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Heitor Villa-Lobos: Heitor Villa-Lobos (b. Rio de Janeiro, 5 March 1887; d. Rio de Janeiro, 17 June 1959).
The only internationally-known Brazilian composer of the 20th century, Heitor Villa-Lobos revealed his musical talent in early childhood, and was taught the viola, the clarinet and the piano. His father, who had encouraged his son's musical abilities, died when the child was ten, and his mother promptly forbade him to continue his studies, and insisted on his learning a respectable profession. Consequently, Heitor's musical studies went underground, and he would slip away from the house to play with street musicians. When he was sixteen, he ran away from home, and was helped by a sympathetic uncle to regularise his interest in music and his studies. Two years later, the young musician, who had already begun to compose small pieces, embarked upon a tour of the north of Brazil, listening to the folk music of the various regions, and composing his own songs as he travelled. After a period of study in Rio de Janeiro, he departed again, this time to the south of the country. Again he returned to conventional study in Rio, but was soon off again, this time into the interior.
During these years, Heitor Villa-Lobos amassed a great amount of knowledge of Afro-Brazilian music, and began to compose short operas, chamber music and songs, and to embark upon his first Symphony. It was when he was thirty-one that he met the pianist Artur Rubinstein, who introduced him to the music of Claude Debussy which was to prove a beneficial influence. In 1923, Heitor Villa-Lobos travelled to Europe for the first time, staying mainly in Paris and coming now under the influence of Ravel. When he returned to Brazil in 1930, he began to compose his series of Bachianas brasileiras, pieces for various instrumental combinations, inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach. He became interested, too, in musical education and was instrumental in having many reforms made in the educational system, both before and after his appointment as Superintendent of Musical Education in Rio de Janeiro. Increasingly, he wrote for choirs, but also formed his own symphony orchestra with which he introduced a number of European classics to Brazil, including Ludwig van Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Johann Sebastian Bach's B minor Mass. His New York Skyline Melody of 1939 came into being when an American journalist provided him with a photograph of the Manhattan skyline, and he worked out, on a system of his own devising, the melody which corresponded to it.
Heitor Villa-Lobos travelled abroad frequently as an unofficial musical ambassador for his country. The list of his compositions is voluminous, comprising operas and ballets, choral and orchestral works, chamber and piano music, songs, music for band, and arrangements of other composers, principally Johann Sebastian Bach.
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