Preludes Nr. 2 + 3, Heitor Villa-Lobos
By the beginning of the 20th century, the guitar had almost completely disappeared from public consciousness and hardly anyone remembered the role it had played in concert life just fifty years earlier.
But in a small circle around the Spanish guitarist Francisco Tarrega a quiet revolution began, which soon led to a new flowering: Tarrega, a lonely tinkerer and enthusiast of the instrument, developed the playing technique further and thus, together with his students Emilio Pujol and Miguel Llobet, laid the foundation for the further development of the guitar in the 20th century.
In the 1920s Andalusian guitarist Andres Segovia conquered the concert stages of Europe and then the world and remained the most important representative of the classical guitar until the end of his life, training himself in the works of F. Sor and F. Tarregas, but in contrast to this he was an extroverted person and with his work he gave the guitar back its rightful place in musical life.
As he found little contemporary music, he prompted many composers to write for him, with a firm conception of the music he wanted to perform, demanding works that stood firmly on the ground of tonality and allowed only a gentle impressionism with Spanish tones. This field was covered by his preferred composers such as J. Turina, F. Morreno-Torroba or J. Rodrigo.
Composers such as Frank Martin, on the other hand, had a harder time, and it was only in the hands of J. Bream and J. Williams that they received recognition for their modern musical language.
Somewhere between these two groups is the music of H. Villa-Lobos, which is another reason why Segovia had such a divided relationship with his music that he seemed to love some of his pieces, such as Prelude No. 1, because he played them over and over again in his concerts, while he rejected others and never performed them publicly.
These included the twelve etudes he commissioned in 1929, as he sought pieces for the construction of a repertoire. Villa-Lobos combined popular playing techniques with various Brazilian folk music themes, but could not satisfy Segovia’s taste.
When, at the guitarist’s request, Segovia did not modify the pieces, he refused to play them in his concerts and only included the first etude in his programme.
Villa-Lobos turned to other fields of music for many years and only began to study the guitar again in 1940, this year writing the five preludes, which can also be seen as an alternative to his twelve studies, because after he had explicitly written the studies to solve technical problems, he concentrated here on placing the musical ideas and the attitude to life of his homeland in the foreground.
Prelude No. 2 has the subtitle “Melodia capadocia“.
In the first part we experience the improvising guitar player from Rios’ vagabonding choral groups, whose constant rubati remind us of the carefree brutality and mocking laughter of the Capadocia.
A rogue figure of Brazilian carnival, she is an imaginary inhabitant of Rio, boasting light-heartedly, while the second part is the climax of a carnival procession with its flood of tones.
Rapidly fast arpeggios, a characteristic rhythmic bass line (which can be found in some regions of Brazil in the carnival blockade) and harmony connections, which arise only by shifting a single chord over the fingerboard, increase to a wild stagger, which finally calms down, whereupon we finally find ourselves again in the warm streets of Rio, at the feet of the mockingly laughing Capadocia.
Somewhere I once read that Villa-Lobos had two great passions: the guitar and the music of J. S. Bach, so it seems logical that Prelude No. 3,“Homage to Bach“, is the center of the entire cycle.
The piece is written again in the three-part form we know, there is not much music analytically, but in a work by Luka Vehar I found some nice words: “The first part is again improvisational and could be interpreted as a dialogue between two sides of Villa-Lobos´ personality: the strong, decisive part, which faces all obstacles, faces a gentle and melancholic side, which recognizes that a fight cannot lead to any goal in the long run”.
The connection to Johann Sebastian Bach can be found mainly in the second part with a decomposition into clear harmonies reminiscent of Bach’s preludes.
For me, this part is always like a memory of a time long gone (perhaps Bach’s time?), but it still has an effect and is present in the composer’s life.