Stories of Villa-Lobos
During our travel, or at the dining table, Villa-Lobos liked to tell stories of his past life, remembering his childhood. Taking up his guitar, he would play those old round songs all children know. “O anel que tu me deste…” “Carneirinho, Carneirão…” and many others.
One day, at lunch in the hotel, among other dishes there was one of pancakes, one of his favorites. He then told how, as a child, after his father’s death, he composed a melody on guitar. What name should he give this composition? That day he ate dinner at the house of a friend, and they served pancakes, knowing it was his favorite dish. No more doubt, “‘Pancake’ will be the name of the piece!” he shouted.
When he was 16 he composed a piece he named “As Sedutoras.” Later he wrote the “Polichinelo.”
In Marajó he met a friend from Ceará. His name was Donizete. He played saxophone. Together they decided to go to Manaus. But they didn’t go by boat. They went cross country, they penetrated the forests, on foot, by wagon, by ox cart, on the backs of burros, and in canoes to cross the rivers. They carried their instruments along, and, in the villages and little towns through which they traveled, they gave concerts from which they earned a little to allow them to continue on their way. One day, crossing a river, “A Canoa Virou” [the canoe turned over, name of a well-known song], and he remembered then the song he had sung as a child. There they were, with their instrument in the water, the guitar, the cello, and the saxophone. The river wasn’t deep. They pulled their instrument out by their straps, along with their suitcase of clothing. At the end of their journey, they weren’t able to enjoy Manaus. They became very sick and returned home. The friend stayed In Fortaleza, and he returned to Rio and then to São Paulo. He said that he suffered a great deal in getting back. That the difficulties and labors of the excursion were only a shadow of what he experienced then. And, in closing, he exclaimed, as he did many times, “Here is a Christ without a beard!”
How the Excursion was Viewed
For the cities in the interior of the state: without doubt, a grand occurrence. A festive day. In some cities it was even considered like the annual local fiesta. The Villa-Lobos Excursion was the most exciting thing that had ever happened. In contrast to the enthusiasm of some cities, in others they didn’t even know what a musical concert would be. Some would ask, “What is a concert?” Others thought is was a theater company, asking, “What show will be presented?” And “will the singer sing La Cumparsita?” – a song that was at its most popular during that period.
For the artists: The excursion gave to all its members great artistic development. Villa-Lobos was inspired with themes for his next compositions. We also had the satisfaction of getting to know almost all the cities of the interior of the State of São Paulo, with their beautiful aspects, great progress is some cities, in contrast to others very isolated and lacking in progress. For me it was very valuable to learn how to operate in an extended artistic tour. It was a great pleasure to be able to live together with these artist friends for almost a year and a half.
I also had the opportunity to revisit many cities I had known years before.
The team had the satisfaction of leaving a legion of friends, throughout the interior of the State.
The results of the tour were so positive, that they wanted to carry it into neighboring states. The Constitutional Revolutionary movement of 1932 unfortunately interrupted this proposal.
Villa-Lobos and Silence
Many didn’t understand the need for silence in a concert hall, something which Villa-Lobos preached insistently in his lectures. In the cities of Alta Sorocabana, from Avaré on, they didn’t practice this. Always after the intermission, at the beginning of the second part of the program, a problem arose. The sound of roasted peanut shells. Imagine the effect of an entire theater cracking peanut shells, while a cello solo, or a song, or a piano solo is played! Villa-Lobos asked the Prefects not to allow the sale of peanuts in the shell at the doors of the theater on the day of the concert. Nevertheless, there was always someone cracking peanut shells.
Paulista Railroad Company, January/February, 1931
Since everything was getting ready more rapidly than he had expected, Villa-Lobos decided to move up the date of the first concert to the third week of January, 1931, planning to return to São Paulo during Carnaval, then to proceed with the tour.
Every year during January and February, Piano Brasil sent Sr. António Chechim Flho and an assistant to tune, adjust and repair the pianos of the Colégios de Irmandade de São José: Nossa Senhora do Bom Conselho, in Taubaté; Nossa Senhora do Patrocínio, in Itú; Sagrado Coração de Jesus, in Campinas; São José, in Bauru; Nossa Senhora Aparecida, in Arançatuba; and others. Sr. Capiluppi calculated that in the second half of February Sr. Kekim would be in Campinas, and from there he could join the Villa-Lobos Excursion.
When in January Villa-Lobos urgently asked for a tuner for Campinas, because the concert had already been arranged, Sr. Capiluppi was flustered. Kekim was far from Campinas, he was in Itú, and he didn’t know about the Villa-Lobos Excursion.
Well, the tuner Kekim, “António Chechim Flho”, is no longer tuning pianos. He is writing one of the most beautiful pages of his professional life, after the passage of 56 years, describing the Villa-Lobos Excursion, that great happening of the epoch in the interior of the State of São Paulo.
I, Kekim, was in Itú, quietly working on the pianos of the Colégio Nossa Senhora do Patrocínio, when I received an urgent telegram from the piano factory, asking for my immediate return to São Paulo to tune a piano for some concerts. That same day I returned to São Paulo and presented myself to Sr. Capiluppi. It was there that he told me I must go urgently to Campinas, to tune the piano in the Municipal Theater, find maestro Villa-Lobos at the Vitória Hotel, and from there join the entourage of the Villa-Lobos Excursion, taking care of the piano that would be used for various concerts.
The next day I was in Campinas. I found maestro Villa-Lobos in the Vitória Hotel, which was coincidentally the same place I customarily stayed when I went there to work at the Colégio Sagrado Coração de Jesus.
I was received by the maestro very cordially, and was presented to the other members of the entourage. They were very glad of my arrival. Antonieta Rudge said happily, “Welcome to the youngest member of our group!” I was satisfied with my reception, because everyone was very friendly. I went to the theater and left the piano in tune…Nobody could find fault!
That night, I attended the concert in the theater. It was the only concert I attended as part of the audience, in a theater box with some members of the organizing commission. In all the other concerts, I was always back stage, ready for any emergency with the piano, and to attend to the piano lid and the lights.
It was in Campinas that I learned of the plans and the extent of the excursion. For me it was a pleasure to be able to work for that group of great artists, repeatedly, for more than a year.
The program in Campinas, being the debut concert, had a modification. The first part consisted of several pieces for solo cello by Villa-Lobos, accompanied on piano by Dona Lucilia Villa-Lobos. The second part, right after the intermission, in place of the singer as had been planned originally, a three voice choir from one of the high schools of Campinas performed, under the direction of maestro João Julião. It was a marvelous spectacle: the girls in their red and white uniforms, boys in black suits, and the maestro directing from the podium. The piano accompaniment was played by a pianist of the school, whose name I don’t know. Needless to say, the applause was thunderous.
Next came the piano solo, by the great pianist Antonieta Rudge. The last piece was the Polonaise of Chopin. There was much applause, and the pianist returned many times to acknowledge it. She had to play an encore.
Everything was finished in Campinas. After the concert, the compliments, the autographs, a small reception, we returned to the hotel for a rest, and to get ready for a journey the next day to Vila Americana, where we would have the real beginning of the excursion. Villa-Lobos, however, complained that the public gave a chilly reception to his music.
That is what this city was called in 1931. It ceased to be “Vila” [town], becoming plain “Americana,” due to its considerable progress over the years, with its great number of textile factories.
It was the first city to be visited, after the debut of the excursion in Campinas. First in everything: for the artists, the first experience of performing in a small city. For me it was also a new experience, with many difficulties. Difficulties in installing the piano on too small a stage. But the greatest difficulty was the piano crate.
For the first time, the grand piano of maestro Villa-Lobos would be used. It had been stored for a long time in the furniture storage facility of a moving company in Rio de Janeiro. Villa-Lobos asked the company to send the piano directly from Rio to Vila Americana, in the State of São Paulo.
I found the piano still in the railroad car. To move it, the local government had ordered a truck, with its driver and two men. So, how could three men move a grand piano, still in its crate? It was necessary to ask for additional manpower, and to wait for its arrival. Meanwhile, time was getting short, it was running out. And the concert would be later this same day. At last, the piano was moved and placed on the tiny stage, still in its crate, just as it had arrived from Europe. That is, with the zinc wrapping, completely sealed, as was usual at that time for maritime shipping, so that the humidity and the sea air would not damage the piano.
Opening the crate was another problem. It was nailed shut, and well nailed. Without proper tools, the men began to open it, using crowbars and even trying a pickaxe. It was necessary to call a halt to this, and to send for more appropriate tools. Time was passing. At last the crate was open. The piano was taken from the zinc wrapping and mounted on the stage. The men were dismissed. From there on, it would be up to me. Imagine the state of a new piano sent from Europe to Brazil, and then stored for months in a warehouse. Totally out of tune, but with the little time remaining it was still possible to get it in functioning order and to tune it, though by no means perfectly. There wasn’t enough time to check lighting and acoustics of the concert hall.
At last, the concert began right on time, because Villa-Lobos wouldn’t allow delay. It went very well, and was much applauded. Villa-Lobos, Antonieta Rudge, and Nair Duarte Nunes felt difficulties in performing, but with their talent they overcame them. The page turner, Srta. Helena Rudge, complained there wasn’t enough light on the music.
At the end of the concert, there was new work to re-crate the piano, and get it back in its railcar, for the journey to Piracicaba, it being necessary to re-nail the whole crate.
At last the laborious day was over, but I was satisfied, having given the artists conditions to perform in the best way possible.
On the next day, early, everything began anew, with a journey to Piracicaba.
A concert without any big difficulties. We were already adapting to this new way of working, and providing means to effectuate it easily.
Before Piracicaba, we were in Santa Bárbara. For that concert, being the third program, the piano wasn’t needed. Therefore our piano was shipped directly to Piracicaba. With a day in advance, there was sufficient time to get the piano on stage in perfect functioning condition. There was even enough time left over for a visit to Piracicaba Falls.
Skipping over São Pedro de Piracicababa, with the third program, we come to Limera. In that city we didn’t use our piano. The concert was in a club hall, whose name doesn’t come to me. The piano from the hall was used. It took a great deal of work to prepare it. It had a very heavy touch, and was very much out of tune. I made it a little lighter in touch with a general regulation. Antonieta Rudge was worried, and her daughter Helena even more so, because the concert closed with the Polonaise of Chopin, a difficult piece, and they feared she might end up with a cramp in her hand or her arm.
Cordeiro, Hoje Cordeiropolis, and Leme
With the third program, no new things to record.
Concert with the first program. It was held in the hall of the high school. The piano was placed on the stage without great difficulty, but with considerable work getting it in and out of the crate, due to the nails.
A marvelous concert. The singing portion of the second part was replaced, courtesy of the school director, by the local chorus directed by its conductor. Following that came the piano solo of Antonieta Rudge. A large number of students from the school attended the concert, all in their required uniforms. It was a very beautiful concert and was enthusiastically applauded, the artists receiving many compliments. They signed many autographs.
First program. Nothing of importance to report, expect for the difficulties with the crate, which were already becoming routine.
First program. In this city the entourage spent two days. The local doctors offered us a grand dinner in the hotel in which we were staying. Among other dishes, what was memorable was two enormous baked “Dourados” in the center of the table. São Carlos has a very large group of doctors.
The concert was enthusiastically applauded, with the theater completely packed.
Following the first stage, we were in Porto Ferreira, Riberão Bonito, and other small cities, all with the third program. In general, all the concerts were well received.
We were in this city more than two days.
We were lodged in the house of a prominent local doctor, Dr. Mílton Fonseca, a musical enthusiast. He had a wonderful grand piano. And two sons who studied piano and were quite virtuosic.
The city theater, Municipal Theater, was one of the most perfect we encountered in the entire excursion. Perfectly functional, and with extraordinary acoustics.
The concert achieved great success. At the end, the public applauded Antonieta Rudge, making her return to the stage twice, and to play extra pieces.
The people of Araraquara were great appreciators of music, and did justice to the theater they have.
Jaboticabal and Bebedouro
First program. Two concerts without anything important to report, except to note the success our excursion was achieving.
Last concert of this first stage.
In this city, we stayed two days before the concert. We were very well received. The organizing commission offered the entourage a grand luncheon.
We visited a ranch [fazenda] where Zebu cattle were raised, and were received with a snack in the house of the ranch administrator, based on pure milk, cheese, butter, and tidbits, provided by the wife of the administrator.
The next day, the day of the concert in the hotel, when lunchtime was approaching, a young man sought out Antonieta Rudge and asked, “Would you like me to take care of tuning your piano for the concert?” Dona Antonieta, with great kindness, responded, “No, my son, we have our own technician.”
The young man said, “But I won’t charge you anything.” Dona Antonieta replied, “It isn’t needed, the piano is already tuned.” The young man insisted, “What I want is to get to know the piano and to have the opportunity to attend the concert.” Dona Antonieta said to him, “Oh, if that is what you want, then attend the concert.” And she took from her purse two tickets and gave them to the boy, saying “Take along a companion.” The young man was satisfied, and thanked her a great deal. That night, there he was at the concert, and he stayed to compliment the artists. He must have been a very conscientious tuner.
This being the last concert of the stage, we returned following it to São Paulo, along with the piano, so that I could go over it thoroughly and make a new crate, closed with screws rather than nails, because the old one was falling apart from being pried open and nailed back together.