The Kennedy Center

Suite for Strings

About the Work

 Villa-Lobos Composer: Villa-Lobos
© Richard E. Rodda

Suite for Strings (1912)

Heitor Villa-Lobos

Born March 5, 1887 in Rio de Janeiro

Died there December 17, 1959

Heitor Villa-Lobos, Brazil's greatest composer, had little formal training. He learned the cello from his father and earned a living as a young man playing with popular bands, from which he derived much of his musical background. From his earliest years, Villa-Lobos was enthralled with the indigenous songs and dances of his native land, and he made several trips into the Brazilian interior to study the native music and ceremonies. Beginning with his earliest works, around 1910, his music shows the influence of the melodies, rhythms and sonorities that he discovered. He began to compose prolifically, and, though often ridiculed for his daring new style by other Brazilian musicians, he attracted the attention of the pianist Artur Rubinstein, who helped him receive a Brazilian government grant in 1923 that enabled him to spend several years in Paris, where his international reputation was established. Upon his permanent return to Rio de Janeiro in 1930, Villa-Lobos became an important figure in public musical education, urging the cultivation of Brazilian songs and dances in the schools. He made his first visit to the United States in 1944, and spent the remaining years of his life traveling in America and Europe to conduct and promote his own works and those of other Brazilian composers. Villa-Lobos summarized his creative philosophy in an interview with New York Times critic Olin Downes by saying that he did not think of music as "culture, or education, or even as a device for quieting the nerves, but as something more potent, mystical and profound in its effect. Music has the power to communicate, to heal, to ennoble, when it is made part of man's life and consciousness."

The Suite for Strings of 1912, premiered on July 31, 1915 by the Orquestra da Sociedade de Concertos Sinfônicos under the direction of Francisco Braga, was one of the works with which Villa-Lobos established his reputation in Rio de Janeiro. The titles of the four movements indicate their expressive intent. The opening Timide is based almost entirely on the tentative arching motive presented at the outset. The music becomes somewhat more animated until a break signals the resumption of the mood and motive of the beginning. Mystérieuse weaves its introspective character from the gentle intertwining of its instrumental lines. The closing Inquiète, subtitled "Air de Ballet," takes a waltz-like melody as the subject for its outer sections and a sultry complementary theme for its brief central episode.