mixture.
Still there is a prevailing temperament that can be identified as Brazilian. It derives in part from the fruitful mixture of races and in part from the physical character of the country - "a setting of prodigal nature, of blazing light and heat, of forests and rich valleys, mountains, seas and impetuous rivers, a sun-drenched land". One senses this personality somewhat even in the music of the nineteenth century pioneer composers such as Gomes, Nepomuceno, Levy, Braga and Gallet. In the present century it is even more intense, even if less disciplined at times. It has been described by Aaron Copland, a close observer of all South American music and a fervent propagandist for the most talented composers of the continent, as "uninhibited, abundant, non-critical and romantic", and as particularly concerned with "the languorously sentimental and the wildly orgiastic mood..." He noted also that the most characteristic music was being cast in the smaller forms (songs and piano pieces) while the longer and more elaborate forms were neither so frequently nor so successfully employed. This is less true now than when Copland wrote it many years ago. But it is still in the smaller sized works that one hears the most typical Brazilianisms, "the sinuous melodies, the Negroid background rhythms, the peppery repeated notes, and the peculiar brand of nostalgia call 'saudade'".
Concetino For Guitar and Piano
In many respects, Copland's description is an apt one for the music of this CD. The most varied work is of course the largest one - the "Concertino for Guitar and Piano: by Radames Gnattali, born in 1906 in Porto Alegre. The "Concertino's" three movement structure and the forms of the individual movements show the composer's respect for classical traditions, absorbed during his years of study at Brazil's leading music schools under the best teachers. The idiomatic writing for both the guitar and piano is a practical demonstration of his instrumental training and versatility. He has played both instruments professionally as well as the violin and viola, and he is an accomplished conductor and orchestrator. Applying one of Copland's criteria to the "Concertino" one would say that it is first of all a melodic work. Melody pervades it from beginning to end. Even the presto of the last movement gives way twice to slow melodic episodes. Still, there are distinctions to be made between kinds of melodies. Both the principal and secondary themes of the first movement are brief phrases of the kind that composers use for building musical structures according to architectural or dramatic principles. At the very beginning, for instance, the piano actually states the subject four times, each statement having a different melodic continuation. The guitar, on the other hand, states it but once and then rhapsodizes over it in a flurry of improvistory passages. The second theme is similarly treated, so that at the end of the movement one has the impression of having listened to a continuous exposition of every varying melody within the framework of sonata form. By contrast, the second movement has the long-lined melody of a popular song, extended and idealized, with a luxurious harmonic coloring. This music is romantic, languorous, and sentimental. The last movement has the "peppery repeated notes" and the rhythmic vitality of primitive music.
Radames Gnattali: Saudade
The mood of the slow movement is evoked again by the concluding work, "Saudade". But this three minute encore to the "Concertino" is less ambitious, less "constructed" in terms of melodic development, phrase patterns, and harmonic relationships.
Laurindo Almida: Guitar
Laurindo plays six short pieces, three by Annibal Augusto Sardinha, two by Almeida, and one by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Sardinha, who was popularly known as Garoto ("the kid"), was born in Sao Paulo in 1915 and died prematurely at the age of forty. His extraordinary talent as a performer was shown early. At the Age of eleven he had mastered the mandolin and banjo, and later he perfected himself on all fretted instruments. His preference was the guitar, and it was a player and composer of guitar music that he earned his reputation throughout South America. At one time he and Almeida concertized together as a guitar duet.
Sardinha: Choro Triste, Choro Gracioso & Nosso Choro
The three Sardinha works bear the title "Choro", a term that may include anything from these small pieces to the massive orchestral-choral works of Villa-Lobos. It is described by one authority as an instrumental work of urban rather than folk origin, sentimental and chromatic in its development, predominantly minor, dissonant in harmony and polyphonic in texture. Examples demonstrate that it need not possess all these characteristics at once, or even at all, and that it can be whatever a composer chooses to make of it. Sardinha's urban and sophisticated pieces partake variously of the defined characteristics.
Laurindo Almeida: Serenata - Copacabana
Of the two Almeida works, the "Serenata" is dedicated to the memory of Sardinah. Though its rhythm is that of the dignified valse de concert or valse lente, and thus more elegant and refined than Sardinha's, it is on the same plane of feeling. "Copacabana Sunset" is both more poetic and more evocative, and it also exploits many of the more generous sonorities of the instrument.
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Gavota-Choro
Villa-Lobos is certainly the major figure in South American music as well as the most completely representative of Brazilian composers. In one work or another, his art reflects every aspect of the Indian-Negro-Portuguese-Spanish traditions as well as the European ones from Bach to early Stravinsky. The "Gavota-Choro" is perhaps one of his more staid works, but highly varied for all that. Especially attractive is the combination of Italianate melodic phrases and classical dance rhythm with harmonic dissonances of a definitely modern stamp, all handled with the authority of a master.
Laurindo Almeida has achieved fame in widely diversified fields of music by creating beautiful and serious compositions for guitar, by performing brilliantly as solo guitarist with some of the nation's most distinguished jazz bands, and by playing with equal brilliance on the classical concert stage. His appearances at such places as Carnegie Hall, Chicago's and San Francisco's Opera Houses, and the Hollywood Bowl have been marked by enthusiastic acclaim of his inspired artistry.