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A Study of Three Works of Villa-Lobos - Part II

Research in Performance Practices of the Twentieth Century:

A Study of Three Neo-Classic Works for Solo Guitar
by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Richard Kevin DeVinck

Chro No. 1
Written in Rio de Janeiro in 1920, Chro No. 1 became the first of 14 pieces in the
Chro cycle, it being the only one written for solo guitar. The piece is dedicated to
Ernesto Nazareth, a Brazilian pianist who stylized traditional dances (Tango, Waltz,
Fado, etc.) using the rhythms of the samba and chro. Villa-Lobos used a similar
practice in the Suite Populaire Bresilienne [7] which contains a Mazurka-chro,
Scottisch-chro, Valsa-chro, Gavota-chro, and Chrinho. This stylizing of
traditional dances became popular around the turn of the century. Prior to the turn of
the century the chro did not exist as a separate musical form. It was the Brazilian
way of playing the popular musical styles of the day -- most of which were imported
from Europe.
According to Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida, "the very title Chros, which is
used by many guitarists, is incorrect. The correct spelling, which is used in the Arthur
Napoleo Ltda. edition [8] is the singular form -- Chro." [9] This might seem overly
fastidious to some, and perhaps it is, but it reflects a general misunderstanding of what
the term refers to. Perhaps the reason for many guitarists using the plural form of the
word when referring to this piece lies in its appearance in the Max Eschig edition
as Chros [No. 1]. It should be understood, however, that in this case the editor is
indicating this piece is the first of a cycle of Chros: it is not meant as a title of a
single piece.
The term 'Chro' has many usages. As with the term 'blues', which can refer to an
emotion, a type of music, etc., the definitions for 'chro' are abundant. One of the
more encompassing definitions for the term comes from Oneyda Alvarenga:
"CHORO -- In its widest meaning the chro is an instrumental urban band, with a
soloist and a group of accompanying instruments. It is also called 'chorinho' . . . The
dominating instruments, whether or not there is a soloist, are woodwind instruments
(flute, clarinet, ophideide, saxophone) guitars and cavaquinhos. Apart from being a

concert ensemble, the chro plays at dances and is employed as an accompaniment

for urban vocal music. This type of band, characteristic for its treatment of the
European instruments used and for the extremely interesting contrapuntistic
employment of instruments in general, 'dates back to the Republic' (Mario de
Andrade). The music composed for this type of band is called 'chro'. It preferably
adopts the forms of national waltz and, as regards rhythm, the forms nearest to
maxixe and samba. " [10]

To add to this definition musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky writes,

"One of the most important manifestations of Brazilian musical folklore is the Chro.
It does not represent any definite form of composition, but covers a number of
Brazilian airs. As in jazz, the players of Chros (called 'Chraos') improvise in free
and often dissonant counterpoint, which they call 'Contracanto'. Villa-Lobos has
enlarged the meaning of the word 'Chro', applying it to any composition in the
Brazilian manner from a guitar solo to a symphonic or choral work." [11]

After one learns the few discernible elements that are characteristic of the chro, it is
not difficult to identify a typical chro, hearing it for the first time. One of its most
recognizable features is the bouncy 2/4 rhythm and intricate melodies, found in most
The rhythmic figures
are also trademarks of most chros.

as well as the three-layer construction

"Despite the term (loosely derived from the verb chorar - to weep), the music rarely
sounds like funeral lamentations. The form is generally characterized by a bouncy
mood contributed to by elaborate melodies, frequent harmonic changes, and an active
bass line in counterpoint to the melody. This three-layer construction can be
reproduced on the solo guitar or piano. But when played in ensembles, other
instruments add contrapuntal lines, often improvised, that make chro groups sound
like New Orleans or Dixieland jazz bands." [12]

All of these elements are present in Chro No. 1 and earn the piece the Napoleo
subtitle "Chro Tipico" or "Typical Chro" -- the only chro of the cycle that is
deemed as such. (Example 1.)
Example 1. Villa-Lobos, Chro No. 1, meas. 1-4 and 25-29.

An Analysis
Chro No. 1, like most of Villa-Lobos's guitar solos, has a classic tri-partite structure
in which the sections are harmonically sectionalized, clarified by tonal contrast
between closely related keys. A rondo, the Chro reinforces sectional alternation with
tonal contrast -- E minor, C major, E minor, E major, E minor -- providing the "A"
section is repeated.
Measures 5-13 of the Chro (Example 2.) exemplify a somewhat sophisticated use of
the V/V - V7 - I progression, an insistence of which seems at times to suggest a
parody of Brazilian folk music, in which that progression appears as a distinguishing
feature. In the Chro, Villa-Lobos creates a veritable chain of these progressions, with
a decidedly cumulative effect.
Example 2. Ibid., meas. 5-13.


B: V

E: V






D: V

-- -- - I
G: V



B 13

C: V

F: V

B : V

The upward progression of fourths, illustrated in the summary diagram, suits the
tuning of the guitar perfectly.
Another 'dominating' feature of Villa-Lobos's compositional style is his extensive use
of the
dominant seventh (ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth) chord. In view of Villa-Lobos's
lifelong interest in Brazilian folk music, it would not seem unreasonable to ascribe his
fondness for the dominant seventh chord to that source. Such an influence seems
probable, for in many Brazilian folk tunes the appearance of the flatted seventh
(which implies dominant seventh harmony) is a distinguishing feature.
As in Prelude 1 and Etude 11, the Chro is in the key of E minor. This in and of itself
is nothing of importance, however it does attest to the logic of a guitarist such as
Villa-Lobos. Many guitarists who are not as well-versed in jazz will usually avoid
playing pieces written in flat keys. The natural disposition of the guitar created by its
tuning -- E A d g b e' -- does not warrant the use of open strings when playing in
flatted keys. Open strings are essential for a sustained bass line. Villa-Lobos knew this
all too well and, with the exception of those works in C major and A minor, wrote all
of his guitar works in sharp keys.
One of the most disturbing quotes found in reference to editions of the Chro comes
from Villa-Lobos himself. It reads, "[This is] the only corrected edition that conforms
to my original manuscript." [13] Unfortunately very few have seen the original
manuscripts of this or any of Villa-Lobos's guitar works. (Turibio Santos, Laurindo
Almeida, and Abel Carlevaro are some of the few who have.) As stated earlier, such
material has been housed in an archive, yet to be divulged to the public.
When recollecting his viewing the manuscript of the Chro for the first time, Laurindo
Almeida insists, "I only remember seeing a tenuto (fermata) marking above the g of
the anacrusis -- that was all there was on the score." [14]
The Eschig and Napoleo editions are almost identical to one another, with the
exception of the former containing fingerings. If seeing is believing, then these two

editions, along with Villa-Lobos's quote, would no doubt serve as the final word
against an unseen manuscript or an elderly guitarist's distant recollections.
There are a few questions, concerning the validity of the editions, which have arisen
in the course of research. One of these questions concerns the tempo indications found
on both editions.
Upon hearing Villa-Lobos's own version of Chro No. 1 in 1979, played on an
original 78 owned by Brazilian music researcher Paulo Tapajs, guitarist and scholar
Brian Hodel recalls,
"The interplay of rubato and straight tempo, a characteristic of the chro, was
perfectly balanced. The tempo was crisp -- about as fast as one would want to take it
-- and the feeling was light, but aggressive . . . I was taken aback. It was the best
version of the piece I had heard and I haven't heard better." [15]

Choice of tempo is one of the more outstanding issues of performance practice in

the Chro. The Eschig and Napoleo editions are almost identical but differ somewhat
in their choice of tempo indications at the very beginning of the Chro. Napoleo
indicates 'Pouco animado' (a bit animated); whereas Eschig uses 'Quasi andante',
complete with metronome marking = 88. Both are similar in aspect if one uses
'animado' to qualify allegro (a tempo) or spirited (an expression).
The 'spirited' quality of the piece does indeed warrant a crisp tempo -- or at best a
crisp feel. However, = 88 is a bit too fast for any guitarist and one will soon find that
clarity has been sacrificed. Brian Hodel recalls Villa-Lobos's choice of tempo to be
about = 69. In a recording of the Chro by Turibio Santos the tempo of about = 84,
[16] which by the way does not seem to hinder Seor Santos' technique in any way,
still seems too fast.
A tempo of about = 69 is about right for the first section of the Chro. Yet the
performer's attention must focus on the feel or mood of the piece. As Mr. Hodel states,
part of that mood lies in the interplay of rubato and steady pulse. The interplay is more
subtle than the editions lead the guitarist to believe.
The first page alone is covered with 'rallentando' and 'allargetto' markings (the
difference between the two is unknown to the author), followed by 'a tempo'

indications. Every phrase ends with a rallentando, and then returns to the original
tempo at the beginning of each new phrase. If played too literally, this gives the piece
an annoying 'starting up and slowing down' effect for the entire piece. It is
questionable whether the composer would have desired such an effect.
Any use of rubato must be done without sacrificing the steadiness of the quarter-note
pulse -- or at least the first quarter-note of every measure.
A change in both mood and tempo occurs at the E major section -- 'Moderato un
poco'. The change of character in this section definitely calls for a slower tempo and
different mood. The mood changes although the rhythms remain the same. Instead of
the spirited chro mood of the previous section, the E major section takes on the
character of a "Callejera" from Costa Rica. (Examples 3 & 4)
Example 3. Callejera, from Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Example 4. Heitor Villa-Lobos, Chro No. 1, meas. 1-4 of E major section.

The key to this change in mood has much to do with the change from E minor to E
major: it lies in the change in articulation of the rhythmic patterns.
Although the rhythmic figure

continues in the E major section, it may be

articulated differently to change the mood to that of a Callejera. The legato (-) as well
as accent ( ) articulations found in the scores verify this change.

figure, played legato, comes across as a triplet figure with a little rubato:

thus giving this section a

feel. Furthermore, the reiteration of notes in the
melody of the E major section is similar to the style of many Callejeras. This
reiteration of notes differs from the busy quality of the two previous melodies.
The accent mark ( ) plays an important role in pointing out the importance of feeling
the quarter-note pulse of each measure: put under consecutive bass notes, it drives the
music toward a sense of arrival at the cadence. (Example 5.)
Example 5. Villa-Lobos, Chro, meas. 27-32.

Although it may be tempting for the guitarist (or the analyst) to rush the tempo at such
a spot, it is advisable to keep the pulse as steady as a rock and let the articulated bass
notes do the work of propelling the music to a cadence. The accent mark is also used
to signal an occasional pick-up note or chord as in measure 4. (Example 6.)
Example 6. Villa-Lobos, Chro, meas. 4.

Laurindo Almeida is quite familiar with the chro. Born and raised in Brazil, Seor
Almeida knew Villa-Lobos personally: on one occasion he was treated to a private
performance of Villa-Lobos playing Chro No. 1. According to Seor Almeida,
"Although the
rhythm is characteristic on many chros, it is not advisable to
play such a rhythm too literally all the time. This rhythm sounds 'pedestrian' to a
chorao if played too literally. This is especially the case when a series of such
rhythms exists, as in measures 25-29. Perhaps [the use of] a bit more rubato in such a

passage is called for -- but not at the sake of the steady pulse." [17]

It is interesting to listen to a recording of Turibio Santos playing the Chro. [18]

Turibio Santos, now director of the Villa-Lobos Museum in Rio, is as much an
authority on the chro and Villa-Lobos as Seor Almeida. Yet Mr. Santos's recorded
interpretation of Chro No. 1 not only contradicts Almeida in regards to the
forementioned rhythmic figure, but he does not change tempo when arriving at the E
major section of the piece. He does, however, keep a steady pulse throughout
the Chro, briefly lingering on an occasional fermata. Fermatas or no fermatas, it is
best not to linger too long on such notes as the D in measure 9, the C in measure 11,
or the G in the upper voice of measure 30. Holding such notes too long and too often
evokes the sense of going over the summit of an amusement park ride. However, the
three notes of the anacrusis (and their return in measure 16), which functions as a
"slyish" lead-in, may be held as long as desired by the performer.
It is important to observe the portamenti which are written into the score. Sliding up a
4th or a 3rd was a favorite compositional device that Villa-Lobos learned through
playing the cello. This device is used especially in Prelude No. 1 and Etude 11.

Part I of this series, in the September 2004 issue of the Carmel Guitar Society Journal,
included a general discussion of Heitor Villa-Lobos and the guitar, and the
compositions of Villa-Lobos. Part III of this series (to appear in the next issue of the
Carmel Guitar Society Journal) will focus on the Villa-Lobos workPrelude No. 1.
7 Heitor Villa-Lobos, Suite Populaire Brsilienne (Eschig edn., 1955).
8 Idem, Chro Tipico No. 1: [Chora Violao] (Napoleo edn., 1960).
9 In an interview with the author on Feb. 15, 1989.
10 Oneyda Alvarenga, Musica Popular Brasiliera (Porto Alegre: Ed Globo, 1950), p.
11 Nicolas Slonimsky, Music of Latin America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
Company, 1945), p. 114.
12 Brian Hodel, "The Chro," Guitar Review, No. 73 (Spring 1988), p. 31.
13 Heitor Villa-Lobos, Cinq Preludes (Title page. Translated from the French by the
14 February 15, 1989 interview.
15 Brian Hodel, "Villa-Lobos and the Guitar," Guitar Review, No. 72 (Winter 1988),
p. 21.
16 Villa-Lobos, Chro No. 1, recorded by Turibio Santos, in "Choros de chambre,"

(Chante du monde: LDC 278 835), compact disc.

17 February 15, 1989 interview.
18 Chante du monde compact disc recording.
Mr. DeVinck is a classically trained guitarist and board member of the Carmel Guitar
Society who has transcribed guitar songbooks for publishers Hal Leonard, Warner
Bros., and Creative Concepts.