Heitor Villa-lobos and ‘Choros’ no. 3: Modernism, Nationalism, and “Musical Anthropophagy”

By Gabriel Augusto Ferraz.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the 1920s, composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a series of fourteen
nationalistic pieces called Choros, which was the direct result of his search for an “authentic” Brazilian musical language. In Choros, Villa-Lobos combined
elements from the Brazilian urban popular genre choro (from which he drew
the title of his series) and Brazilian Amerindian music with European
techniques, especially the unbalanced accents, abrupt metrical changes, and
dissonances typical of Stravinsky’s primitivism. Villa-Lobos presented some of
his Choros in Paris, where he lived in two occasions, and due to what Parisians
perceived as musically “exotic,” some Choros achieved great success in that
city. While scholars Lisa M. Peppercorn, Eero Tarasti, and Jorge Coli,
suggested that Villa-Lobos took advantage of a Paris thirsty for “exotic” music
to elaborate the aesthetic of Choros and other pieces from the 1920s, they
did not acknowledge that the Choros series resulted from Villa-Lobos’s
search for a Brazilian musical language that had started before he went to
Paris for the first time in 1923, as his symphonic poems Amazonas and
Uirapuru, both from 1917, demonstrate. In addition, the series also reflected
the philosophies of an entire class of Brazilian modernist artists who
proposed the so-called “anthropophagic art,” by which the Brazilian artist
should “devour” (assimilate) European techniques and aesthetics to portray
national art. This article examines how the Choros series reflects Villa-
Lobos’s assimilation of local musical elements and European aesthetic ideals
in the 1920s, a move that resulted from his personal search for an “authentic”
Brazilian musical language and was motivated by the pervading Brazilian
artistic ideology of the time.

Keywords: Villa-Lobos, “Musical Anthropophagy”, Choros, Paris, 1920s, Hybridity in Music, Musical Nationalism, Musical “Exoticism”

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.223-246. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.475MB).

Gabriel Augusto Ferraz

PhD Candidate, Historical Musicology, Music Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Gainesville, Fl, USA

Brazilian musician Gabriel Ferraz is a PhD Candidate in Historical Musicology and Teaching Assistant in Music History at the University of Florida. He pursued a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance at Miami University (OH) and a Master’s Degree in Musicology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. His ongoing PhD dissertation investigates the mechanisms in which the program of music education implemented by Heitor Villa-Lobos in Brazil contributed to the dissemination of the nationalistic ideologies of Getúlio Vargas’s regime from 1932 to 1945. In his interdisciplinary research Mr. Ferraz draws upon Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities,” and Thomas Turino’s concept of “indexicality,” demonstrating that Villa-Lobos actively participated in forming a community of children that “imagined” itself united through shared nationalistic and patriotic values “indexed” in their minds through musical practices in schools. This research will be imperative to the understanding of this neglected aspect of Villa-Lobos’s career as well as it will enlighten several elements of the interactions between music and politics. Mr. Ferraz presented papers in several conferences in the USA such as the 2011 American Musicological Society National Meeting and the 2009 American Musicological Society Southern Chapter Meeting, as well as in Italy, Brazil, France, and Portugal. He was awarded the 2010 University of Florida Outstanding International Student Award and, more recently, won the 2011 Otto Mayer-Serra Award for Music Research for the “Best Unpublished Article of Latin American Music” with his article “Heitor Villa-Lobos e Getúlio Vargas: Doutrinando Crianças por Meio da Educação Musical.” This award was sponsored by the University of California Riverside and the Center for Iberian and Latin American Music and carried a cash prize and a publication in the Latin American Music Review. As a pianist, Mr. Ferraz has performed in Brazil and the USA and has worked extensively as a collaborator with instrumentalists and singers.


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