Organizer and chief of the excursion. He was very good at his role. All the members were conscious of the responsibilities which weighed on his shoulders.
ARTIST: Indisputably a great musical genius. A great soloist on cello and guitar. He also played piano, principally to perfect his compositions.
COMPOSER: His facility at composing was immense. He wrote music on the staff like one writes a letter. Any excuse was an opportunity to write a piece of music. Personally, he was very nervous, but in general good humored: smiling and very kind, when things were going well, very angry and energetic when anything went against him. He didn’t know how to dissemble. He had a rough frankness.
He spoke much about the adventures of his journeys in the north and south of Brazil, and abroad. He suffered a great deal. He often said to whomever would listen, “Don’t be surprised at seeing a Christ without a beard.”
Great pianist. Although she played with great delicacy, she brought a grand sonority from the piano.
PERSONALITY – Always happy, with a smile on her lips. Extremely delicate, incapable of offending anyone. She treated me with very special courtesy.
A brilliant and very vigorous pianist. He didn’t worry in the least about what he was going to play until the time of the concert. He had an extraordinary technique. One day, after he had performed Alegria na Horta by Villa-Lobos, the composer asked him, “How can you play so many notes, at the same time and with such speed?” Souza Lima responded, smiling, “Only God knows.” Meaning, I guess, that in the intuition of the artist, the fingers run faster than the mind.
PERSONALITY – He was a jewel. Extraordinarily courteous. Always in a good humor, with a very youthful spirit. Lively, conversed a lot, and liked to make puns on occasion. He told many stories of his stay in Paris.
Nair Duarte Nunes
A singer with a smooth voice and very well controlled. In concerts, her beautiful voice was much appreciated, but only a minority appreciated the pieces. The majority of the public expected more accessible songs; some people complained, saying, “I thought she would sing a samba, a tango or a mamba.”
PERSONALITY – Very discrete and polite. She made her debut on the excursion, coming out of a grave illness. She was thin and very frail. She paid close attention to what she ate. Dona Lucilia Villa-Lobos paid very close attention to her needs. At the end of the first stage, she was exhausted. She didn’t return for the second, being replaced temporarily by the singer Anita Gonçalves.
Strong voice, mezzo soprano. She had little vocal training. Her voice had no vibrato. Her repertory was more accessible to the public, interspersing classical songs among popular, which was better received.
PERSONALITY – Young, lively, svelte, single, and very beautiful. Daughter of Portuguese immigrants, her pronunciation was a little odd. She performed in the second and third stages of the excursion. From the fourth on, Nair Duarte Nunes returned, continuing until the end of the excursion. Now with more physical strength, and with a stronger voice.
Piano accompanist, first wife of maestro Villa-Lobos. She had a great deal of experience in this role.
PERSONALITY – Paid great attention to all members of the team. Always smiling and happy, in spite of the nervousness of the maestro. She treated me like a son. She even took care of my clothing.
In Mocaca, Anita Gonçalves took ill suddenly. It was Lucilia who was always at her side, giving her pills and injections. All this care and attention helped Anita get better very quickly, and to be in condition to sing in the concerts.
There were also on the excursion two anonymous artists. The first was Cleto Rocha, secretary, whose work with the prefectures was very arduous, in the arrangement and promotion of the concerts. He traveled separated from the group, always ten to fifteen days in advance of the rest, to make arrangements, reserve the theater, lodging, prepare for our reception, and sell tickets.
Sometimes he had a bad reception from a few Prefects, who were still from an earlier political period, that is, the Republican Paulista Party, recently deposed by the revolution of Getulio Vargas, and they didn’t even want to hear about an excursion authorized by the Federal Interventor in São Paulo.
The second anonymous artist was the piano tuner technician, and acoustic technician for the concert halls. His name was António Chechim Filho, who is writing these memories of that wonderful journey which was the Excursão Artistica Villa-Lobos.
My art? To give to the artists the conditions in which they can present themselves perfectly. At the time, a young man, single, twenty-six years old and with thirteen years of experience. A very acute ear, and a great deal of patience, as the work requires. Technical inspector for the Brazil Piano Manufacturing Company, on leave to accompany these artists. Technician as well for great artists of São Paulo, like Guiomar Novaes Pinto, Souza Lima, Professor Kliass and many others,
Railroad Transport for the Artists
In 1931, there were very few roads for automobiles in the State of São Paulo. And those which existed were in general very precarious. For this reason, passenger travel was almost exclusively by rail.
The Villa-Lobos excursion did not stray from this rule. We traveled only by train. And, whenever possible, we went during the morning, so that we could have lunch in the next city. But many times this didn’t happen. Then, we would eat in the dining car. The excursion became well known on the trains in which we traveled, so that in some dining cars they knew the routine: a special dish for Souza Lima and coffee for Villa-Lobos. The dish for Souza Lima was chicken baked in the Parisian manner, with various seasonings. It was a courtesy of the chef. Souza Lima had given him the recipe. The coffee for Villa-Lobos was that extremely strong coffee Villa-Lobos demanded, strong to the point of dying the spoon. He wouldn’t drink it if it wasn’t to his taste.
Many times the coffee was returned until it came to the desired strength.
The journeys were, in general, always happy, revealing beautiful and interesting landscapes. There were many interesting conversations with other passengers, who, knowing we were in the excursion Villa-Lobos, wanted to learn more about it. But sometimes they became painful and tiring, when the car, in spite of being first class, was over-full, very hot, with dust and wood cinders from the locomotive coming in the windows.
Transport of the Piano
The piano was also transported by rail, also with a free passage on account of the state for the necessary transfer from one station to the next. The requisition could only be signed by Villa-Lobos or by Cleto Rochas.
A small railcar, completely enclosed and put at the disposal of the excursion, was attached at the end of the train in which the artists traveled. It was detached when we arrived at the station, and remained there until we left for the next city.
The piano, which was a grand, could only travel in a crate: first, because the railroad wouldn’t accept it out of a crate, second for its safety in the transport from the railcar to the theater. Along with it came a box, containing a bench and various tools and accessories. A wooden platform, on which Villa-Lobos played his cello, also traveled in the same railcar.
Later, when we acquired wooden beams for the erection of the platform where there wasn’t a large enough stage, those also became part of the baggage in our little railcar.
Observation: the piano could only travel on its side. A truck provided by the Prefectures and around ten men, manual laborers, would be used to take the piano from the railcar and transport it to the theater. This transport was made easy by the use of wheeled dollies, which were part of the accessories.
Unloading at the theater presented no problems, when there was a large stage door and loading dock for delivery of heavy cargo. But when there wasn’t one, which happened in the majority of theaters, the situation changed considerably. The piano had to go in the front door, where the audience entered. This was very difficult work. The difference in level from the bed of the truck to the ground was a great distance. It was necessary to prepare a ramp with strong beams, and to slide the piano crate down it. With the men standing on the ground, the crate was very tall to try to keep balanced so that it didn’t fall, not only damaging the piano, but running the risk of injuring someone underneath it. I had to be very attentive and arrange the men so that everything went well.
All this movement of men gesticulating, speaking loudly, attracted the attention of passers by, and during the unloading a crowd would gather. Some would offer to lend a hand. After a great deal of work, finally the piano crate was on the ground. Now we needed to get it inside the theater. This generally didn’t present big problems. Going up a couple of steps was easy, just a question of applying force. There were enough men for this, used to hard work. To get to the stage in the center of the theater was also easy. With the dollies, the piano crate rolled easily inside the building. Now the crate was put in a horizontal position. With enough men holding it all around, it was easy to lift it onto the stage. But once it was on stage, there were problems with the footlights, which were often damaged. For this reason, side entrances to the stage were preferred, with steps. Sometimes these were so narrow that the crate could barely make it. Once, we had to knock down a wall to get the piano through.
All this work and trouble was repeated in reverse when the piano was removed, to take it to the next concert. But it was a little easier, as the route was prepared, and the ramp already made.
At last, the crate was on the stage or on the platform. Now came the uncrating, attaching the legs and pedals. With the crate lying on the ground, the lid, attached with screws, must be removed. Here, a new problem. The men, used to working with hoes and picks and shovels, couldn’t manage a screwdriver. It was easier for me to remove the screws myself than to teach them how. With the piano out of the crate, on its legs, the crate and all the accessories were gathered together to be used for the journey to the next city, and the men dispersed. After the concert began a new task: to return the piano to the railcar which had remained at the station, so that it would be ready to be attached to the train which took the team to the next city.
This work, with few exceptions, was done at night, when the theater was empty. The same men who worked in the morning to get the piano from the railcar, now had the duty of taking it back. Now everything was easier. The route was prepared. The tools and fixtures as well. The men with experience, and with an advantage. Invited to attend the concert, the group always showed up reinforced by a few colleagues who, taking advantage of the opportunity, and satisfied by having attended a spectacle never seen before, worked with a will.
It was my duty to accompany them through the loading of the piano and accessories in the railcar, to ensure that none of the accessories were left behind, and also so that, due to some difficulty, they didn’t leave the piano on the platform, exposed to the weather, as happened once, and also so as not to delay the train, at the hour of departure.
When all this was done, each man received a gratuity of 2000 Reis, which was good money in those days. “Enough for ten cafezinhos.” And they went home, very happy. All finished, usually after midnight, satisfied with a job well done, I had a few hours to sleep before getting ready to go early the next day.
Preparation of the Piano
Once the piano was set up on stage, and the men had left, the piano was all mine.
It was gone over and tuned carefully, and the pedals adjusted. The keyboard, which was ivory, had to be cleaned with alcohol to remove any finger grease from the previous concert, and thus let the pianist’s fingers slide more easily over the keys. With the piano in the correct place on stage, the keyboard had to be made level, as the stage floor was slanted. The same had to happen with the bench, which had to be adjusted to the level of the keys so that the pianist’s performance wouldn’t be compromised. On platforms, put together when needed, this care wasn’t needed, as the platform would already be level.
The acoustic platform used by maestro Villa-Lobos was also located in a certain spot, with the special chair the maestro used to play his cello.
Whenever possible, a backdrop with a closed top was used to help with acoustics. The lighting was adjusted, and then the stage was ready for the concert.
During the concert, I remained always on duty back stage for any emergency with the piano. Sometimes I had to go out because a few strings went out of tune. Once it was the bench. The stage floor had been waxed, and the bench began to slip backwards, with the movement of the pianist, mostly from depressing the pedals. I had to attach four pieces of rubber from an inner tube to the bottoms of the bench legs, and the problem was solved.
In accordance with the decision of the Interventor, Lieutenant João Alberto, the journeys were all taken by railroad. On arrival at the station, how were the artists received?
Since it was an officially sanctioned excursion, the people, civil, military and ecclesiastical authorities, appeared en masse, completely packing the station platform. Many times, the artists were officially greeted there by the Prefect or other authorities. In many cities there was a band of musicians and fireworks. From there, a cortege of automobiles followed to the hotel. When the hotel was close to the station Villa-Lobos preferred to walk with his artists, and with the cortege following him.
In a very small city, whose name I don’t remember, our arrival was different. When we got there, not a single person was waiting for us. There was a miscommunication of the hour of arrival. This created some embarrassment, also with respect to moving our luggage. The Prefect was informed, and in a little while his entourage arrived, saving our situation.
The entourage was always lodged in the best hotel of the city. Each hotel took the greatest of care, within its possibilities. We were in many very good hotels, with good food, plenty of it and varied. But we were also in hotels constructed of wood, precariously built. The efforts of the owners, always attentive, in the preparation of the very best meals, compensated for any discomfort. Almost all the hotels of Alta Sorocabana were of wooden construction.
We also had a lodging which wasn’t a hotel. In Araraquara, we stayed in the residence of Doctor Mílton Fonseca, a doctor of high reputation, in the city. This doctor was so enthusiastic about music that, when he knew of the coming of the excursion to Araraquara, he wouldn’t permit that we be lodged in a hotel, though there were many good ones there.
Doctor Mílton had a very spacious house. He arranged his house to lodge the entire entourage, as well as his family. We were regally accommodated, each in his own room and with great comfort.
And the food? I don’t remember the name of Dr. Mílton’s wife, but I remember well that she was from Bahia (“ô xente”). She was an adorable creature. She took great care in the kitchen to make Bahian dishes which were her specialty. Among others, she made a vatapá, “good and hot” as she called it. And it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Villa-Lobos was enchanted with this vatapá, and couldn’t stop praising it.
For three days we were hosted by this delightful family. They had two sons who studied piano. The piano was German, a parlor grand. Dona Antonieta Rudge gave a mini-concert on it and left her autograph.
At the last dinner, Doctor Mílton gave Villa-Lobos his Guest Book to inscribe a memory of the stay.
Villa-Lobos began by writing the following: “We were in the house of Doctor Mílton Fonseca, and we ate and we ate and we ate like we had never eaten before.” Then he followed with praise and thanks for our reception there. This stay remained engraved forever in our hearts and (why not say it?) in our stomachs as well.
Villa-Lobos loved this sort of tirade, whether written or spoken.
Next morning, at departure, there were tears all around.
Araraquara truly was the city that remained most vividly in our memories, whether for the hospitality, for the theater, or for the success of the concert, especially the performance of Antonieta Rudge. They wouldn’t stop applauding, saying, “She is divine, she is divine, she is divine!” And still applauding. She had to play two encores.
Theaters, Stages, and Platforms
Almost all the concerts were held in cinemas. Very few times did we have the opportunity to use a theater. Some of them were very good, with excellent acoustical conditions, good stages and perfect illumination.
The cinemas were constructed solely for this purpose. Sometimes they were simply sheds. In general, they didn’t have a stage, or the stage was so small that it wouldn’t hold a grand piano. It was necessary to build a platform to serve as a stage.