Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 Program Notes

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was one of the most prominent Brazilian composers of the 20th century. Particularly in the post-WWI era, distinctively nationalist composers such as Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chávez, and Silvestre Revueltas earned recognition in Europe in addition to enjoying success at home and placed their respective countries on the international stage for the first time. Villa-Lobos synthesized Brazilian folk idioms with Western art music techniques to create a unique nationalist style.

Villa-Lobos learned the cello from his father, but rejected his early formal music education from the Conservatório de Música. Free from his father’s influence after his premature death in 1899, Villa-Lobos took his training to the streets of Rio de Janeiro as a guitarist where he learned the music of the chorões, a popular ensemble genre that influenced his later works. Unable to commit to school for any length of time, he spent his later teenage years playing cello in theaters, hotels, and cinemas. He produced more than 100 compositions over the next ten years, but critics received the first performance dedicated entirely to his works very poorly. Villa-Lobos persisted, and additional major concerts of his works established him as a controversial modernist figure. He befriended Milhaud and Arthur Rubinstein, and Rubinstein promoted his music throughout the world. He achieved great recognition in Europe during his travels from 1923-1930, and he met such great composers as Ravel, de Falla, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Varèse.

Villa-Lobos composed his set of nine Bachianas Brasileiras (Brazilian Bach pieces) between 1930 and 1945 upon his return from Europe. These neoclassical compositions sought to link Brazilian popular music to Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal procedures. Most of the movements have one “Bachian” title and one Brazilian title. Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for flute and bassoon (1938) is a suite in two movements: Ária (chôro) and Fantasia. As the work is scored for only flute and bassoon, the skeletal counterpoint between the two single-line instruments becomes the most intriguing aspect of the piece. The first movement exhibits long, improvisatory-sounding phrases in the flute reminiscent of the serenading chôro style. The second movement also draws from popular Brazilian idioms including syncopation, rhythmically-complex counterpoint, and virtuosic technique.

Hans-Joachim Koellreutter (flute) and Aquiles Spernazzati (bassoon) gave the first performance of this work on September 24, 1945 in Rio de Janeiro. Koellreutter studied composition with Hindemith at the Berlin State Academy and flute with Marcel Moyse at the Geneva Conservatory before moving to Brazil in 1937. Villa-Lobos dedicated Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 to Alfredo Martins Lage, a flutist, and Evandro Moreira Pequeno, a cellist.

Béhague, Gerard. “Villa-Lobos, Heitor.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 3, 2014,


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