March 5, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Heitor Villa-Lobos!

This Brazilian composer is considered the best known and most important Latin American composer to date. Perhaps his strength comes from the fact that Villa-Lobos drew inspiration, not just from the European classical tradition, but also from the native Brazilian cultures and folk music.

As far as music goes, Villa-Lobos was to a surprising extent self-taught. His father hosted regular musical evenings at their house during Villa-Lobos's childhood, and Heitor loved to sneak and listen from the top of the stairs. His father taught him how to play the cello and clarinet, but Villa-Lobos secretly taught himself how to play the guitar as well. When his father suddenly died, when Villa-Lobos was just 12 years old, Villa-Lobos was able to earn money for the family by playing music in restaurants or in theatre orchestras.

Heitor Villa-Lobos spent almost a decade exploring the wilds of Brazil. The folk music he heard was a mix of Native American, African, and Portuguese influences. 

Apparently most people do not believe 100% of the stories Villa-Lobos told about his travels, but everyone agrees that the rhythms and sounds that he absorbed during his explorations helped Villa-Lobos compose music that was uniquely his own.

The composer claims that he was inspired by the great rivers and seas, the forests and skies of Brazil. He once said, “My music is natural like a waterfall.” And Villa-Lobos was fiercely proud of being a Brazilian.

Explore some more...

  • Here is a complete lesson about Villa-Lobos, including sheet music and picture references.
  • Sample some of Villa-Lobos's works for piano and orchestra.

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