The following lecture was printed in 1969 in Presença de Villa-Lobos, a publication that appeared annually for several years following Villa-Lobos' death, containing essays by various people who had known Villa-Lobos. Souza Lima was a pianist, who went to Paris to study in 1918, and was still there when Villa-Lobos went to Paris and during his two sojourns there. He was helpful in introducing Villa-Lobos to various musical and artistic figures, and performed his works on several occasions. The two returned to Brazil together, and Souza Lima took part in the Excursão Artistica Villa-Lobos described by António Chechim Filho. Souza Lima's recollections of these times provide a vivid portrait of Villa-Lobos, with some invaluable descriptions of how he worked when composing.
My Fellowship with Villa-Lobos
João de Souza Lima
Lecture given on 11 November, 1967
I agreed with great, immense satisfaction to the invitation, that is, the order, which was given me by Arminda Villa-Lobos, to come and take part in the artistic-musical homage that will be given this year in memory of Villa-Lobos, an occurrence of great significance and a great boost for art in Brazil.
This time, I don’t come as the conductor of the habitual symphonic concert at the close of the week consecrated to the great composer, the task that has been entrusted to me for many years, and I have been given the opportunity to offer my sincere homage of admiration for the great Brazilian musician, a true friend, with whom I lived in fellowship for so long a time, from the beginning, so to say, of our careers.
I am here, however, in accordance with the title of my lecture, with absolutely no literary pretention, simply to remember various episodes, various facts concerning what happened on various occasions: concerts, voyages, meetings, finally, in tours realized all over and especially in São Paulo.
Perhaps the listener will hear from me curious things, unpublished things, strange things that were observed by me in our long time together, always dedicated to musical realizations.
My first meeting with Villa-Lobos occurred in Paris, around 1923, when I had already been there a few years, studying on a grant from the State of São Paulo.
At that time in Paris, I received correspondence from Brazil, full of commentaries about the Brazilian musician, although the references were most disparate. Some considered him a libertine, bohemian, a sort of capadocio. Others, naturally better informed, found him to be an exceptional musician, for in an epoch in which Debussy, Ravel and others were still controversial, this Brazilian musician, without knowing the European ambiance, without having had contact with the works of those masters, worked intuitively, his torrential musicality overflowing in daring harmonies and forms, causing surprise when not scandal in the Brazilian ambiance still little accustomed to that new fashion of music. My opinion of that musician, in the midst of such extravagant accounts, was formed only after hearing that the famous pianist Arthur Rubenstein had discovered and admired, with sincere enthusiasm, the true nature of the composer whom nobody had yet taken seriously. Rubenstein, with that attitude, revealed so to say, and even imposed on the Brazilians, the musician whom Brazil had not even suspected might be a genius, who later came to raise our music to a level of respect equal to that of other countries which, because of their great composers, were already on the highest plane of musical reputation in the world.
It wasn’t long before Villa-Lobos arrived in Paris.
I remember perfectly and with nostalgia our first encounter. It took place in an environment of Art, in an environment where they cultivated seriously not music but painting, and there the greatest names of the moment passed through, not only young hopefuls but established veterans, responding to the always cordial and affectionate invitation of the hostess, a personality found today at one of the most prominent points of beautiful modern Brazilian art, Tarsila do Amaral. In her atelier on Rua Hégésippe Moreau, in the district of Clichy, that all Brazilians know even without having gone to Paris, I had already come in contact with personalities like Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Picasso, Glaize, Léger, Marie Laurencin, Delaunay and others, in memorable gatherings, and sometimes at luncheons of dazzling refinement.
It was at one of these luncheons that Villa-Lobos appeared, recently arrived from Brazil. On the same day were invited Jean Cocteau, Blaise Cendrars and Erik Satie. My first impression of such a widely discussed and talked about Brazilian musician was of a certain surprise. He seemed a rather sullen man, with physical features that left no doubt that he regarded himself as an “artist.” On being presented to him, I felt immediately at ease, as his sincerity and affection for a young pianist were revealed in the first words of our conversation. A curious thing happened when the lunch was finished, when we found ourselves in conversation mingled with sips of fine “chartreuse.” The art of improvisation came up. Villa-Lobos, who always cultivated with pleasure this manner of making music, offered a demonstration. He sat at the excellent Érard, which made part of the atelier, giving it a truly artistic atmosphere, beginning one of those creations of the moment, filled with the most unexpected melodic lines, and in a rhythm entirely personal and unprecedented. The great Cocteau, wanting to experience more intensely those moments of such special music, sat on the floor under the piano, and stayed there until the improvisation was finished. The demonstration of our musician’s invention being finished, Cocteau returned to his chair, launching a staunch attack at our Villa, thinking that such an improvisation could never be made under those conditions, almost to order.
From that arose a heated discussion in which the two artists revealed not only extraordinary culture, but extraordinarily interesting and personal ideas concerning that problem that, in the end, could be accepted or not. Ultimately, one could accept that the composer, with his nature, his preparation, his knowledge and sensibility, could, after warming up at the piano for a few moments, put himself in a state so as to provoke in himself a sincere creation of musical passages of high significance, especially if these passages were, at the same time, controlled rigorously by a well-planned form. Concerning this, I had the occasion while in Paris to be present at improvisations during various concerts given by the French organist Marcel Dupré, very memorable experiences, that took place in the traditional “Trocadero” that today no longer exists.
This organist, in various of his recitals, reserved in his programs an entire section destined for improvisations, that were made on themes solicited, at that moment, from the public.
I remember that one time, a spectator, I think to test him, furnished him a theme written on a little piece of paper, that was carried by the impresario to the artist. Well, this theme was simply the first phrase of the Marseillaise.
I want now to assure you that never was this theme so well clothed, never was it seen enveloped in such beautiful clothing, never wrapped in such a rich rhythm . . . and never did I think it could be the theme of a beautiful fugue in four voices, with which Marcel Dupré closed this masterfully realized improvisation as an apotheosis to what had come before.
After that, my first encounter with Villa-Lobos in such auspicious conditions, our times together became frequent. I had already lived in Paris for several years. I went there soon after the war of 1918, and I was already well acquainted with the artistic environment and with the artists of the City of Lights. Our meetings seemed to be of some use to Villa-Lobos, as they might lead to his first contacts with prominent people, such as Madame Long, Madame Debussy, Philippe Gauber, Brailowsky, Maurice Ravel.
His visits to my student apartment became, then, daily, and our friendship and camaraderie were sealed forever, and I am proud to add that Villa-Lobos passed there hours at a time, playing, improvising, seeking new harmonies, different rhythmic combinations, pianistic formulas out of the ordinary, so that innumerable works of his that were published later were sketched out at my piano. Most extraordinary is that Villa-Lobos, with that sincerity that only transpires in the intimate fellowship of friends, consulted me many times concerning problems of pianistic execution that he intended to include in those compositions already in embryonic state. In my little corner of the Rue du Delta, were sketched out the first bits of work on the great Rudepoema, some portions of A Prole do Bebê no. 2, works that only much later were definitively formed, and that now constitute, without any doubt, many of the highest points of his production.
One of the first presentations of works by Villa-Lobos to French musicians took place in the residence of the musicologist Henri Prunière, director of the magnificent Revue Musicale, in one of his Tuesday afternoon gatherings, when the finest of the musicians in Paris were found there. On that afternoon, those present included Paul Dukas, Albert Roussel, Samazeuilh, Florent Schmitt, Louis Aubert, Roger Ducasse, and many others who were truly surprised by the Trio no.3 performed by Raul Laranjeira on violin, Mario Camerini on cello, and I at the piano. It is unnecessary to say that that work, full of the most picturesque harmonies, allied with an instrumental construction wisely crafted, caused a real sensation of surprise in those men entirely imbued in an essentially French dialectic.
How was it possible that a musician from so far away, from Brazil, could write a work so new, so advanced, with such qualities, with such an equilibrium of sound, with such instrumental particularities that combined produced such picturesque and never before heard effects?
Thus occurred the first demonstration of the great Brazilian to those “cobras,” as they were accustomed to say.
Years passed, and Villa-Lobos, now master of the Parisian ambiance, in his dwelling on Place de Saint Michel, became the center, in a short time, of what was most significant of the French circle.
There, on Sundays, in Brazilian luncheons where respectable feijoadas and spectacular batidas were revealed to the elegant Parisians, how much fellowship, how many revelations of young musicians, how much music was made, how many projects realized, how much acceptance of new values! In that redoubt of the Latin Quarter, knowledge of Brazil was introduced to men of the stature of Terán, that exuberant, intelligent pianist whom Rio enjoyed so much; Raskin, the Belgian violinist who became our true friend; the cellist Tony Close; the extraordinary Florent Schmitt who, in his stay among us years later, felt bad experiencing the crazy driving of the motorists of our “marvelous city;” the original Edgard Varése, Franco-American composer, whose work “Americas,” presented in the Salle Gaveau together with “Amazonas,” received the most spectacular booing ever known, more even than what took place at the Second Festival of Popular Brazilian Song in São Paulo last month.
Our meetings and our ties became always more frequent, to the point that it seemed we could no longer make music if not together.
In Paris, in the Salle Gaveau, we were invited to direct the orchestral part that would be performed during the presentation of a film on Brazil. In this performance, we had at our disposal a large part of the large and traditional Orchestra Colonne with which I performed as soloist in competition. Two types of music were chosen for execution: classical and popular.
In dividing our functions, Villa-Lobos thought I should take charge of the classical portion, leaving him with the popular.
As you can see, it was one more demonstration of his kindness, selflessness, and altruism toward me. Among other works, I conducted Suite Brasileira of Nepomuceno, and the Symphony of Guarani, leaving Villa-Lobos with a series of pieces by our popular composers.
Villa-Lobos constantly revealed his fully independent personality. I remember a concert of his works, in 1924, in which, along with a massive choir, Rubenstein, Véra Janacópoulos and I took part, and in which the program included Noneto, a work that, in my opinion, contains within itself his whole personality and the most evident characteristics of his creativity. At the rehearsal of this unique work, I was delighted and diverted to observe the desperate directions given by the maestro to the singers, who were unable to articulate with sufficient skill that series of onomatopoeic words that surround the whole piece with an insistent and typical rhythm. Imagine a chorus of French singers singing “Zango, Zizambango, Dango Zango Urangotango!”
We went, together with the Belgian violinist Raskin, to make a concert tour in Recife, Raskin and Villa-Lobos having left France in a Lloyd steamer, a few days in advance of my journey in a Dutch ship. By coincidence, we arrived at the same time in Lisbon. In this port, we saw each other from our respective decks at a regular distance. Villa-Lobos, seeing the speed of my arrival, at the same time as his, which was much slower, yelled at us across the water, ironically, “Excuse our dust!”
Here we are in Recife, as the Pernambucos would say. The expectations, as is easy to imagine, were great. Very well received and better accommodated, we began, after the necessary acclimatization to the city, to do the normal “errands” for the day of a concert: visit the concert venue, try out the piano, determine what the lighting should be, all of those indispensible common details, not to speak of the innumerable interviews we gave the press.
We gave two good concerts in the traditional and cozy Santa Isabel Theater. In these concerts we presented varied programs, the first including the Sonata-Fantasy for violin and piano, and Momoprecoce, naturally without orchestra.
As you know, this piece can be played with or without orchestra without any problem. I would like to refer especially to this composition. Momoprecoce is no other than the Carnaval das Crianças, composed around 1918, to which Villa-Lobos added, without removing a single note, an orchestral part, that is not merely an accompaniment, as you might suppose, but a collaboration that brought to completion, so to say, what was already complete. And the Carnaval das Crianças, with its new name, took on a new aspect. It became richer, more picturesque, with a completely different sound and a totally different interest.
I don’t want to forget to mention that this piece was provided also with a “cadenza,” very opportune, in an appropriate place, which allows the performer to give a demonstration of virtuosity that is among the most opulent existing in the repertory of the piano.
I will return later to Momoprecoce.
On the same program appeared the Trio no. 3, of which I already spoke when referring to Villa-Lobos’ presentation at the home of Henri Prunière in Paris. The second program included the sonata Despair for violin and piano, as well as the evocative Sul America and Trio no. 1.
Our stay in the Venice of the North was full of happy artistic occasions and frequent meetings with colleagues: with the old Manuel Augusto, justly considered the Chiaffarelli of Recife; with Ernani Braga, melancholy pianist, elite artist and excellent musician; with Fittipaldi, that magnificent conductor, sharp witted, possessor of the greatest repertory of jokes in the world; with Ascenço Ferreira, the unique poet, who has no successor in the poetry of our northeast. All these people maintained a climate of affection and camaraderie that we can never forget. In Recife, after one of our concerts that took place on very hot night, we returned on foot to the hotel, when we were surprised by a group of serenaders, capadocios, very typical, who passed by one of the street crossings near us. Villa-Lobos, naturally seduced by the Chorinho those men were playing and, awakened within by that bohemian music, didn’t hesitate, without blinking or thinking twice, left us saying, “I am going with them.”
In fact, he forgot everything, and, in his dress coat, joined the gang, only returning to the hotel at six in the morning.
We left Recife aboard the ship “Araçatuba,” of the company of the simpatico Aras, and after a few days found ourselves in São Paulo. This crossing by sea was very diverting. Villa-Lobos revealed himself in that daily interchange of a week to be always a jovial and well-disposed man, doing everything in a spirit of fun.
It is a shame we don’t have a projector available, or I could show a few aspects of that voyage filled with fun, games and . . .photographs.
Among them, I have one of Villa-Lobos, which is a true documentation of his good humor and sincerity when among friends. Priceless!
In São Paulo, Villa-Lobos initiated a phase as an authentic pioneer of Art. He organized a series of eight or ten symphonic concerts, with the programs all based on works never performed in Brazil, thus Brazilian premiers. The French repertory was predominant, and innumerable composers were introduced for the first time to South America. Besides modern composers, classical works were also included, and I had the satisfaction of performing, under his baton, the Fifth “Emperor” Concerto of Beethoven. Those unusual programs, due to the inclusion in almost all of entirely unknown works, didn’t fail to provoke a certain dissatisfaction in that public, mostly used to the common repertory, that is, to programs constituted almost entirely of works too well known, and, why not say it, routine, some of minimal importance compared to those already being presented in large European centers with frank acceptance. This fault in our programs, and this it is necessary to recognize, was due in large part to the lack of orchestral parts, something that unfortunately constituted a true artistic problem in Brazil, and that problem, I take this opportunity to say, continues among us, though on a smaller scale. The creation of a symphonic program in our situation is constantly tied to this state of things: we do not possess a repertory at our disposal except in the smallest quantities; even among the classics, our music libraries are deficient, not to speak of the modern repertory, which is almost nonexistent. In this situation, I have conducted concerts with the São Paulo Municipal Orchestra for 30 years, and I think that in Rio de Janeiro the problem is the same: the choice of pieces for a program is subject to what we possess within the small amount of existing material; to the rapid and hurried preparation of performances always conditioned by a small number of rehearsals; to the lack of instrumental resources required by the scores, this is more than frequent, due to the irregular attendance of orchestra members at rehearsals, because of their need to fulfill other obligations; to the rehearsal venues not being appropriate for creating a worthy sound quality; in sum, all these challenges leave us in a situation where we are unable to proceed securely to the realization of good performances and the cultivation of the always increasing symphonic repertory that doesn’t stop growing.
Villa-Lobos, in the concerts I referred to above, broke away from that restricted repertory with true courage.
Unfortunately, the result was disappointing. The board members of the Symphonic Society of that time soon disbanded, not finding themselves up to date with the progress of music, not accepting that extremely interesting and exceptional repertory, that they considered preposterous and displeasing. I don’t need to say that the Symphonic society shut its doors. As incredible as it may seem, even the orchestra members rebelled against that programming, and principally against the demands and rigor of the maestro, to the point that, at one of the rehearsals of a concert in which I was to participate, playing Momoprecoce, they refused to continue the work. Villa Lobos, irritated at first, and, soon after, serenely, with that unbreakable fiber as director, with that enviable activity of organizer, didn’t accept defeat and declared, “All right, if this is the situation, I will put on this program with the collaboration of the band of the State Armed Forces.”
So he thought, and so he did. A few days later, a few hours I could say, the entire orchestral part of Momprecoce was transformed into a band part. As everyone knows, instrumentation for band is entirely different, with almost entirely different instruments. It was entirely redone, and Villa-Lobos, with that competency that not everyone recognizes or that they do not care to recognize, worked day and night on end, getting everything ready almost in hours, as I said. The maestro and I were very surprised by the effect produced by that unprecedented union of piano and band. Never had another composer thought of such a combination, and the audience was so enthusiastic that after presenting that new version in São Paulo, we resolved to present the same version in Rio with the Firemen’s Band. The success in that city obliged us to repeat the performance two days later. Villa-Lobos, in his rehearsals in São Paulo, was enchanted with the way those military musicians behaved! The discipline, attention, patience, and especially the obedience of those musicians was frightening. And if it wasn’t so (we learned later from one of the men), if any lack of attention or lapse was verified, the one at fault was immediately . . . arrested. Let us imagine, now, this kind of process with our orchestral musicians!
The activities of Villa-Lobos in São Paulo culminated with the celebrated excursion into the interior of the State, of glorious memory. This excursion was conceived by the maestro and submitted to the then Federal Interventor of that time, Tenente João Alberto. This man was – something that few people know – an excellent musician, composer, and magnificent pianist. Approached by Villa-Lobos, he studied the case and . . . gave official sanction to the “concert tour.” A voyage through innumerable Paulista cities seemed, at first glance, something a bit complex and reckless; however, well planned as it was, it turned into something very simple and of enormous repercussions. João Alberto facilitated, exclusively, passage on the railroads, and sent to all the Prefects a circular soliciting our warm reception. In fact, the Prefects, informed beforehand by our message giving them details, organized meetings of young men of high society in their respective cities, and charged them with selling concert tickets. This took place very easily and rapidly.
From the proceeds obtained came expenses of licenses, permits, taxes, rental of halls, tips, etc., the remaining being shared among the artists. The following people formed the team on the first voyage: [pianist] Antonieta Rudge, the singer Nair Duarte Nunes, the Villa-Lobos couple, and a tuner/technician. Beginning with the second voyage, I substituted for Antonieta Rudge, and Anita Gonçalves for Nair Duarte Nunes. We took with us a parlor grand Gaveau piano owned by Villa-Lobos, without which it would have been impossible – the interior does not have concert pianos. These excursions became a true pioneering work in music, as in many of the cities there had never before been a concert, which provoked enormous curiosity. On our arrival at the stations, we found always present the Prefects, Judges, Musical Bands, and many times even fireworks, without mentioning the people who came to receive the “company.” And the questions that were directed to us! They wanted to know what was the piece that was going to be raised? Who was the prima donna? Some cities had never seen a grand piano! And when for some reason we referred to this instrument, what was this “sauce” piano? [piano de cauda is the Portuguese for grand piano, meaning literally piano with a tail. They were confusing the pronunciation with “calda,” which means sauce.] This reminds me of an occasion, not on this excursion of which I am speaking, but when I made my own pianistic journeys giving recitals throughout this immense Brazil, of a question that was directed to me; “What is the story of this “opossum” viola I hear talk about? [gambá means opossum] It was simply concerning the viola de gamba, the predecessor of the cello.
On these journeys, unexpected and funny things always happened, along with the interest we succeeded in raising, thanks to well-planned accessible programs, all with an elucidatory speech about music, music education, composers, styles, always improvised by Villa-Lobos who demonstrated always a surprising erudition. In a city where Villa-Lobos spoke about the manner in which one should listen to music, his words were badly interpreted, some member of the public getting up and declaring in an inelegant manner that being an artist didn’t given anyone privileges, that the audience present was perfectly educated to attend such performances, reeling off a string of incongruous and crazy arguments that arrived at such a point that, the concert over, when we had returned to the hotel, there was an immense group of students, naturally influenced and inflamed by that demagogue, to the extent that they were intending to exact revenge. The proprietor of the hotel, seeing how badly things were going, closed the doors of his establishment, and, after much uproar and yelling from that crowd, when things were beginning to calm down, asked me to do what I could to try to return those overexcited people to reason. I acted with a certain amount of skill and very calmly, so that after a few moments of more friendly conversation, I revealed to them who Villa-Lobos was, succeeding in transforming that reprisal into an enthusiastic apotheosis of the great Brazilian musician.
Villa-Lobos was terrible! In another city, we were visiting the leading citizen of the place, a very rich, ostentatious and somewhat special man. He received us in a princely manner, offering us champagne in solid silver cups and showing us all the beauties and extraordinary refinements of his spectacular home. Our maestro, upon leaving, asked him ironically, “Naturally you will leave all this to charitable institutions, no?” which caused extreme embarrassment to that vain and exhibitionist man.
At another concert, in a simple and almost primitive city, after we had completed the first part of the program, the entire public left calmly, without any fuss. They didn’t know how to follow what was written on the programs, and very naturally . . . threw them away.
Villa-Lobos didn’t only speak at concerts. At all the visits we made to City Halls, Hospitals, and, especially, high schools, primary schools and other places, he gave beautiful lectures; sometimes with such a profundity of observations in relation to those present that he dazzled them. He gave real classes in music and even geography to the students of primary schools, and then his patriotism, which he possessed like no other Brazilian, shown forth in the most impressive and contagious manner possible.
The good humor of Villa-Lobos was present all the time. He liked children and exchanges with students. I remember with admiration that once, after one of our concerts, the students wanted to take him to a café for a chat. We went there and installed ourselves at various tables. After an animated conversation on various topics, Villa-Lobos asked them if they practiced Orfeonic singing, and the response was that they liked it well enough, but they weren’t well enough prepared to perform anything of interest. Villa-Lobos wanted to do an experiment, and, without delay, proposed the following: “We are going to sing, now, a piece in four voices.”
“But we don’t have any music here!”
He rose, went to one of the tables, where there was a group of those boys, and wrote on the tabletop a phrase of 16 measures. That would be the first voice. He went to the second table, where there was another group, and wrote another line. That would be the second voice. He went to a third and fourth and did the same. We all know that to write a chorale we need to make a score to establish for ourselves the way the voices go together, the equilibrium of the parts, the disposition of chords formed by the parts when sounded together, in sum, we need to have before our eyes all the voices at the same time, so as to be able to construct an accurate whole. Well, Villa-Lobos composed a chorale writing the parts on separate tables, keeping in his memory what he had written on each, and realizing as a result a perfect equilibrium, something that would require any other composer to set the parts in a score, compare them, reflect at length, to finally arrive at a satisfactory result. The tables rehearsed, separately and then together. The boys were delighted with the result, which had a surprising beauty.
Another time, at a restaurant where we dined, there was a lot of noise made by a group of young men who argued heatedly, who disputed any and everything, and we, at our table asked ourselves, who were these loudmouths, to which Villa-Lobos came out with this: “Naturally, they are footballists.” In this funny and picturesque invented word he concentrated the individual and the profession.
That excursion through the interior of the State carried us constantly through moments filled with comic things.
There were innumerable kindnesses granted us by prefects, leading people of the cities, ranchers and admirers. Almost always, when we completed our task at a place, we were sent to the neighboring city in private cars, by the extreme kindness of people who wanted to give us homage in any way possible. But we couldn’t always count on being driven in perfect conditions. One time we were invited to give a concert in a small city in the north of Paraná. We were in a place close by, I don’t remember the name of the place. I know that we were transported in an old Ford, already quite worn out. Everything went normally until we were quite close to the destined city, and a few kilometers from the end of the journey, when we drove on a road that was very rough and filled with ruts, a tire blew out in such a way that no repair could be made, it blew up into shreds. We didn’t have a spare, and we couldn’t wait in hopes that someone would pass. It was already late in the day, and we needed to arrive in enough time to change clothes, eat, and prepare for the concert. The solution was to remove the tire, and we continued our journey with the bare wheel, nothing on it.
While we traveled on the dirt road in the country, it went more or less well, but when we entered the city, with its cobblestone streets, the noise of the wheel without a tire became most grotesque.
Imagine what our arrival looked like: in a small old Ford, the kind with a “mustache,” overloaded. There were six people, the Villa-Lobos couple, the Souza Lima couple, Anita Gonçalves and the chauffer, and on top of this, all sorts of luggage and the cello case. We entered bumping into the city in our old Ford, making a terrible racket with that metal wheel without a tire on the paving stones. Everybody stopped to watch the passage of that antediluvian thing. It made them burst out laughing.
Speaking of the cello, I wish to remember here the cello art of Villa-Lobos. His performances evoked well what he must have been earlier, the young cellist Villa-Lobos.
He still played with gallantry, with perfect intonation, and with such virtuosity. Not without effort. He arose at eight in the morning and practiced until lunch, and all the time . . . with the inseparable cigar in his mouth. What a curious temperament!
When for any reason he was upset, to the point that nobody could speak to him, it was sufficient to see a child and our lion turned into a lamb! So it happened one time when we left the hotel, and he, tremendously irritated for some reason I don’t remember, came across a poor child of the street, in rags, playing there on the sidewalk with a basket.
Immediately he softened and got down to play with the girl, pushing her for a while in that improvised cart. Isn’t this sweetness demonstrated in innumerable pieces he composed about children?
In this memorable “tour of the Paulista hinterland,” I have still other brilliant exploits to recount. We traveled in a train from Sorocabana, on a very hot day, in an overfull car, dusty, with men selling pastries and other tidbits to the passengers, when the idea came to me to suggest that, among the numbers we performed in the concerts in that area, it seemed appropriate to me to include a piece, of his composition, that would be very accessible, easy to comprehend, something like a music box, that would be certain to please those audiences composed almost entirely of very simple people. Villa-Lobos accepted my suggestion immediately, and, right away, took from his briefcase a sheet of staff paper and, incredibly, between one station and the next, in that environment, with all that commotion, wrote “Caixinha de Música Quebrada” [Little Broken Music Box]
The manuscript of this enchanting piece I saved egotistically, among my possessions, until very recently, when I presented it to Miudinha who displayed it in the Museu. The dedication of this work bore testimony, once again, to the sincere affection Villa-Lobos had for me. It was written thus: “Little Broken Music Box for Souza Lima to play!”
We made so many voyages, so significant and so popular that even the trains, in their dining cars had on their menus Filet à Villa-Lobos, Omelettes à Souza Lima, and other such titles with reference to our artist excursion into the interior.
Villa-Lobos intended to undertake the same thing in other states, the same “concert tour;” unfortunately the idea was not brought to reality, and I don’t remember what obliged him to abandon the project.
After this intense time together, on our return to the capital, we separated, Villa-Lobos going on to Rio and I remaining in São Paulo. Nevertheless, our musical contact continued. Villa-Lobos, always working to present works unknown in our country, invited me to play, under his direction, the very interesting “Burlesca” of Strauss, a work seldom included in programs. He possessed the orchestra parts and the score, but lacked the piano part. The performance of this piece was to take place later, depending on resolving some matters. I accepted the invitation, naturally expecting to find the part to study it. After much searching in Rio and São Paulo, I discovered that it did not exist. For this reason, the idea of this presentation seemed to be unlikely when one day Villa-Lobos telephoned me saying that the concert was scheduled for 15 days from then, to which I objected that it was absolutely impossible since we hadn’t found the solo part, and that therefore the project was not viable. Villa-Lobos insisted: “I will send you the orchestra score in which the piano part is present, and you can study it.” He did as he said. Days later I received the large score and set to work, and what work! It was hard enough because of the frequent need to turn pages, as each page had only one line of the piano part. I had to perform real gymnastics to get the notes under the fingers. I practiced hard, and, not wanting to lose that opportunity to present such an interesting and unheard work in Brazil, I succeeded, in that constrained space of time, and with unheard of effort, and the performance was brought to the most brilliant success, thank God. Things like this we only do when we are young. I don’t even like to remember it.
Our meetings became more seldom, since we did not live in the same city. When I went to Rio to conduct the Brazilian Symphony, and this was fairly frequent, we would not lose the opportunity to get together, and what pleasure we had lunching together at the Portuguese Gymnastic Club, where the figure of Villa-Lobos was imposing, giving the place an air of prestige, nobility, aristocracy! There, on several occasions, we lunched in company with great artistic personalities, who were invited there by the hands of one who knew how to judge, as nobody else, colleagues or people of culture.
In his apartment on Rua Araújo Pôrto Alegre, we passed many delightful times, remembering our musical activities undertaken in so many places. It was astonishing what Villa-Lobos did, with incredible resourcefulness. I refer to the fact that, at times, in his apartment, we were conversing in an animated way, at the same time as he listened to a radio novel – a passion of his – and orchestrated, losing nothing of our conversation, and working without any erasure. Not every musician can do three diverse activities at the same at the same time, with such ease and absolute security.
I now wish to speak of his Concerto no. 2 for piano and orchestra, which he dedicated to me. Among the many pieces that were dedicated to me by Brazilian composers, this is especially dear to me. I don’t need to say that of his concerti (I have conducted all of them), that is my favorite. It seems to me to be the most spontaneous, with the best orchestration, and made to order for my temperament and for my type of technique. I must especially emphasize its second movement, “Lento,” which contains the most beautiful phrases Villa-Lobos ever wrote, with admirable sensitivity, with marvelous orchestral effects, all realized within a polyrhythmic scheme that is very ingenious and . . . difficult. The cadenza that closes the third movement is, without doubt, one of most gigantic productions of our great composer. Never has the piano assumed such a potency of sound! And this in the service of notable musical interest and pianism. I presented its premier under his direction, and this fact constitutes one of the most authentic glories of my career as a pianist.
I am proud to have presented, also in its premier performance, in São Paulo, at the event which commemorated, at the Department of Culture of the Municipality, the 70th birthday of Villa-Lobos, his masterwork: the Symphony #10, “Sumé Pater Patrium,” a colossal work, where choruses sing in Latin, Portuguese, and Tupi-Guarani. A breath-taking work, of cathedral-esque conception, containing monumental effects only possible under the hand of a master, with absolute control of all the refinements of orchestration and of definitive compositional technique. It is a work of the level and importance of a Ninth Symphony or a Requiem of Berlioz. I had the honor to conduct it several times, not only in São Paulo before the composer, but in Rio with the collaboration of the admirable chorus of Cleofe Person de Mattos.
I am proud, also, to have been invited every year to take part in the week that is commemorated to his memory. These annual invitations come from Mindinha Villa-Lobos who is (I think all who take part would agree) one of the most edifying, respectable and praiseworthy examples, for dedicating her entire life to the perpetuation of such a noble cause, which is the glorification of the brilliant Brazilian composer. My thanks for this deference accorded me is truly sincere. She gives me the opportunity to collaborate, with all my heart, with all my skills, with all my admiration and friendship, in these artistic celebrations that are the most significant and greatest musical event of our country.
Before ending my recollections, I would like to make a suggestion to all, especially to the government, to all musicians and lovers of music, that we should consider instituting a “Villa-Lobos Grand Prize,” awarded for the composition of a large scale musical work. An event of this sort, well endowed, naturally, and on an international scale, could be realized every other year, each time dedicated to a particular genre: a large work for orchestra and chorus, or a symphony, or a concerto for a solo instrument, or a theatrical work, in sum, a work of importance and significance. I think that none of us should shrink from the work needed to make this idea concrete. The repercussion of an event of this sort, I am certain, would be to turn the eyes of the entire world toward our land, giving homage to a composer who carried our land to the entire world.