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Bachianas Brasileiras

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The Bachianas Brasileiras (Portuguese pronunciation: [bakiˈɐ̃nɐz bɾaziˈlejɾɐs]) (an approximate English translation might be Bach-inspired Brazilian pieces) are a series of nine suites by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, written for various combinations of instruments and voices between 1930 and 1945. They represent a fusion of Brazilian folk and popular music on the one hand and the style of Johann Sebastian Bach on the other, as an attempt to freely adapt a number of Baroque harmonic and contrapuntal procedures to Brazilian music.[1][2] Most of the movements in each suite have two titles: one "Bachian" (Preludio, Fuga, etc.), the other Brazilian (Embolada, O canto da nossa terra, etc.).

In the Bachianas, Villa-Lobos employs the counterpoint and harmonic complexity typical of Bach's music and combines it with the lyrical quality of operatic singing and Brazilian song. The listener experiences the charm of the Brazilian landscape; the energy of Brazilian dance; the color, dissonance and expression of early 20th-century Brazilian modernism; and the refreshing originality of Villa-Lobos' compositional style.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1


Scored for orchestra of cellos (1930). Dedicated to Pablo Casals.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2


Scored for orchestra (1930). There are four movements. According to one opinion, the third movement was later transcribed for piano, and the others for cello and piano.[3] According to another, it was the other way around: three pieces for cello and piano and a solo piano piece, none of them connected with each other and none of them originally with any Bach associations, were brought together and scored for chamber orchestra.[4]

  • Preludio (O canto do capadocio) [Despite the five translations—French, English, Italian, Spanish, and German—printed in the score, the composer's own notes on this movement make it clear that the meaning of capadocio is not "campagnard", "countryman", "campagnolo", etc., but rather "Teddy boy" or "layabout".[5]
  • Aria (O canto da nossa terra)
  • Dansa (Lembrança do Sertão) (Memento of the Sertão)
  • Toccata (O trenzinho [misspelled in the score: "tremzinho"] do caipira): The Little Train of the Caipira; "caipira" meaning a person from the country, or small town, a "hick" but without the negative connotation.[citation needed]

This work is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophones, bassoon, contrabassoon, 2 horns, trombone, timpani, ganzá, chocalho, pandeira, reco, matraca, caixa, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam, bass drum, celesta, piano, and strings.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3


Scored for piano and orchestra (1938).

  • Prelúdio (Ponteio)
  • Fantasia (Devaneio) (Digression)
  • Ária (Modinha)
  • Toccata (Picapau) (Woodpecker)

The orchestral forces for this work, in addition to the solo piano, are: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, and strings.

CBS radio premiered Bachianas Brasileras No.3 on February 19, 1947, New York José Vieira Brandão (piano), CBS Orchestra, Villa-Lobos (conductor)

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4


Scored for piano (1930–41); orchestrated in 1942 (Preludio dedicated to Tomas Terán; Coral dedicated to José Vieira Brandão; Ária dedicated to Sylvio Salema; Dança dedicated to Antonieta Rudge Müller).

  • Prelúdio (Introdução)
  • Coral (Canto do Sertão)
  • Ária (Cantiga)
  • Danza (Miudinho) (a type of dance, the word itself meaning "tiny", "playful") as spelled on p. 45 of the orchestra score,[6] and, twice in the piano version and once for the orchestral version,[7].

The Bachiana Brasileira No. 4 begins with the beautiful Prelúdio (Introdução) (lit: introduction) and features broad lyrical melodies in lush imitative passages. The title of the second movement, Coral (Canto do Sertão) (song of the hinterlands), refers to a song from the arid backlands of the Brazilian northeast. The movement features a clear lyrical melody in a polyphonic setting that ends with a powerful homophonic texture typical of Bach's Lutheran chorales. In Ária (Cantiga), Villa-Lobos borrows a beautiful and nostalgic northeastern Brazilian melody about the sertão and uses it as a cantus firmus for the composition. The final movement, Danza (miudinho), is a bright and energetic dance-like piece subtitled Miudinho, which is a reference to the small playful-like steps typical of a number of Brazilian dance forms such as samba, forró, and capoeira (an African-influenced Brazilian martial art form). The orchestral version is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, celesta, and strings. The first movement (Prelúdio) is scored for strings alone.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5

Bachianas Brasileiras nº 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, dedicated to Arminda Villa-Lobos, 1938.

Scored for soprano and orchestra of cellos (1938/45).

  • Ária (Cantilena) (lyrics by Ruth V. Corrêa) (Later arranged for solo soprano with guitar accompaniment by Villa-Lobos). This Aria is Villa-Lobos's best-known work.[2][8] English translation:

In the evening, a dreamy, pretty cloud, slow and transparent, covers outer space with pink. In the infinite the moon rises sweetly, beautifying the evening, like a friendly girl who prepares herself and dreamily makes the evening beautiful. A soul anxious to be pretty shouts to the sky, the land, all of Nature. The birds silence themselves to her complaints, and the sea reflects all of Her [the moon's] wealth. The gentle light of the moon now awakens the cruel saudade [nostalgic or melancholic longing] that laughs and cries. In the evening, a dreamy, pretty cloud, slow and transparent, covers outer space with pink.

  • Dança (Martelo) (lyrics by Manuel Bandeira).[9] The musical form is embolada, a rapid poem/song of the Brazilian Northeast. It is a poem of nostalgia (saudade) for the birds of the Cariri Mountains, in the state of Ceará. The lyrics contain a list of species of birds: ben-te-vi (Pitangus sulphuratus), sabiá (Turdus fumigatus), juriti (Leptotila rufaxilla), irerê (Dendrocygna viduata), patativa (Sporophila leucoptera), cambaxirra (Odontorchilus cinereus). The music imitates bird song: "La! liá! liá! liá! liá! liá!" "Sing more", the words say, "to remember Cariri" ("Canta mais! canta mais! prá alembrá o Cariri!").

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6


Scored for flute and bassoon (1938).

  • Ária (Chôro)
  • Fantasia

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 7


Scored for symphony orchestra (1942); dedicated to Gustavo Capanema [pt; fr; tr].

  • Prelúdio (Ponteio)
  • Giga (Quadrilha caipira)
  • Tocata (Repente [pt]) (Dare)
  • Fuga (Conversa)

This work is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, xylophone, coconut shell, bass drum, celesta, harp and strings.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 8


Scored for symphony orchestra (1944); dedicated to Mindinha.

  • Prelúdio
  • Ária (Modinha)
  • Tocata (Catira batida)
  • Fuga (Also arranged for four-part a cappella choir.)

This work is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, xylophone, 3 wood blocks (high, medium and low), tarol, bass drum, celesta, and strings.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9


Scored for chorus or string orchestra (1945).

  • Prélude
  • Fugue

Ambiguities in the scores


Because Villa-Lobos dashed off compositions in feverish haste and preferred writing new pieces to revising and correcting already completed ones, numerous slips of the pen, miscalculations, impracticalities or even impossibilities, imprecise notations, uncertainty in specification of instruments, and other problems inescapably remain in the printed scores of the Bachianas, and require performers to take unusual care to decipher what the composer actually intended. In the frequent cases where both the score and the parts are wrong, the recordings made by the composer are the only means of determining what he actually intended.[10]



Villa-Lobos made a number of recordings of the Bachianas Brasileiras, including a complete recording of all nine compositions made in Paris for EMI in the 1950s, with the French National Orchestra and Victoria de los Ángeles as the soprano soloist in No. 5. These landmark recordings were issued in several configurations on LP and were later reissued on CD. Other musicians, including Joan Baez, Bidu Sayão, Enrique Bátiz, Leonard Bernstein, Felicja Blumental, Nelson Freire, Werner Janssen, Isaac Karabtchevsky, Jesús López-Cobos, Cristina Ortiz, Aldo Parisot, Menahem Pressler, Mstislav Rostropovich, Kenneth Schermerhorn, Felix Slatkin, Leopold Stokowski, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Galina Vishnevskaya, have subsequently recorded some or all of the music.

See also

  • -ana, for other musical works using the suffix "-ana" to pay homage to another composer


  • Round, Michael. 1989. "Bachianas Brasileiras in Performance". Tempo, new series, no. 169 (June, "50th Anniversary 1939–1989"): 34–41.
  1. ^ Béhague, Gerard. 1994. Heitor Villa-Lobos: The Search for Brazil's Musical Soul. ILAS Special Publication. Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin. p. 106. ISBN 0-292-70823-8.
  2. ^ a b Béhague, Gerard (2001). "Villa-Lobos, Heitor". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. ISBN 9780195170672.
  3. ^ Appleby, David P. 1988. Heitor Villa-Lobos: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in Music 9. New York, Westport, and London: Greenwood Press. pp. 64-5. ISBN 0-313-25346-3.
  4. ^ Peppercorn, Lisa M. 1991. Villa-Lobos: The Music: An Analysis of His Style, translated by Stefan de Haan. London: Kahn & Averill; White Plains, NY: Pro/Am Music Resources Inc. ISBN 1-871082-15-3 (Kahn & Averill); ISBN 0-912483-36-9.
  5. ^ Round 1989, p. 39.
  6. ^ Villa-Lobos, Heitor. 1974. "Bachianas brasileiras (Estudo de H. Villa-Lobos)" [from a manuscript dated "Rio, 4 May 1947"]. In Villa-Lobos, sua obra, second edition, edited by Programa de Ação Cultural, 187–97. Rio de Janeiro: MEC, DAC, Museu Villa-Lobos. p. 190.
  7. ^ Villa-Lobos, sua obra Archived 2016-10-16 at the Wayback Machine. 2009. Version 1.0. MinC / IBRAM, and the Museu Villa-Lobos. Based on the third edition, 1989. pp. 14-5.
  8. ^ Lyrics in Portuguese. Leitras.
  9. ^ Lyrics in Portuguese. Vagalume Mídia (2018).
  10. ^ Round 1989, p. 35.

Further reading

  • Arcanjo, Loque. 2008. O ritmo da mistura e o compasso da história: o modernismo musical nas Bachianas Brasileiras de Heitor Villa-Lobos. Rio de Janeiro: E-papers. ISBN 978-85-7650-164-0.
  • Nóbrega, Adhemar. 1976. As Bachianas brasileiras de Villa-Lobos, second edition. Rio de Janeiro: Museu Villa-Lobos.
  • Palma, Enos da Costa, and Edgard de Brito Chaves Júnior. 1971. As Bachianas brasileiras de Villa-Lobos. Rio de Janeiro: Companhia Editôra Americana.