Excursão Artística Villa-Lobos ao Interior do Estado de São Paulo, 1931-1932
Memories of my time spent together with the great composer and his musicians, during this memorable musical excursion. An homage by the author, António Chechim FIlho, to the illustrious maestro and musician Heitor Villa-Lobos, on the centenary of his birth, this narrative is offered by the last-surviving participant in the excursion.
São Paulo, March 5, 1987
“O estilo é o homen” (The style is the man) [Editor’s note]
Living Memories of the Artistic Excursion of Villa-Lobos is not a scholarly or literary work. But its importance transcends those considerations. Just as a photograph can be not merely a moment, but a living portrait, so in the case of this narrative we see not only the facts the author describes, but the person of the author himself.
On the one hand, we have a treasury of numerous interesting aspects and curiosities of the life and personality of a great composer, which would be lost to us were it not for the courageous and tenacious persistence of a piano tuner-technician, not a writer. On the other hand, we come to know the man “Kekim,” always ready to serve his fellow man: the professional who scrupulously carries out his duties, into the smallest details; the husband, dedicated to the point of heroism; the father, loving and always calm; the friend, ready and willing to help.
Therefore, in editing these pages, I took care to respect his style rather than revise it. I hope that the reader will not simply be entertained, enjoying the panorama of the excursion, but will also find here a life message.
Pe. Antonio Marcos Girardi
Justification for this work:
- My esteem for the people and for the work of the group
- The desire to make certain such important data on the history of music in Brazil are not lost
- The example of public spirit and selfless love of art displayed by the protagonists in the excursion
- Homage to the members of the team, of whom I am the last survivor
A description of the adventures experienced by the participants of the Villa-Lobos Artistic Excursion, through more than one hundred cities in the interior of the state of São Paulo in the years 1931-1932.
Members of the team:
- Heitor Villa-Lobos: organizer and chief of the excursion
- Antonieta Rudge: pianist
- João de Souza Lima: pianist
- Nair Duarte Nunes: singer
- Anita Gonçalves: singer
- Lucilia Villa-Lobos: piano accompanist
- Cleto Rocha: secretary and public relations of the excursion
- António Chechim FIlho: piano tuner
- The distance in time from when the events occurred. The Excursion took place in 1931, 56 years ago.
- It is impossible to obtain further information from other participants, as all are deceased.
- All the documents in my possession concerning the Excusion, from stage to stage, city to city, programs, tickets, a large number of photographs, after being safely kept for more than 40 years, were lost.
- More than a year of searching my memory to recall events of many years ago.
- Dona Conceição Pereira Chechim – school teacher [his wife]
- Ciro Gonçalves Dias Junior – professor of music and pianist
- Paulo Eduardo Chechim – doctor
- Dona Maria Lucy Chechim Lima – concert pianist
- Dona Maria Emília C. Ruzsicska – ham radio operator PY2 TME
- Antonio Sérgio P. Chechim – electronic engineer
- Ciro Gonçalves Dias Junior – professor of music – musical information
- Maria Lucy C. Lima – editing and musical information
- Maria Emília C. Ruzsicska – history of Brazil
- Vera Spagnolia – teacher of Portuguese language – editing
- Gláucia Pantaleão da Silva – professor of biology – information concerning the theater of Ribeirão Preto
- Maria Elísia Borges – professor of art history - information concerning the theater of Ribeirão Preto
- Agenor Pereira – doctor - information concerning the theater of Araraquara
- José Cézar P. F. Alves – ham radio operator, Cruzeiro-SP, PY2-GYX – information concerning Cleto Rocha
- Carlos - – ham radio operator, Belo Horizonte-MG, 4-CF – information concerning Cleto Rocha
- Maria de Lourdes G. Pereira - ham radio operator, Bauru-SP, PY5-TG – information concerning the Hotel Centro of Bauru-SP
- Francisco Ricardo FIlho - ham radio operator, PY5-CV – for furnishing the Mexican book entitled Music and Musicians, relating activities of Villa-Lobos
- Margareth Coelho de Oliveira Lima – typing
- Fernando de Almeida – advertising executive – cover
To my wife, Dona Conceicão Pereira Chechim, who, though physically disabled since 1972 due to a cerebral hemorrhage, 50% paralyzed, spared no effort to help in this work.
To Senhorita Marisa Gasparini and to Pe. Antonio Marcos Girardi, who spared no effort in creating the conditions under which this work could be presented to the public, the profound gratitude of the author, António Chechim Filho and his family.
Villa-Lobos was born in Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1887. He was baptized with the name Heitor. His mother, Dona Noêmia, called him Tuhú, because he was a very lively and mischievous boy.
His father, Professor Raul, taught music, clarinet and cello. Because music alone didn’t bring in enough money to support four children, Heitor and his three siblings, he found work as a librarian in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro.
Professor Raul, a lover of music, founded along with some colleagues the first Music Society in Rio, which later became known as the Society of Symphonic Concerts of Rio de Janeiro.
Heitor inherited from his father a love for music. Very nervous and uneasy as a child, he only became comfortable at the side of his father, listening to him play the clarinet or cello.
One day, Professor Raul, seeing the boy had such interest in music, gave him a cello reduced in size for his age, which pleased him greatly.
In 1898, the child Heitor, then only 11 years old, suffered the first hard blow of his life: his father died.
Heitor was very sad and depressed due to the loss of his father, who had been both friend and encourager.
He didn’t allow himself to be shaken, he recovered his spirit and, more than ever, dedicated himself to music.
His mother, Dona Noêmia, needed to make a great effort to raise her four children. She had to bring in work as a seamstress to support the family. At this time Heitor had completed elementary school, in addition to the music his father had taught him.
Dona Noêmia always wanted her son to have a career that wasn’t in music. She told him, “You should study to become a doctor some day.” But Heitor preferred music.
When he was 13 years old, in 1900, he began to study the guitar. His mother didn’t approve.
In 1903, still an adolescent of 16, Heitor would often study in his room, in the depths of the house, preparing to enroll in a course in medicine. With very little will to study, and with a guitar close at hand, he would pick up his instrument and begin playing the music which came into his head. He played very softly, so that his mother wouldn’t hear, as he didn’t want to upset her.
Villa-Lobos, in order to become a musician, had to overcome serious difficulties. To pay for his studies, he had to play in theaters and cinemas. The guitar also helped. He began to teach, making 4000 Reis, which was good money in those days. By that time, at the age of 16, he had composed several pieces for guitar.
In 1905, when he was 18, he abandoned the study of medicine and wanted to leave Rio to get to know other states, other people, other customs. But with what financial resources? He sold the music books of his late father, saying, “What good are these books gathering dust on the shelves?”
He became cellist for a theatrical company which went on a tour in northern Brazil. And thus the young Heitor was able to fulfill his dream, getting to know Minas Gerais, Bahia, Mato Grosso, Goiás, Belém, Manaus, and all the northeast. The countryside fascinated him with its colors, its people, its characteristics. What attracted him most was the folk and country music of various places. He didn’t miss the opportunity to play the guitar with local musicians.
In the north, after a period of time, he fell out with the theater company and left it. He continued traveling through the area for some time, but on his own. He suffered many difficulties. Little money, lack of understanding, bad friends, and he even caught malaria, which made him shiver and shake.
Stages of his Career
With his strong will, he conquered all. On return to Rio, at 19, after staying in the north for a year, he composed Fantasias for Guitar, and some other pieces for voice and piano.
Wanting to improve his capabilities in composition, he enrolled in the course of Harmony at the Instituto Nacional de Música of Rio de Janeiro, to get to know more deeply the secrets of composition.
In Rio, the same economic problem returned. Music only gave pleasure, it didn’t make money. How could he make a living and at the same time learn better to compose? In 1915, at 28, after studying for a while at the Instituto de Música, having learned what he needed, he left it. He found work as representative of a match factory in Rio. It was a novelty, matches with two heads. “One on either end of the stick. The same match could be used twice to light a cigarette.” At that time lighters were rare. The consumption of matches was enormous. They needed to be made good use of. This job required that he travel to the south of the country. This was just what Villa-Lobos wanted. To have the opportunity to get to know other places and customs. He also took the opportunity to give some concerts and display his music, to play with colleagues of the south, and to collect themes for new compositions.
From these new experiences Villa-Lobos gained new vitality, more facility, and a new enthusiasm for his new compositions. Any experience was an opportunity for a new composition.
In 1918, at 31, Villa-Lobos continued playing the cello, in cinemas and orchestras. In this era films were silent. An orchestra played in front of the screen, in the dark, with lights that just projected over the music on the stand. In large movie theaters, this orchestra played in a pit below the level of the screen. The musicians played while the film rolled. The musicians more or less accompanied the type of film. For a happy film, happy music, for a romantic film, suave music, etc. There were cinemas with large orchestras. Many times the orchestra provided a bigger spectacle than the film.
The Odeon Cinema stood out, not only for its films, but especially for its large orchestra and for the musicians which were part of it, who were mostly professors.
On tour in Rio de Janeiro, the great pianist Artur Rubenstein, at the invitation of some friends, went there, more to hear the orchestra than to watch the film. Rubenstein didn’t like it. He said to his friends, “An orchestra like this should play much better music, not waltzes, tangos, maxixes, and other things of little value.” They were just leaving, when some new music started. It was Danças Africanas by Villa-Lobos. “This,” said Rubenstein, “is the music for this orchestra.” He sat again, after hearing the first chords, and stayed until the end of the music. When the lights were turned on for intermission, Rubenstein wanted to compliment the musicians. His friends presented him to Villa-Lobos, composer of the music and great cellist. Rubenstein, knowing of the controversy surrounding modern music, wanted to know something about it. Villa-Lobos didn’t believe that such a famous artist as Rubenstein was interested in his music. He was used to criticisms, boos, and incomprehension. He expected only irony on the part of great artists. Villa-Lobos, irritated, responded in a rude and violent tone, “You can’t possibly understand me! Pianists here don’t want to play my music, only music by foreigners.” He turned his back and left. In fact, Villa-Lobos always had a nervous and explosive temperament. Rubenstein, very annoyed, left satisfied with the music, but repelled by the composer.
“Next day,” says Rubenstein, “in the morning, while I was still sleeping with the shades drawn, because there were many mosquitoes and it was hot. I was awakened by the doorbell, thinking it was a telegram. But what a surprise! It was Villa-Lobos. But he wasn’t alone. He came accompanied by four or five other musicians.” Villa-Lobos said, “Didn’t you say you wanted to know my music? I brought the musicians here to play, because later they are busy.” And they played various pieces, and then, saying good-bye, they left. Villa-Lobos as well.
Rubenstein recognized the courage of the composer, and also the reasons he was so nervous, because his work was always criticized, and only a minority appreciated it.
In 1922, a Week of Modern Art was organized, in the municipal theater of São Paulo. Painters, sculptors, plastic artists, writers and composers took part. Villa-Lobos was also invited to present his music. He was received with thunderous boos and implacable criticism. But if the boos and the criticisms made him suffer, they also served to get the newspapers to open a dialogue about his new music.
In 1926, at 39, Villa-Lobos went to Europe and presented his music in the major capitals. In Paris, among modern composers, Villa-Lobos found a more favorable environment. His standard of living also improved. He had various pupils, among them some recommended by the great professor Marguerite Long, who was also the teacher of Maestro João Lima Souza, when he was there, studying at the Conservatoire de Music in Paris.
In 1927, at 40, he presented various compositions in the Salle Gaveau in Paris. Opinions of the public were mixed. Some criticized, some booed, but a good portion of the more modern applauded. His music began to be understood.
In 1930, at 43, Villa-Lobos lived with his wife Dona Lucilia Villa-Lobos in São Paulo at the Hotel Regina, situated in Largo Santa Efigënia at the end of the viaduct of that name. He worked happily and satisfied, because his compositions began to be more appreciated and sought after.
It was in December of that year, after the victory of the Getulista revolution, which happened on Christmas eve, that he received in his apartment in the hotel a visit from a military officer. The officer gave him a letter inviting him to present himself at the Palacio dos Campos Eliseos, residence of the Federal Interventor [governor] of São Paulo, the then Lieutenant João Alberto Lins de Barros. Villa-Lobos hurried to attend the invitation of the Interventor.
Lieutenant João Alberto accepted his petition to underwrite a voyage through various cities in the interior of the state, not only to spread his own music, but to present to the inhabitants of these localities musical artists of great renown. “It was a true Christmas present.” From this meeting with the Interventor was born the Excursão Artistica Villa-Lobos, begun in the second half of January, 1931, and which will be described later on.
In April, 1932 Villa-Lobos brought to a close his artistic excursion to the interior of the state of São Paulo. The closing ceremony Villa-Lobos called the “Civic Exhortation of Villa-Lobos.” It included a grand chorus of male and female voices, accompanied by a large orchestra and by the Armed Forces Band. The band and orchestra played together to accompany the Orpheonic Chorus. Villa-Lobos was very satisfied with the performance of all, and with its magnificent reception. It was the most beautiful spectacle of his excursion.
After this concert, which inspired great enthusiasm for the music, expecially among the young, Villa-Lobos bid farewell to the Excursion and to São Paulo, moving temporarily to Rio de Janeiro.
There, he was preparing a new excursion which was intended to go to the state of Paraná or Minas Gerais, when, on May 23, 1932, the Constitutionalist movement of the state of São Paulo had its prelude in the capital, with the deaths of four students: Mário, Miraguaia, Dráusio and Camargo. These students gave to the movement, in addition to their lives, the initials M.M.D.C – emblem of the Constitutionalist Revolution. With this movement, all preparations for the new excursion were cancelled.
Villa-Lobos didn’t stop. In 1936 he traveled by Zeppelin from Rio de Janeiro to Czechoslovakia, where he represented Brazil in the Congress of Artistic Education in Prague.
In 1944, he traveled for the first time to the United States of America, and there conducted one of the major orchestras of the world, the Boston Symphony.
In 1956, at 59, Villa-Lobos lost his dear mother, who was very old and nearly blind.
On March 5, 1957, Villa-Lobos celebrated the completion of 70 years of life, very well lived, between struggles and glories.
He received from the Municipal Prefecture of São Paulo the great homage, in the Municipal Theater, of a plaque with his name. A marvelous concert, with large orchestra and two choruses, one male and one female, conducted by Maestro João Lima Souza, included the tenth symphony of Villa-Lobos Sumé Pater Patrium.
At the end, much applause. The Maestro and the musicians bowed. With the applause continuing thunderously, everyone standing, Maestro Lima Souza pointed in the depth of the theater, in one of the boxes, together with family and friends, to the figure of Villa-Lobos, also on his feet, applauding.
On November 17, 1959, maestro Villa-Lobos died in the city of Rio de Janeiro, 72 years old, having left to posterity all his work done with great sacrifice, but with great love.
He was an inspired innovator of Brazilian music.