Desde el Escritorio de Randy Osborne
Interview with Villa-Lobos
by Gilbert Imbar (Director of "Guitare et Musique")
Issue #18, June 1958
November 7, 1997
Copyright Randy Osborne F.F.S.I. La Guitarria Fina, September 17, 1997
One can compare Villa-Lobos to the rivers of Brazil. This comparison imposes itself on one who finds himself in the presence of the great Brazilian composer. Villa-Lobos is a force of nature, but of a tropical nature, majestic, enormous, overflowing of sap and of vitality. Briefly, Villa-Lobos resembles music. There is no need of encouragement to have an interview with the author of "The Discovery of Brazil". It's a matter of shutting up within the limits of the interview: the conversation is quick - tempered like a torrent..., a torrent of images and from colored expressions.
What place does the guitar occupy in your existence?
There was a glorious precedent: Berlioz...
- A place very important, essentially. I had only seven or eight years of age when I made my acquantence with the guitar. But I have played the piano since the age of... three years old. My mother, worried about the precocious passion that I showed for music --- she had for my other ambitions, very dignified, she thought, as a Villa-Lobos --- decided one day to deprive me of the piano. Then I arranged to get ahold of a small guitar that I could hide under my bed. I ignored all of the technique of the guitar as I ignored all of the great classics of that instrument. I never started to execute in my manner quantities of works by Bach, Hayden, Handel and Chopin. I had transcribed about 14 pieces of Chopin. It is on the guitar that I have for a long time prepared my symphonic compositions.
Narciso Yepes utilizes frequently that procedure...
- It was not too much later that I had discovered the classics of the guitar, Carcassi, Carulli, Sor. I could then give an account at that point of the guitar technique that I had personally; I was using the little finger of the right hand. Why, from the moment that I had to pinch five strings, I was deprived of that resource... I also used the thumb of the left hand, in the manner of the cellists, for obtaining things not executable otherwise.
The guitarists often interpret your works in recital. In the club Plein-Vent, Christian Aubin, Jose-Maria Sierra and Ramon Cueto play every night from the works of Villa-Lobos. But there are among them in lively discussions over the way in which it is suitable to interpret the songs. Is it necessary to emphasize the folkloric character? Or else play them as classic works?
- Briefly, my guitar technique that I had was so special that when I met Segovia for the first time and he was getting to know my compositions for the guitar, he raised his arms to the heavens. The first contact was rather stormy. But we were to become soon the best friends in the world. I have for him the greatest admiration and that for him I dedicated the majority of my works for guitar until the last concerto that Segovia must soon play in Paris with the National Orchestra. But again we have passionate discussions in the subject of the guitar: thus I estimate, as for me, that the guitar has enough by it's own means to fill a recital hall, especially with a Segovia---, it cannot give a concerto totally supported by an orchestra en masse. In my opinion, the guitar can and must. For the concerto, to be amplified with the aid of a microphone, technology has made enormous progress and one can affirm that the character of the instrument will not at all become distorted. Why should we deprive ourselves of the possibilities that this offers us? But Segovia doesn't want to hear anything about it, and that I regret sincerely.
Villa-Lobos responded to us with liveliness, almost with anger:
Yet there seems to be a strong national character markedly in your music.
- There is nothing folkloric in my music. It needs to be adapted in the way it is written, how one does for the classical music, like it was done of Bach.
What do you think of the interpretations of your music by Julian Bream?
- That's true. But I never attempted to make it Brazilian. I am a symphonist, and if in my music you find it to be Brazilian, that's because I am Brazilian. My personality is Brazilian. But I am in no way a folklorist. Whoever interprets my music like Brazilian folkmusic is grossly mistaken. My choros are not sambas!
Yet it seems to us that Bream has put in your choros a strong folkloric color.
- I know Julian Bream well, for whom I have much esteem. I consider him as one of the best interpreters.
There on top of it, the master gives us a playing of a record by a guitarist of his country -- a gavotte-choro.
- Bream plays them as he needs to play them.
How can that be? Is it possible that you have forgotten your own works?
- It's been a long time since I wrote that gavotte, and I confess that I have forgotten it.
The gavotte-choro which we just listened to was played very slowly, too slowly, it seems to us, for a gavotte.
- What do you want? I am like a father of a family too numerous who doesn't happen to recognize his own infants.
You are right, it paces as a gavotte, like the others. But it's a gavotte-choro. Choro, that is to say cries. It needs to be played more slowly like a gavotte classic.
Are you now writing works for the guitar?
That you have unfortunately written for the piano.
- No. At this instant I am no longer composing music for the guitar. But Segovia is undertaking to transcribe a few pages from my "Practical Guide"...
Another question: Where is the classical guitar in your country?
- That's true, but one can transcribe them for the guitar and the results are excellent.
Quick tempered by his cause, Villa-Lobos put a curse against the people of bad taste which dishonors the guitar and pretends to serve it.
- The classical guitar in Brazil has indeed made some progress since the time when I was the only, with Barrios, to write for the guitar, and since the first concert of classical guitar given in my country by Llobet. Since that epoch the tours of Segovia, the activities of the societies of the friends of the guitar have made the classical guitar known. But, sadly, the real guitar is again far from being popular in Brazil. The instrument that is the most widespread is the "viola", the kind of guitar which produces a hard sound, violent, staccato, and which one cannot derive anything musical. And in a pejorative sense you can't qualify it as a guitar "classic". There is still much to do for the Brazilians to come to the classical guitar.
One observes that in all of the countries of the world the young come to the guitar. In your opinion, is it a temporary fad, an infatuation without a future, or on the contrary is it a true renaissance of the instrument?
- What do you want, the guitar is all for intelligence, or all for stupidity.
Do you think that the guitar merits to be taught in the National Conservatory of Paris?
- The young come to the guitar because it is an instrument intimate by excellence, the instrument of the sensabilities, of the delicateness, comical about the guitar. One can get carried away on a voyage. One can play in a room without bothering anyone. Moreover a guitar doesn't cost much... unlike a piano. There are therefore a mass of reasons why the young love the guitar. And that love of the guitar, I am convinced, they are going to be developing toward the future.
Our interview is interrupted by the arrival of Ramon Cueto who, armed with his guitar, prepares to study a text of Villa-Lobos under the guise of the master himself in person. A rare opportunity for a young guitarist! And now to Cueto who tells us the following...
- Yes, without a doubt. I don't ignore that there still exists a lot of prejudice against the guitar, but now the guitar has conquered the right to be in universities of music in the world. In any case I am prepared to sign, with other composers, a petition which will have the objective of obtaining that the guitar is to be taught at the Conservatory of Paris like it is now at the majority of Conservatories of the great capitals.