Evolution of a “National Linguagen” in the Guitar Music of H. Villa-Lobos

Orlando Fraga

Many twentieth century composers have formed their style of composition in reaction to both the formal expansion and the harmonic procedures of the late nineteenth-century. Particularly in the early part of our century, one trend of compositional style had aimed to clarity and simplicity of expression in direct contrast to their late Romantic counterparts. Some composers sought and found new elements in diverse sources: the intimacy of setting and instrumental scoring characteristic of chamber music, melodic “purity” in folk music, concise formal designs in music of much earlier times (Baroque and Classic), and rhythmic incisiveness as it was being developed in American jazz.

The increasing interest in the guitar as a valuable an instrument on the part of the audiences and composers as well, in recent times may be symptomatic of a taste for musical “intimacy”. Villa-Lobos showed a fondness for it in his chamber works, solo songs, and certainly, in pieces for solo guitar. His complete works for guitar is one of the most significant contributions to the guitar repertory by a twentieth-century
composer. Villa-Lobos’ style was formed eclectically, from selective observation and incorporated both earlier and contemporary musical trends. His music for guitar reveals strong influences from the following sources: Baroque music (particularly Bach), Impressionism (especially Debussy), the art of the instrumental miniature (especially Chopin), fin de siècle salon music, and Brazilian folk music.

While much of Villa-Lobos’ music is relatively easy to apprehend in terms of “standard” tonal practice, certain aspects of his music seem to defy easy explanation. Phrase structure, linear-motion, hypermetrical organization, and above all, the modal aspect of melodies and harmonies, are among them. In general, Villa-Lobos’ guitar music preserves a rhapsodic or capricious quality through their almost free and sometimes ambiguous tonal/modal progressions strongly based on chordal parallelism. I will return to parallelism later in the analysis.

Evolution of a “National Linguagen” in the Guitar Music of H. Villa-Lobos

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