APM: Composers Datebook


Jul 14, 2017 For over five decades, Nicolas Slonimsky, the Russian-born American composer, conductor, and witty musical lexicographer, compiled a thick reference work titled "Music Since 1900." It's a year-by-year, month-by-month, day-by-day chronicle of musical events that Slonimsky deemed significant, interesting, or simply amusing. Here, for example, is Slonimsky's entry for July 15, 1942: "Heitor Villa-Lobos conducts in Rio de Janeiro the first performances of three of his orchestral Choros: No. 6, No. 9 and No. 11, exhaling the rhythms, the perfumes and the colors of the Brazilian scene, with tropical birds exotically chanting in the woodwinds against the measured beats of jungle drums." Slonimsky did have a way with words, and certainly had fun compiling his mammoth (and highly readable) reference work. For his part, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos was equally diligent, so much so that he himself admitted he couldn't always remember everything that he had written or when he wrote it. His Choros No. 11 for piano and orchestra, however, was one work he must have remembered: it's one of his most ambitious compositions and lasts some 65 minutes. Originally the word "choro" meant improvised music by Brazilian street musicians, but Villa-Lobos always used the word in its plural form, and used it to describe a flexible form for over a dozen of his instrumental works. Villa-Lobos also wrote a unique series of works he dubbed 'Bachianas Brasileiras", which might be translated as "Tributes to Bach in the Style of Brazil."

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