Piano Music of Ginastera and Villa-Lobos

Fred Sturm

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 Liner notes:

Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil, 1887-1959) and Alberto Ginastera (Argentina, 1916 -1983) are without any doubt the giants of Latin American classical music. In fact, in my opinion they were two of the most exciting composers ever, from any part of the world. Both were extraordinarily creative, and each evolved a style that has its basis in the cultural heritage of his native country. Sometimes this involved the use of folk materials in a self-conscious effort to create a “national” music, as many composers were doing during the same period. But in the case of these two, it was not mere artifice: that “national character” simply became a part of their being. Villa Lobos liked to say, “I am Brazilian Folk Music.”

Lenda do Caboclo (Villa Lobos, 1920) is one of Villa Lobos’ most popular short works. Very Brazilian in character, it features a syncopated melody over a lightly swinging, triple/duple base. (Lenda is roughly equivalent to “ballad,” while caboclo means a native person – aboriginal or of mixed race).

Doce Preludios Americanos (Ginastera, opus 12, 1944) was commissioned by publisher Carl Fischer as part of a series of contemporary works by composers of the Americas. These short character pieces range from simple two part lyricism to frenzied, percussive exuberance, and include homages to several composers, among them Aaron Copland and Villa Lobos.

A Prole do Bebê, Suite 1 (Villa Lobos, 1918). This was one of the works that Villa Lobos took with him to Paris in 1923, a trip which transformed him overnight from an obscure regional composer to an international sensation. The legendary piano virtuoso Artur Rubenstein was very taken by this work when he visited Rio de Janeiro in 1920, and he performed it regularly throughout his career. The seventh movement, O Policinelo, became one of Rubenstein’s favorite encores and was, in fact, the last encore of his very last public concert.

While on a superficial level this remarkable suite owes a great deal to the compositional techniques of Debussy, it is at the same time one of the earliest works that is authentically Villa Lobos. Villa Lobos was adamant in saying that his music should not be played like Debussy, but rather like Villa Lobos.

Each movement depicts a different member of “the baby’s family” of dolls (a second suite depicts ten animals). They are (1) The White Porcelain Doll, (2) The Brown-haired Papier-maché Doll, (3) The Clay Indian Doll, (4) The Rubber Mulatta Doll, (5) The Black Wooden Doll, (6) The Poor Little Rag Doll, (7) The Clown (Polchinello), and (8) The Cloth Witch.

Danzas Argentinas (Ginastera, opus 2, 1937). These dances evoke three very different characters. (1) “The Old Ox-drover” is rather stiff, but very precise and full of rhythmic subtlety. (2) “The Graceful Maiden” is suave and debonaire, but a well of passion lurks just below the surface. (3) “The Outlaw Cowboy” is wild and violent, dances with complete abandon, and loves to show off his incredible strength and dexterity.

Piezas Infantiles (Ginastera, 1934). Three brief gems based on children’s songs, filled with wit and good humor.

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 (Villa Lobos, 1930-41). This, the fourth in a well-known series, was originally written for solo piano, though it is more often heard in its later, orchestrated version. Like the other “Bachianas,” this takes its inspiration from the music of J. S. Bach, but adds a Brazilian twist. Each movement has a “Bachian” title followed by a Brazilian one. (The third and fourth movements were first published in 1935 and 1930, respectively, and later joined with the first two movements to form the completed work).

Prelude (Introduction) is, like many of Bach’s preludes, based almost entirely on a single melodic/rhythmic motive, but this is given a harmonic and dynamic treatment much more exotic than any Bach would have used. In Chorale (Song in the Jungle), a simple, chorale-like melody is surrounded by the sounds of the jungle, including the raucous caw of the Araponga (a bird seldom seen, but always heard). Aria (Song) is in the form of a da capo aria, but with a middle section based on a popular Brazilian song that has a samba-like character. Dance (Miudinho) is in the spirit of a Bach Gigue, full of rhythmic vitality.

Suite de Danzas Criollas (Ginastera, opus 15, 1946). The word criollo in Latin American Spanish is quite similar to the Brazilian Portuguese word caboclo. Both imply a person who was born in a particular place, a native, often of mixed race, and of a simple, earthy character. The five movements of this suite range from a delicate, deceptively simple melody over rich cluster chords, to the rhythmic drive and stunning climax of the last movement’s coda.


Fred Sturm makes his home in the Land of Enchantment, which some people refer to as the “State of New Mexico.” For those of greater understanding, it is more of a “state of mind,” or “spiritual state,” perhaps best described by the Dine (Navajo) as “to walk in beauty.”

“Für ihn waren Kunst und Künstlerschaft wertlos, wenn sie nicht brannten wie Sonne und Gewalt hatten wie Stürme . . . wenn sie nur Behagen brachten, nur Angehmes, nur kleines Gluck.” (For him, art and artistry were worthless, if they did not burn like the sun or possess the power of storms. . . if they merely brought ease, pleasure, a little happiness.)

Hermann Hesse, Narziss und Goldmund

Este disco ê dedicado, com muito carinho,  ao meu pai.

Recorded in Keller Hall, University of New Mexico, June – September, 2003.

Recorded, edited and mastered by Manny Rettinger, Ubik Sound, LLC, Albuquerque, NM

Copyright 2003, Fred S. Sturm

Cover design: Paul Akmajian   Photos: Terri Reck   Program notes: Fred Sturm

Produced with Sturm und Drang, 315 Nara Visa Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM


A Lenda do Caboclo (VL) [1, 3:00]

Doce Preludios Americanos (G) [2–13, 12:10]

1) Para los acentos [:26], 2) Triste [1:07], 3) Danza criolla [1:23], 4) Vidala [:57], 5) En el primero modo pentáfono menor [1:06], 6) Homenaje a Roberto García Morillo [:49], 7) Para las octavas [:30], 8) Homenaje a Juan José Castro [:49], 9) Homenaje a Aaron Copland [:56], 10) Pastorale [1:32], 11)Homenaje a Heitor Villa-Lobos [:47, 12) En el primero modo pentáfono mayor [1:42]

A Prole do Bebê, no. 1 (VL) [14-21, 18:27]

1) Branquinha, a boneca de louça [2:25], 2) Moreninha, a boneca de massa [1:49],

3) Caboclinha, a boneca de barro [2:42], 4) Mulatinha, a boneca de borracha [2:02],

5) Negrinha, a boneca de pau [1:23], 6) Pobrezinha, a boneca de trapo [2:02],

7) O polichinelo [1:40], 8) Bruxa, a boneca de pano [3:00]

Danzas Argentinas (G) [22-24, 8:05]

1) Danza del viejo boyero [1:15], 2) Danza de la moza donosa [3:27], 3) Danza del gaucho matrero [3:15]

Piezas Infantiles (G) [25-27, 2:23]

1) Antón Pirulero [:50], 2) Chacarerita {:36], 3) Arroz con leche [:50]

Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 (VL) [28-31, 15:49]

1) Preludio (Introduçao) [4:09], 2) Coral (Canto do Sertão) [3:39], 3) Aria (Cantiga) [5:07], 4) Dansa (Miudinho) [3:37]

Suite de danzas criollas (G) [32-36, 8:43]

1) Adagietto pianissimo [1:51], 2) Allegro Rustico [:38], 3) Allegretto cantabile [1:51],

4) Calmo e poetico [1:46], 5) Scherzando – Coda [2:35]


Total playing time [69:00]

copyright 2004, Fred S. Sturm

Produced by Sturm und Drang