Heitor Villa-Lobos's Use of Indigenous Brazilian Musical Elements in the Sonata-Fantasia No. 2 for Violin and Piano



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Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) was fascinated with the indigenous cultures of his country, Brazil. This study analyzes indigenous elements that make up major portions of his Sonata-Fantasia No. 2 for Violin and Piano (1914). The work was published early in his compositional career when he did not have much formal training. He relied on the musical influences from his travels and the reports of people who explored the Brazilian interior. He made up fantastical stories of encounters with Brazilian indigenous people. It is likely that he used other famous explorers’ documentations to invent his musical persona.

The score of Villa-Lobos’s Sonata-Fantasia includes elements of indigenous Brazilian music that the explorer Edgard Roquette-Pinto documented via wax-cylinder recordings and via transcriptions. These elements include scalar groupings, glissandos, end-of-phrase crescendos, and mixtures of duple and triple meter. Villa-Lobos also added transformations of the scalar groupings and combined these elements with whole-tone scales and chromatic passages in the principal themes of each movement. He developed the themes of the first and second movements through a distinct pattern of transposition. I argue that the use of these scalar passages and their transformations in the themes create the piece’s structure and expressive significance. In this paper, we will see Villa-Lobos’s incorporation and transformation of indigenous Brazilian elements.



Heitor Villa-Lobos, Violin Sonata-Fantasia No. 2, Indigenous music, Brazilian music, Roquette-Pinto, Grupo grave, Grupo medio, Grupo agudo