Heitor Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5

Written by Corey Friedlander

Longtime subscriber

July 25, 2018

Yes, I’m well aware that no sound can be heard in the vacuum of space. Still, I am rather taken by the theory of Pythagoras known as the Harmony of the Spheres, in which he postulated that the sun, moon, and planets all emit their own unique hum based on their orbital revolution. If I could indeed hear the music of those spheres as they move through the heavens, for me it would be the celestial hum at the end of the first section of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Brazil’s preeminent composer of the 20th century. Although the Moon is the major actor at the heart of the Portuguese lyrics, it’s the hum at the end that transports me.

Performed by an ensemble of eight cellos and soprano, there are many interesting recordings to explore, starting with the first: recorded in 1945 (first section only), shortly after that section was written, with the composer as conductor accompanying Bidu Sayão. I’m partial to versions sung by, seemingly surprisingly (but perhaps not), Joan Baez (conducted by Maurice Abravanel) and Marni Nixon (conducted by Felix Slatkin). But the first version I heard many years ago remains the one I hear when I gaze heavenward: also with Villa-Lobos conducting, it features the radiant voice of Victoria de los Angeles. Critics may quibble about the conducting, but all agree that her singing is sublime. This recording, found below, includes both sections: [1] Ária (Cantilena) and [2] Dança (Martelo).

As for that heavenly hum, listen for it starting at about 4:55, continuing through 6:11. Pay special attention (and perhaps boost your volume just a tad) as it floats even higher into the heavens at 6:03.

Corey Friedlander

Corey Friedlander has been a subscriber to and a lover of NYFOS since he was smitten at his first concert: “Music, Marriage and Madness” at the Greenwich House Music School on October 21, 1990 with Kurt Ollman, the late (and missed) Lorraine Hunt [Lieberson], and Michael Barrett at the piano in lieder by Robert Schumann. Unable to stay on key himself, he is ever so grateful to those who do so gloriously in art song, on the opera stage, and both on and off Broadway. He has segued in his professional career between marketing patented construction fasteners worldwide and managing bookstores in Tarrytown and Riverdale, with a remarkable year as Director of Professional Development and Education at the American Booksellers Association along the way.

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