The following is an excerpt from a book called Villa-Lobos, Visto da plateia e na intimidade (Villa-Lobos seen on stage and intimately). This book was written and self-published in the early 1970s by Luiz Guimarães (aided by other family members), younger brother of Lucilia Villa-Lobos. Lucilia married Heitor Villa-lobos in 1912, and he left her in 1935. Upon their marriage, Heitor moved into Lucilia's mother's house, and the younger brothers lived with Heitor and Lucilia following the death of their mother. The brothers were very close to Heitor VIlla-Lobos throughout his life. They were upset that biographies of Villa-Lobos largely omitted their sister, and wanted to set the record straight. The book is filled with documentation of concerts (in which Lucilia performed) and many other valuable historical materials. There is a short section in which Luiz writes his reminiscences of life with Villa-Lobos, together with two short segments written by Lucilia, from a memoir in manuscript. As far as I know, that manuscript has not yet come to light. In any case, despite some quirks of writing style, this is an invaluable, intimate account of Villa-Lobos the man, written by someone who spent years with his early in his life. The book is rather hard to come by, and has not been translated to my knowledge.
Lucilia Guimarães Villa-Lobos:
“It was on All Saints Day (11/1/1912) that we received a visit from Villa-Lobos. Brought by a friend of my parents, Arthur Alves, the motive was that we were going to hear a young man who played the guitar very well.
We lived then, my mother and six brothers and sisters, in a large house on Rua Haddock (Vila Itala), today Rua Domicio da Gama.
I had finished my course in piano at the National Institute for Music (today the National School for Music) and taught piano at Sacre-Coeur College, as well as having some private students, in piano and solfege.
The musical evening went very well, extremely pleasant, and for us the guitar under the hands of Villa-Lobos was a success.
After his exhibition, Villa-Lobos expressed the desire to hear the pianist, and so I played some pieces by Chopin, a performance that seemed to me to have made a good impression, in technique and in interpretation.
Villa-Lobos, however, felt embarrassed, perhaps even inferior, for at that time the guitar was not a salon instrument of real music, but a vulgar instrument for serenades and choros.
Suddenly, as if overcoming a depression, he declared that his real instrument was the cello, and that he would like to arrange a meeting in our house so that we could hear him at his cello..
A new meeting was set, and it was arranged that he would send the piano parts in advance so that I could practice them and accompany him on the next Saturday.
On that day the audition was repeated, now with Villa-Lobos on cello. Other meetings followed. The repeated contacts, artistic affinity, and a natural and increasing attraction, culminated in our engagement. On November 12, 1913 we were married. I continued teaching, and Villa playing, by day at the Colombo Confeitaria, and by night at the Assirio, a restaurant located in the municipal theater.
We continued living with my family, at that time in a house at Rua Fonseca Teles no. 7, in São Cristovão.
In spite of the difficulties we experienced, Villa (so we called him) began to compose his first works, with energy, and, as he did not play the piano yet, it was I who gave the first partial performances.”
“The relationship of Villa-Lobos with Lucilia’s brothers was more than simply cordial – it was one of collaboration, moral support, and fraternal friendship.
We must state that there was always a certain indifference on the part of Villa-Lobos’ brothers and sisters concerning his artistic career, and a much more active dialogue with his brothers’-in-law, which the facts will demonstrate, and will to a certain extent explain.
His youngest brother (Othon) for example, with whom he lived as a bachelor, died very young, meanwhile sharing little with Villa-Lobos. Furthermore, he distanced himself after he got married, because he disapproved of his marriage, not only because of his young age (19 years) as for the social condition of his wife.
There was another circumstance that impeded an identification between the two: Othon was only interested in sports, football and boxing. He had no intellectual, or more specifically, musical inclination. From this you shouldn’t conclude that Villa-Lobos didn’t respect him. On the contrary, he treated him, at times, even paternally.
Of his sisters, though one of them had studied the violin a little, you couldn’t say that they had demonstrated a love of music. The other had a serious auditory insufficiency, in spite of which she dedicated herself to private teaching.
Only one of his nieces, daughter of his sister Berta (Lulucha), studied piano, and with Lucilia, and was prepared by her for the course of Theory and Solfege at the National Institute for Music, now the National School for Music.
On the occasion of the final exam, however, Lucilia had to help her a great deal, so that she could succeed and wouldn’t compromise the name of Villa-Lobos, then already becoming known.
She married young, however, and lived far from Rio, in São Paulo first, later in Belo Horizonte. She only took part in one of his concerts, as a member of the choir.
Lucilia’s brothers, brought up in a musical environment from childhood, for their mother could play the piano with a certain flair as an experienced amateur, playing four hands with Lucilia – they were inclined to be interested in the music of Villa-Lobos, and listened with attention to his explanations.
And there was much that the layman’s ears of Lucilia’s brothers accepted with pleasure. Villa-Lobos educated us in his art.
We did not know Villa-Lobos’ father who, as is stated in the biographies of the Maestro, was also a cellist, though an amateur, as his son said.
Thus, as Villa-Lobos lived more together with Lucilia’s brothers, it was natural that considerable affinity should develop among them. As the oldest brother, J. G. (Juca familiarly), was, like Villa-Lobos, a good player of billiards, the two shared many contests at that pastime. A very close relationship grew between the two, so that you might even call them compadres. But there was another detail: Juca played the piano by ear, and played well, mostly the waltzes “chorosas” of Anacleto de Medeiros, one or two compositions by Lucilia’s mother, polkas and “Schottisches.” When he created an effect, Villa-Lobos asked him to repeat it and tried to reproduce it. It was something like a “trinado” used by some of the choros pianists of the old guard. Ernesto Nazareth and Sinhô used them a lot.
Notices of his first concerts were written, for the most part, by Lucilia’s brothers. The collection of income as well as the selling of tickets was also done by them. One of us (L. G.) got the “prize” of a voyage, as his secretary, during the Week of Modern Art in São Paulo.
It was a great opportunity. We were then 16 years old. We didn’t know the great capital, and had never been guests in any hotel. It was an enlightening experience for us. We stayed, with the married couple, in Hotel d’Oeste, on Largo de S. Bento.
Our functions (L. G.) however, we have the humility to confess it, were those of an errand boy. In reality there was nothing that could be connected with the pompous name of secretary.
We carried messages about changes of rehearsal times, notes to newspapers; we transported, for example, an instrument, or “parts” for particular musicians. We remember various of these errands, including going to the home of Guiomar Novães, then on Avenida Angélica. We confess, also, that in spite of the insistence of Villa-Lobos, the great cellist Alfredo Gomes never permitted one of us (L. G.) to transport his cello.
And there was the service of listening!
We never understood how Villa-Lobos, with his determined, revolutionary, independent spirit, with his “postcards to posterity,” would ask, with curiosity mixed with anxiety and irony, our opinion on the concerts and the comments we heard, coming from the audience.
When Villa-Lobos left, in 1927, for the second time to Europe, this time in company with his wife Lucilia Guimaraes Villa-Lobos, he assumed the responsibility of writing a series of articles, which would be published in “O Pais.” We had (L. G.) not only the responsibility for the house (Rua Didima no. 10) but also for editing his writing and taking them to the offices of the newspaper. Villa-Lobos, however, only sent two works, for his busy artistic activity in Paris didn’t allow him to pursue this task.
How Villa-Lobos Composed
Villa-Lobos believed firmly in his creative power. Within his mind were works ready to be written, of which he had already spoken and announced, before really being composed.
We will explain further: We saw Villa-Lobos announce and have printed programs of concerts in which were included works of which there only existed a theme, a sketch on a piece of music paper. A few days before the concert, Villa-Lobos sent to the performers parts for their rehearsal, written out by himself.
Lucilia shared with us her concern. She worried a great deal, and feared, even, that he would lack the inspiration or time, but Villa-Lobos completed his creation with surprising security. We remember, on this subject, one of the most emotional examples.
We will refer to the return to Brazil, in 1919, of Epitácio Pessôa, Embassador of Brazil to the Conference at The Hague.
Various homages to the great Brazilian statesman, called then Ambassador of Peace, were prepared, and among them was included a symphonic concert at the Municipal Theater.
As the war of 1914/1918 had ended with the victory of the allies, a suggestive symphonic trilogy was programmed, whose literary description was assigned to Escragnole Doria.
The themes were “War,” Victory,” and “Peace,” and the government commissioned Villa-Lobos, Francisco Otaviano and Francisco Braga, respectively, to compose them.
Already time was short. It was necessary to set to work.
Days passed, and Villa-Lobos did not begin the work. Lucilia’s anxiety increased and was communicated to all of us. Her appeals, made from fear, had no effect. She tried to dissuade him from going to movies, which sometimes was not limited to one (he would leave one cinema and enter another), so as to see him working on the commitment which was approaching, but Villa-Lobos retorted “that he knew what he was doing and she shouldn’t worry because everything would be done in time; besides, everything was done, it was just a matter of putting it down on paper.” And it was.
Whether because of the affinity of his impetuous temperament with the theme (War) he was given, or because of his genius, out of the trilogy the part that made the theater applaud with enthusiasm was “War.”
The applause of those present reached a climax when, after a lot of “back and forth,” Villa-Lobos brought back in reminiscence a marriage of the themes of the Marseilles and the National Anthem.
After lunch and after supper, Villa-Lobos went to the piano, invariably, with his cigar in his mouth, and played for hours at a time
We sensed when something was about to “stick,” to be set down on the musical staff, because then, for days on end, the same melodies would be repeated, the same effects, and then, either during the morning or into the night, came the phase of fixation. For the neighbors, as for ourselves, it was unnerving to hear the moment of “writing,” for there was an interminable repetition of notes, of chords, and of phrases.
It is much slower and painful to pass from the brain and the piano to the musical score than to give literary form to creation formed by words. We might say, with apology for the irreverence, that it is even exasperating.
Often we, who had a “good ear,” would whistle without wanting to that which Villa-Lobos was writing, bothering him and hearing one of those “yells” that we should stop it. Various times Villa-Lobos said to Lucilia, “These boys have a ruined ear, they confuse me. Imagine that I have still not finished writing, and they already whistle what I am composing.” In parentheses we must, for the good of the truth, confess that we cannot certify those exact words. It isn’t possible for us to repeat them precisely “ipsis verbi.”
The capacity for abstraction of Villa-Lobos, however, was extraordinary, so much so that he “worked” and paid attention to everything that was said, without the least interference. That fact has already been emphasized by many testimonials.
He himself recounted that he composed, many times, when he played in the Newspaper Theaters (S. Pedro and Republica), during the performance, both in the orchestral pauses and during the dialogue and entr’actes.
He referred, specifically, more than once, to have done this while writing the Prelude to the fourth act of Izaht.
Villa-Lobos’ frugality, his health, and his love for children
With that intense creative activity, working through the night until dawn, the morning meal of Villa-Lobos was only a cup of coffee, sometimes two or three cafézinhos until he got up. Then he worked, and had lunch later. Villa-Lobos lunched and dined on rice, fried potatoes, beef, and salad. For years and years this was his menu. He never snacked, but drank various cafézinhos that had to be good and strong, “the color of iodine,” as Lucilia and we ourselves classified it. He did not like alcoholic beverages, in spite of having been a Bohemian, though from time to time he drank a dark beer. (The Bohemian of earlier times wasn’t on the basis of drinking, as it seems. It was the chôro, seresta, and desafio, “dry.”) Villa-Lobos was, positively, sober person. His health was enviable.
We never heard him complain of a headache, flu, and, as far as we knew, he never had a serious illness for many years. We remember, however, that he suffered from a parasite (athlete’s foot?) that troubled him a great deal. During the Week of Modern Art he had to appear in slippers, which provoked laughter and taunts from the gallery. . .
Soon after rising, still in his bedroom, he would wash his feet with a solution of water and creoline (it had to be “Cruzwaldina” brand) for that problem. He used this treatment for many years.
We remember that in April, 1926, Villa-Lobos was admitted to the Pedro Ernesto House of Health for a small surgical intervention, just as one of us (A. G.) left Rio to begin, in the interior of Brazil, his career as doctor. Until then we had never seen Villa-Lobos need medical care.
During the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918, everyone in the house was confined to bed by the epidemic that assaulted Brazil – Villa-Lobos came through untouched. On one of those tragic days, when all the food in the house had been eaten, Villa-Lobos went out in search of a chicken, and only returned late in the morning carrying an old rooster. . . Waiting for this rooster to cook was an ordeal, but was also amusing for the victims of the Spanish Flu.
However annoyed he might be, however irritated or irate Villa-Lobos might become, at home or at a rehearsal, the arrival of a child, a niece or nephew, a godchild, would in general transfigure him immediately. He was all tenderness and humility!
There was a phase in which, living together, one of us (L. G.) already with a six month old daughter, Villa-Lobos interrupted his intense labor, in the middle of the night, at the least cry of the little girl, and came to find her in our room, staying with her until she slept again. This was repeated almost every night. Lucilia complained of the harm to both, and that the parents must not like it, but Villa-Lobos said that he wouldn’t stop doing it, because “she” was “his.”
Many participants in the Orfeão of Professors must remember one of his goddaughters who stayed, at his request, on the stage during rehearsals, and the transfiguration of Villa-Lobos, after such yelling, so much impatience, anguish, the mistakes of the rehearsal, when, the work being done, he took her on his lap and forgot, totally, what had taken place. Many times he showed her music on the piano. It was the overflowing of his love for children.
To his nieces Kylzota, Nylza, Russinha and Igarita he dedicated one of his compositions to each. To his niece and goddaughter Laiz-eni, who was called “Candonguinha,” he dedicated a piece. His pieces about children are innumerable. Not having children, Villa-Lobos had a profound sentiment of paternity for all children.
Azevedo, Villa-Lobos’ only guitar student
Senhor Azevedo, whose first name we never knew and who was Villa-Lobos’ only student, was an extremely timid young man who had an admiration, almost veneration, for his teacher. He was the brother of twins, pianists, Carolina and Ingracia de Azevedo.
His lessons were given, psychologically, at the most inappropriate hour, in the morning. Villa-Lobos did not rise early, except with great sacrifice. A few details:
Lucilia, going out, would recommend, “Call Villa, take him coffee, and remind him that today is the lesson of Sr. Azevedo.” All this was done by one of us.
After five to ten minutes had passed, we would open the door and verify that Villa-Lobos had gone back to sleep. Azevedo arrives. A new entrance into the bedroom, and Villa-Lobos ordered, “Tell him to begin, that I am listening.” There would follow shouts, “Begin again;” “Wrong;” “No, for the love of God.” “Boy, please go away, return tomorrow, later we will see!”
Other times, he left his bed and came to the room where his student was. We had the impression that something was going to happen, but Azevedo didn’t speak to him, didn’t respond, packed his cello and bow in the case and, silent, humiliated and sorry to have perturbed the Maestro, left with an expression of having caused pain.
It is curious that Villa-Lobos never knew how to dismiss the student: on the contrary, he always praised him, especially his tuning and beautiful tone.
Carlos, Arnaldo Guinle, and Villa-Lobos
The silence or only fleeting reference made to the names of Carlos and Arnaldo Guinle, which should be written thus: CARLOS AND ARNALDO GUINLE (or in even larger letters) – the fraternal, moral and material support, of true friends of Villa-Lobos the Man and Villa-Lobos the Artist – is a phenomenon without any plausible explanation. Carlos Guinle had a decisive influence on the first foreign (French) editions of the works of Villa-Lobos (Publisher Max Eschig, 1923). They helped him, materially, in many eventualities. They supported him from his first concerts, in his first voyages to Europe, they helped him tremendously, and even gave him (Arnaldo Guinle), in his second stay in Paris, his furnished apartment, with all comforts, even having a grand piano, making possible for Villa-Lobos to have greater contact with Darius Milhaud, Stravinsky, Prokofieff, Rubenstein, Edgard Varése, Florent Schmidt, Maurice Raskin, Tomas Téran, and others, who frequented his apartment on Place Saint Michel.
This was a time (1927/28) in which Villa-Lobos could show his compositions, but unlike what happened on his first voyage, he wasn’t alone, but returned to Paris with his wife, Lucilia Guimarães Villa-Lobos, who performed his compositions and occupied herself with domestic activities. [footnote: The feijoadas referred to in contributions to Presença de Villa-Lobos, 1961, were made by Lucilia, obviously. First, because at that time they couldn’t give themselves the luxury of having a cook in Paris, and second because it would be quite a phenomenon for a Frenchwoman to prepare a feijoada…
[Lucilia told us that Villa-Lobos created serious problems, wanting to act in Paris as he did in Rio. It was common for him to arrive at Rua Didima for supper with 3, 4, sometimes 5 friends. The bustle was tremendous and Lucilia and the maid busied themselves in an improvisation of quick dishes. In Paris, when Villa-Lobos insisted that they should stay for dinner, many of the artists went out and bought their “beef,” their “soup in a box,” accustomed as they were to the European way of life. Villa-Lobos, however, was very put out with this.]
There appeared or visited at his apartment many Brazilians as well. (Iberê Gomes Grosso, Elsie Houston, João Souza Lima, Oscar Borghet, Cândido Botelho, and many others).
His stay this time was for around three years, which made possible the inclusion of his works in various concerts, thanks to two great artists and friend and his first interpreters in Europe, Vera Janacopulos and Arthur Rubenstein.
Let us return, however, to Arnaldo Guinle. As we referred in an earlier passage, the inclusion of the name of Arnaldo Guinle in the list of people to whom were destined tickets for Villa-Lobos’ concerts was not only constant and unwavering, but special, for he bought a substantial number of them.
On his return to Brazil, after his second stay in Paris, Villa-Lobos brought three friends – Tomas Téran and wife (he a Spaniard and a great pianist, who later moved to Brazil, and his wife Maria Tereza, a Cuban) and Maurice Raskin, Belgian violinist and little more than an adolescent at the time. These artists were guests at the old Palace Hotel, I believe for months, at the expense of the Guinles (proprietors of the most famous hotel of the epoch), as a favor to Villa-Lobos.
The cited artists took part in various concerts in Rio and in São Paulo, and participated, in addition, in the expedition into the interior of São Paulo, a page not sufficiently covered and which had epic passages. We have already tried to emphasize it in earlier pages.
In the period of the government of President Epitacio Pessôa there was approved and sanctioned a project of the deputy for the state of Pará, Arthur Lemos, whose son, Iberê, pianist and developing composer, was a great friend and admirer of Villa-Lobos. Just an admirer, no: admirer and assiduous frequenter of Rua Didima no.10, where sometimes he spent entire days on end. He just didn’t sleep there. . .
But let us return to the project. It was intended that there should be granted to Villa-Lobos a sum of 40 Contos de Reis so that the composer, in concerts in the principle capitals of Europe, could exhibit his own works. Villa-Lobos would be a sort of musical ambassador of Brazil (with 40 contos . . .)
The grant, as you can imagine, was already much too little for such an enterprise. An aggravating circumstance was added to this: Villa-Lobos only received 20 contos, the rest being reserved for a second payment.
We arrive at the government of Arthur Bernardes, and Villa-Lobos did not succeed in receiving the remains of the grant conceded him by Congress.
He resolved, then to put into execution a method to augment the help of the government: to put on 3 or 4 symphonic concerts in the Municipal Theater, whose receipts would make the voyage possible.
Villa-Lobos had not yet shown his production of sacred music. This, then, would be the genre of music to constitute the first program. Aside from the economic disaster, for the payment to the orchestra musicians (repeated rehearsals, janitors, light, etc.) was not covered by the small income, and the attendance was minimal. The sacred works received a cold reception from the critics. There were those who insinuated that they were somewhat profane.
An impasse was created: on the one hand, Villa-Lobos needed to fulfill the mission given him by Congress, although he had not been paid the entire sum granted; on the other hand, the money received had been spent on concerts whose income was not enough to cover expenses.
It was then that a group of friends and admirers, from Rio and São Paulo, decided to underwrite Villa-Lobos’ stay in Europe, which they did for more than one year. At their head, in Rio, Carlos Guinle and Arnaldo Guinle, Maurice Gudin and Mme. Santos Lobo; in São Paulo Councilor Antonio Prado, Sra. Olivia Penteado and others, who don’t come to our memory, and whose omission is unintentional, and we hope will be pardoned. And thus Villa-Lobos, in 1923, took the French steamship Groix to Europe for the first time, in search of confirmation by the critics of the Old World of his artistic talent.
Lucilia, his wife, did not accompany him on this first voyage, obviously – the resources Villa-Lobos had available were not sufficient to support both. She went, however, on the second voyage, as has been said earlier.
Over time, Villa-Lobos sent his letters, giving an account of what he was achieving, showing his compositions to those who were recognized internationally as bearers of authority and of great critical sense.
On that occasion he had Souza Lima as a great friend. From one of his letters we remember that he referred to Stravinsky’s inaccessibility.
In Paris Villa-Lobos lived this time (1924) for more than a year at Place Saint Michel, 11. Arnaldo Guinle confirms that this was at his sole expense. He returned to that place on his second voyage (1927), now accompanied by his wife Lucilia Guimarães Villa-Lobos, and stayed there three years.
Villa-Lobos’ first concerts in Rio de Janeiro
We will recount now how tickets were sold for Villa-Lobos’ concerts. The tickets, rectangular cardboard, were distributed by two brothers of Lucilia (L.G and O. G.). A list of friends, admirers, colleagues or even acquaintances of Villa-Lobos was made. To some were destined, sometimes, ten tickets, in the hope that they would pass them to acquaintances or, depending on their means, would pay for all of them. When the concert was over, usually a week later, we would return to receive payment for the tickets.
Some paid. Others “didn’t know” if they had received them. Others said they would only pay for their own and their wife’s and returned the rest. We should note that on the ticket was a notice, “any ticket not returned by the evening of the concert must be paid for.”
If, however, we chose to make that argument, we received in exchange words that were sometimes harsh. The number of complimentary tickets was equal to or greater than that of the paid ones. The income, never large, didn’t cover the expenses of the hall (usually that of the Jornal do Comercio).
Villa-Lobos, nevertheless, with his stiff inner fiber, maintained his trajectory to glory.
Rua Didimo no. 10
There was, and still exists, a neighborhood consisting of houses on top of one another, within the bounds of the streets of the Invalids, Ubaldino do Amaral, Henrique Valadares and Senado, within which was located Rua Didimo, which extended from Rua do Senado to Avenida Henrique Valadares. Although in the center of the city, in the vicinity of the Police Headquarters, the Brazilian Red Cross, and near the central Fire Station, this street is little known.
The neighborhood belonged to a company (Saneamento Predial do Rio de Janeiro), has the name of Vila Rui Barbosa, and consists of two principle streets (Rua Didima and Rua Central) and three cross streets (“Bem-te-vi,” “Chiquita,” and Adélia.
We will focus in detail on the house at Rua Didima no. 10, first because Villa-Lobos lived there from 1919 to 1935, achieved the rising state of his immense glory, and composed there most intensely; and second, from there he departed on his two voyages to the old world, first alone and second with Lucilia.
Iberê Lemos, whose father worked on the presentation in Congress of the bill granting resources to Villa-Lobos for his voyage to Europe, visited the house frequently.
Frequent visitors included Graça Aranha, Ronaldo de Carvalho, Dante Milano, Mauricio Gudin (great surgeon, inventor of the aseptic room, still existing in the Beneficencia Portuguesa, where he was member of the medical team, and whom we saw playing the guitar on many occasions), Manuel Bandeira, Renato de Almeida (author of Pequena Historia da Música Brasileira, and inseparable companion of Ronaldo de Carvalho), Jayme Ovale, Di Cavalcanti, and many others.
He was introduced to Ronaldo de Carvalho by Mme. Santos Lobo, then the “duchess of elegancy,” in her mansion in Santa Teresa.
His contact with Graça Aranha was facilitated by D. Olívia Penteado, in São Paulo. Catulo da Paixão Cearence also came there many nights, reciting his poems, interrupted, by himself, in various passages, by a “beeauutiful,” very personal.
It might appear to some to be “Cabotinismo,” but for us was very sincere, and perhaps a verbal quirk – beeauutiful! They were friends from the times of the serestas. We don’t think Catulo could understand the Villa-Lobos of this phase of his artistic and creative life. Nor could Villa-Lobos.
From his works, Villa-Lobos “made use of” Rasga o Coração, extremely popular, which Villa-Lobos put together with an indigenous theme, with a felicitous effect, and made a beautiful work for mixed choir, premiered in the Lirico Theater. While the first voices sang Rasga o Coração, the rest repeated a theme with indigenous words. The effect was of extraordinary beauty!
It is evident that there is only a “reminiscence” of the popular theme, and, I am sure, Catulo could only gain from this. However, after his death (Catulo’s), there was a lawsuit against Villa-Lobos, which, as is obvious, could only come out favorably for him – and for good reason.
We don’t contest the version of Villa-Lobos going very early to the Palace Hotel, with some musicians to demonstrate his compositions to Arthur Rubenstein. The information source would have been Villa-Lobos himself or the great Polish pianist. We don’t believe there is any other worthy of trust. But we remember perfectly the coming of Rubenstein to Rua Didima no. 10, an occasion in which Lucilia, as was natural, very nervous, making many mistakes, having to execute some pieces that needed practice, Villa-Lobos insisting and not letting her beg off, burst into tears. Rubenstein, who evidently understood the intransigence of the genius, and the causes of the mistakes, tried at times to calm Villa-Lobos, as well as justifying the errors, given the circumstances (his presence was enough), and the pianistic difficulties of the pieces performed.
Either politely or sincerely, he said that the pieces really required considerable virtuosity, and that the pianist had much merit and an extraordinary touch.
Afterward, Rubenstein sat at the piano and played pieces that, “if he could” (his own words) he would perform in his concerts, pieces little known by classical, romantic and modern composers. Piano recitals were (or still are) veritable “proving matches”, and they create myths of the “best” in interpretations of Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.
Rubenstein played with the impetuosity and force to break strings (as in Triana, Navarra, Fire Dance, etc.) and raise the public to delirium, and, on this occasion, not to let the neighborhood sleep!
It was full morning and neighboring windows opened and voices of protest were heard, but Rubenstein didn’t notice. He seemed transported for a long time. A neighbor in front, old, a painter – portraitist of little merit – S. Raso, yelled from his window a “chega” that irritated Villa-Lobos Profoundly.
Let us return to Vila Rui Barbosa. Various musicians lived in the neighborhood. Almost across from Villa-Lobos’ house a violinist, who tortured Villa-Lobos when he passed to the score paper his composition made always at the piano; a piece called Passaro. On the house to the side, upstairs, there were three musicians, two violinists (Tiberio and Alfredo Canceli) and maestro Lago, father of the popular composer and great artist of radio and television, Mario Lago.
In parentheses we will add that Mario Lago, then student at Pedro II, was a piano student of Lucilia. There were also, at no. 29 of Rua Didima, another violinist. Senhor Caldas Barbosa, whose daughter Adalgisa Barbosa, very talented, completed the course of piano and helped the maestro, making copies of his music, as well as playing pieces of Villa-Lobos, particularly Alma Brasileira, before it was finished.
There was a time (1935/36) when Villa-Lobos composed, wrote at a machine, and used amateur and professional copyists.
At Rua Didimo no. 10 were also many applicants and employees, when Villa-Lobos directed SEMA. We remember one of them, who was accompanied by a brother, an ensign at the Military College. Villa-Lobos, overly busy and in a bad humor, didn’t want to see him, it being necessary for Lucilia to interfere, having pity on the candidate, who not only seemed needy but also brought a recommendation from a great interpreter of Villa-Lobos, Paulina d’Ambrosio.
And he succeeded in being copyist!
On one of the side streets of Vila Rui Barbosa, behind Rua Didimo, lived the counter-bassist Alfredo Monteiro, friend of Villa-Lobos. One of his sons today is a violinist. There was also the today professor of piano and canto orfeônico, Juriti de Souza Farias, then studying at the National Institute for Music with Professor Gôes.
Not very far, in the boundaries of the neighborhood on Avenida Henrique Valadares no. 19 upstairs, lived the cellist Newton Pádua, friend and interpreter of Villa-Lobos at first, then composer as well. Newton Pádua was a sympathetic figure, very simple, always smiling, and died many years later.
On that occasion there frequented the house of Newton Pádua Otaviano Gonçalves, pianist, laureate of the National School of Music and composer. We, with the irreverence of young boys, (L. G. and O. G.) referred to Otaviano as “the first and only.”
Let us explain ourselves: Otaviano Gonçalves took all the courses of the old National Institute of Music with distinction – piano, solfege, harmony, counterpoint, composition, and I don’t know if conducting as well – all with distinction and first prize.
As it seems to us, besides being a friend of Newton Pádua and, with the violinist Carlos Frederico de Almeida, forming the trio Beethoven, which gave a series of concerts, Otaviano Gonçalves had a romance with one of Newton Pádua’s sisters, whom he married later.
Although not musicians, there were two more important neighbors – one at no. 10 itself, upstairs – Lopes Trovão, a republican tribune; and a diplomat, friend of Ronald de Carvalho, Jorge Lattuf.
On his return, in 1930, from his first voyage to Europe, made with Lucilia, Villa-Lobos brought with him the Spanish pianist Téran and his wife, and the Belgium violinist and concert artist Maurice Raskin, very young at that time.
Maurice Raskin, with Téran, were hosted in the Palace Hotel, for some time, thanks to the contribution of two of the best friends of Villa-Lobos at that time, friends who are not always acknowledged, or when they are, not given the proper emphasis or without the capital letters to which they have the right – CARLOS AND ARNALDO GUINLE.
Tuhu and “O Harmonia”
If it is true that we are capable of, from context, arriving easily at the true name in most cases, and in various languages, there are cases in which one finds not the least relationship between them.
That was what occurred with Villa-Lobos, known only in the intimacy of his family as Tuhú. Lucilia and her brothers never called him that.
We never heard an explanation, whether from his mother Don Noêmia, or from his siblings, Othon, Bertha and Carmelita, for such a odd name, though with a childlike character from its repeated sounds.
One couldn’t say the same about his other nickname, “O Harmonia.” Floriano de Lemos tells us about it in his article on “Music in Brazil,” published in Correio da Manha (1925).
He says, “As for Villa-Lobos, I consider him predestined, a great scholar (estudioso), who is considered crazy by many people, because there are still too little means to understand his formidable musical organization. I knew him 20 years ago, in our Republic of students on Rua Buarque de Macêdo, when, at that time, he made such profound speeches on the Divine Arts that we called him, in jest, “O Harmonia.”
Dona Noemia Monteiro Villa-Lobos
Villa-Lobos’ mother was an extraordinary woman. Very short in stature (she didn’t reach 1.5 meters) with a frail-looking complexion, she had, however, an amazing capacity for work, and an enviable energy and fiber. She never allowed herself to be beaten by the difficulties of life. She confronted them courageously and with dignity, although she was forced, in addition to domestic chores, to work outside the home (Confeitaria Colombo) and to do things that were not in keeping with her social position. There is a circumstance that increases her moral value – she had all the comforts when Villa-Lobos’ father was still alive.
She confronted the vicissitudes, which were neither small nor few, with high spirit. The pension left by Raul Villa-Lobos, however, was not enough to educate her children. There were some friends who always helped, notably Dona Celestina Masson, later the widow of Alvaro Ramos.
Her friendship for Lucilia, she always said, was the same that she had for her own children. She wasn’t a common mother-in-law, she was a second mother.
In the little squabbles that took place between the couple, evidently a normal fact of life in married life, she always took the side of Lucilia.
Sometimes, in those “summer storms” of Villa-Lobos, she didn’t stand by, nor was she intimidated, which impressed us and caused us worry, by the manner in which she defended her. Lucilia was always timid and sensible, a temperament entirely different from that of D. Noemia. D. Noemia had, nevertheless, a great pride, we might even say she idolized, Villa-Lobos.
In spite of her age, she divided her activities between the house of the oldest daughter, in Cascadura, and that of her son, at Rua Didimo no. 10. When Villa-Lobos went to Europe (second voyage) in company with Lucilia, D. Noemia and one of us (L. G.) remained there until the return of both, at Rua Didimo.
She loved us (L.G.) like a son, although, by virtue of our stature, she would call one of us (L. G.) “my husband,” which caused shock to strangers.
She had an extraordinary inventive capacity. She did everything that constitutes what are called “domestic chores.” She did good to everyone – she was selfless!
Her level of education, however, was only very basic, but compensated by an intelligence out of the ordinary. She did not have an artistic, or more specifically musical, inclination, it must be said. She was, however, a great mother, a great woman, and an extraordinary human figure, in our opinion. In these lines we wish to render her a debt of gratitude for what she did for Lucilia, and eternal happiness.
Villa-Lobos’ Artistic Intransigence
Villa-Lobos had a genuine horror for the mediocre (influenced by reading the book, The Mediocre Man by José Ingenieros, that he had on the shelf?) and was irritated above all by the “amateur.”
On various occasions he was sought – generally by women bringing their children – so that he should listen to them play and give his opinion on their supposed “geniuses” they had brought into the world.
The nervousness, loquacity, and the undisguised expression of pride by the mothers, under the cover of false humility and respect for the Maestro, contrasted with the counterfeit expression and the coolness of Villa-Lobos.
At first, perhaps from the impact of the unexpected, or from the fact that classical pieces were being performed, he listened to them, and to the end. Almost always they were false prodigies, “mediocrities,” who, giving the lie to the aphorism, “deceived the intuition of the mother’s heart.”
Later, however, the candidates not only came in greater numbers, but to exhibit themselves playing his own compositions. By this means they supposed, naturally, that they would receive a more benevolent judgment, in exchange for their homage. But . . .
Given the pianistic, technical and interpretive difficulties, it was predictable that his irritation increased. And increased. And more – it was uncontrollable!
Various times, then, we heard, after the escorts stated why they had come, Villa-Lobos make the following question: “Senhora, I will have great pleasure in hearing your son (or daughter) play; but I am very busy, full of things to do. I need to work, to compose, and for this reason I would like to know if your son (or daughter) intends to dedicate to an artistic career, to become a professional concert artist. Because . . .”
In general Mother interrupted him, and promptly, without the initial humility, responded that “no,” that (making the father the villain) for her “yes” but the father didn’t consent.
This was the greatest affront for him!
Villa-Lobos, then, already very irritated and in spite of the supplicant and pacifying look from Lucilia, responded, “Then, senhora, I am sorry, I am an artist, I dedicate my entire life to Art, that is sacred for me, and I am not interested in listening to ‘amateurs.’”
In parentheses we must say that truthfully nearly 90% of the people who study music (some even completing the courses at the National School of Music), do so today either from “dilettantism” or obliged by their parents.
It happened that in that epoch, more than today, the artist was, for the bourgeois or the “nouveau-riche,” an inferior class, socially and perhaps even morally.
And thus Villa-Lobos, from his explosive temperament, his reason for being and living, and his genius, developed a true hatred of the amateur. To such a point that, although solicitous, loving, and adoring toward children, not even with them was he compromising, in matters of art. And in general it was children who were exhibited. Many times adolescents, obviously.
The intransigence of Villa-Lobos with the amateur went far, very far even. And when D. Noemia, who had no musical education, compared him with his own father, Villa-Lobos responded, a little irritated, “Mother, for the love of God don’t compare me with my father. I am an artist, a creator, a composer. My father was an amateur!”
Not only the amateur was the object of his ire, but also the vulgar and the Cabotino. With respect to ‘vulgarity,” we will transcribe a bit of an interview given by Villa-Lobos to “A Noite” on 11/9/1922: “I feel that way, what can I say, my friend? In my makeup, my manner of being, or my mania (as many people judge me), I detest vulgarity, although I know that in the future I will be a simple figure of the past, a point of reference in history, perhaps a precursor of a school, or even nothing at all…”
Soon after his marriage, Villa-Lobos brought to our house (Rua Fonseca Teles, 7) a dog of large size and great beauty called Blanche. She was of the Danish breed, and very affectionate (the present of an ex-lover). At first timidly, and later, becoming attached to the dog, we played with her and provoked her in turn. Being short and young (7 to 9 years), the youngest of Lucilia’s brothers (L. G. and O. G.) rode Blanche like a horse. We got on her back, grabbed her ears with our hands like reins, and rode around the interior of the house. But one day the roof caved in!
I don’t know whether because of the heat, by the proximity of estrus, or dinnertime, Blanche refused to walk and we forced her. We beat her, the result being a bite in the face, bleeding and a bruise. A little later came the fear, in everyone, that the dog might have rabies. It was necessary for the dog to leave the house, which, obviously, would annoy and sadden Villa-Lobos.
We all feared that he would not agree, and it was with great anxiety that we awaited his return, with Blanche isolated in the basement. It was not easy to convince him of the necessity, during a period of observation, that Blanche should go to the house of Dona Noemia (Villa-Lobos’ mother).
And so, sorrowfully and under duress, Villa-Lobos took away his, and now our, Blanche, who left muzzled. Poor Blanche, she wasn’t at fault, and all that happened was that it gave us a lesson.
A little time passed, and with the death of Lucilia’s mother (our mother), we moved to a house belonging to a cousin of Villa-Lobos, off of Avenida Campista (Rua D. Maria). We don’t remember the exact date of the return of Blanche. But when we lived at Rua Visconde de Paranaguá no. 11, she was again with us. And we continued to be friends. Blanche died at Rua Didimo no. 10, after about two months of torpor. At first, she couldn’t move herself, because here hind legs were paralyzed, then she couldn’t even get up.
Villa-Lobos sometimes went to look at her, from the window that overlooked a small paved area. He avoided doing so, however. He didn’t go near her, but he always asked how she was doing. When, one day, on his return home we told him she had died, he didn’t want to see her, but wanted to know where we would take her. He wouldn’t allow that she should be left in the street (formerly the garbage men would take any dead animals found in the street). In the morning, we (L. G. and O.G) took Blanche to some vacant land near the Red Cross, and buried her there. At that time the place was known as the “Senate Barrier” and there were no buildings, but at least four football fields. There lies Blanche with our memories and a piece of Villa-Lobos.
Cigar, Cane, Tom Mix Hat, and Blue Shirt
For many years Villa-Lobos was never without one of these inseparable companions, cigar, cane, and wide-rimmed hat (a la Tom Mix). In moments of temporary prosperity, the cigar was of high quality. He would say, a mixture of authority and anxiety, “Bring me a Cuba Gold cigar, quickly!”
Other times, not so well off but resigned, having few “mil réis,” he would content himself with 2 or 3 “palhaços.” Before smoking the first ones, it seemed to us that the operations he carried out obeyed a veritable ceremony.
The cane was also his invariable companion. Concerning that, we remember that one day, on a morning when he woke in a bad humor, he told Lucas, as he called Lucilia, a “history” about his arrest, in the area of Arcos. It seems that an imperious necessity obliged him to an act considered as tantamount to shame, and he was invited to appear at the district court.
He was in one of his phases of economic difficulties, and, not having at the moment the amount needed to pay the fine, had to leave the cane as a guarantee. On the next morning, however, he ransomed it. His separation from his cane seems to have pained him more than the truculence of the police.
Arcos, at that time, was a sort of Deodoro station, identified easily, even by the blind, by the characteristic odor. Nevertheless, Villa-Lobos suffered a humiliation. Things . . .
The wide brimmed hat we believe was influenced by the “far west” films that he liked so much, and one of the actors most in vogue, when he began to use one, was the old Tom Mix. It is clear that there was a time in which it was in fashion, but Villa-Lobos, with his extremely forward-looking spirit, paradoxically continued, like an arch conservative, to wear his Tom Mix hat for years and years.
The fascination that blue exercised over Villa-Lobos was impressive. It wasn’t, however, just any blue, but a particular shade, called Royal Blue.
There was a long time when all his shirts were blue. But what a blue!
Villa-Lobos and Pastimes – cinema (westerns or serious) and billiards
Many times, after one or two hours of improvisation, Lucilia reminded him that it was getting late to go out, to go to the movies (because she had to give classes the next morning), and then Villa-Lobos, after more than 15 minutes, got up and got ready, as if he had a serious or social obligation. No! It was just a serial (the mysteries of New York, with Pearl White) or a western (Tom Mix or William Farnum). Sometimes he went out of one cinema and entered another. On his return, however, he began his work until dawn.
Along with his favorite diversions, already cited, like cinema, and flying giant kites he made himself, Villa-Lobos above all appreciated a game of French billiards, a game he played with extraordinary ability, like a true champion.
Various times, in company with his brothers-in-law, he went out after dinner to play a game.
Maninha, as she was called by her youngest brothers (O. G., L. G. and D. G.), whom she raised and educated, or Lucas (as Villa-Lobos called her), was delighted, because then she was almost certain he would return home early in company with her brothers. (When he went out alone, he would often meet a friend and stay out until all hours of the night).
As was said above, he was a real champion, and there was almost always a large and enthusiastic audience to see him play, applauding his beautiful, perfect, and carefully planned shots. All this made him very happy, and pleased his great and undisguised vanity.
Villa-Lobos and “Sinhô” (José Barbosa da Silva)
In 1925 one of Lucilia’s brothers (A. G.), who lived with her, completed his course in medicine. We thought of having a party that would be also an opportunity for giving him his degree ring. By the initiative of a brother-in-law (J. C. F. L.) who had bought a Victrola and had been holding parties in his own house, a dance was planned for Rua Didimo no. 10. All was agreed upon with great animation. What was missing, however, was very important: the consent of Villa-Lobos.
How would he react to the projected party, when they were even thinking of having a dance? Nothing of the like had ever happened in our house. That room was almost sacred. There, Villa-Lobos composed; there, many rehearsal were held; there, great personalities were received; there, great artists played (Rubenstein, Fructuoso Lima Viana, Paulina d’Ambrosio, Maurice Raskin, Tomaz Téran, Alfredo Gomes, Iberê Gomes Grosso, etc., etc.) The walls of that room were impregnated with classical music! It would be a profanation!
The day approached, and we waited for a propitious moment to ask Villa-Lobos his consent for the party, without having the courage to do so. We feared he wouldn’t approve. But what was our relief, our happiness, when he agreed, fully. The preparations were concluded, the day arrived.
The guests arrived, and the dance began. Villa-Lobos, however, wasn’t home. Because of this, in the midst of the bustle, there was still an enormous tension in our spirits.
But behold, in the midst of the party, Villa-Lobos arrived. His expression was animated, and to our surprise, he came accompanied by some friends, among them the poet Guillherme de Almeida, Sinhô, Maurice Gudin and Dante Milano. In a few minutes, however, we experienced and heard what we never thought could happen: at first, Sinhô, alone, began to play some maxixes and chôros (samba at that time wasn’t in style as much as it is today). Not much time passed, however, and Villa-Lobos joined Sinhô and, four hands, making variations and pianistic acrobatics, made up the most famous “duo of chôrões” in the world.
Villa-Lobos was happy and seemed to recall his youth, his past among the seresteiros and bohemians of the old days!
Villa-Lobos and kites or “papagaios”
“Like every artist,” said Lucilia herself, “Villa-Lobos had a certain simplicity, childishness, contrasting with his intransigent attitude in matters of music and artistic creation.
“On our vacation, in 1928, we went to the interior of France (Chateaus-Lussack). We brought with us the Spanish pianist Tomaz Téran and his wife (Maria Teresa). We were guests in an old hotel, and the proprietor gave it to us empty, with total liberty. Villa-Lobos decided to make a “papagaio” to fly in a nearby field, and so after lunch we went. This time he made a “frigate,” and, not content with this first attempt, he proceeded with the fabrication of “papagaios,” flying, later, an “airplane,” a “star,” and finally a “fish,” that measured three meters!
“We continued our walks in the country after lunch, and each of us (I, Téran and Maria Teresa) had to fly the “papagaio” so that he could see the effect.
The last, however, the “papagaio-fish,” because of its size and consequent force, almost caused an accident. Villa didn’t have the strength to keep it in the air, and both he and Téran were lifted and carried a ways.
“Needless to say, we were followed in these activities by children and local people who watched, surprised and admiringly, these “exotic strangers.”